YouTube and Lenovo, the computer manufacturer, have launched a science contest called SpaceLab for students around the world ages 14 to 18, and it is not quite like any other science contest, writes Kenneth Chang at The New York Times.
The students, whether they enter individually or in teams of three, won't actually be doing the experiments themselves. Instead, they will make videos to pitch ideas for experiments that could be conducted in "the zero-gravity environs of the space station".
After the Dec. 7 deadline, 60 finalists will be named. For each of the three geographical regions, 10 finalists in the 14-to-16-year-old category will be drawn and 10 in the 17-to-18-year-old category. A popular vote among YouTube visitors will provide one-quarter of the final score. Also judging the finalists will be a panel of experts including Stephen Hawking. Google, Chang writes, will then fly the regional winners to a ceremony in Washington next March where two grand prize winners will be named.
The two winning entries will then be built and flown to the International Space Station, where astronauts will conduct a demonstration that will be broadcast via YouTube.
The winners also will be given the option to either fly to Japan to see the shuttle containing their experiment launched into space or given a chance to train at Star City, the Russian training camp for astronauts, writes Hayley Tsukayama at the Washington Post.
"The headline idea was, âlet's create the world's largest, coolest classroom in space,' " said Zahaan Bharmal, director of European marketing for Google, which owns YouTube.
Chang points out that these will not be the first student experiments to get to the space station. Students at 12 school districts around the country are currently writing proposals for experiments to fly there next spring, part of a program run by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in Capitol Heights, Md.
"It's changing the way kids are looking at science," said Jeff Goldstein, the center's director. "I'm hoping that what we're doing here is creating those magical moments for many of these students."
Earlier this year, 27 student experiments — out of 1,027 proposals — flew on the last two space shuttle flights.
"These students are being given the opportunity to do real research in orbit," Dr. Goldstein said. "It's not something cute."
For the YouTube contest, NASA has signed an agreement with Space Adventures, a company in Vienna, Va., that is best known for arranging trips by space tourists to the space station, writes Chang.
"If our competition can just play a small part in getting kids interested in science, then we'll be very, very happy," Bharmal said. "My vision is the final live stream will be the world's largest science classroom."