Saturday, August 13, 2005


Mission Possible

Rubinder Gill catches up with 12 young minds, who worked for the moon and got it.

The victorious Budha Dal Public School team which designed a city for the moon
Space-age students: The victorious Budha Dal Public School team which designed a city for the moon

THIS school run by Nihangs has done the country proud yet again — by planning a prize-winning settlement on the moon. Budha Dal Public School, Patiala, run by the Nihang Dal of Baba Santa Singh, aced the field for the second time running at NASA’s Settlement in Space on Moon competition at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.

The 12-member team, representing Asia at the meet, hit the bull’s-eye again, much to the amazement of fellow competitors. For the team it was just reward for all the sleepless nights, turmoil and practice they had endured.

Eight boys and four girls along with their two advisers also metamorphosised on the way — from preparing for the competition to winning it. The competition was held from July16 to18 and the team returned to India on August 1.

Kamalpreet Sohi, Navneet Kaur, Rahul Saini, Amteshwar Singh, Saurabh Anand, Aayush Rai, Manpreet Kaur, Samrat Singh, Sahil Arora, Navninder Singh Saini, Harleen Kaur and Ikwinder Chadha, along with their teacher Anita Singh learnt to work as one unit as they spent two months together before the competition. Families, classroom studies, hobbies, entertainment and even sleep took a back seat as they slogged with their plans and counter-plans. The team took over the school conference room, studying and sleeping there. Families chipped in with home-made food, keeping them well-nourished. Confined proximity was good for brain-storming sessions with Anita acting as a guiding hand. "Proximity also meant some ego troubles, but they all seem nothing now," the 12 talents tell you now. "It was all worth it," they chorus.

Patiala to Balderol

The distance may have been immense but their imagination travelled it easily. Balderol — that was the settlement they had to plan on the moon. A rough outline, called the Request for Proposal, was given to the participants. It said the settlement was for mining and would have 15,500 people. The deadline was 43 hours after which they had to convince the judges of their design in a 35-minute presentation, followed by a 10-minute question-answer session. It was not only about science and technology but also human factors and relations, business transactions and optimum use of resources. Collaborating with Whitney High School, California, the countdown started. Planning things on the moon is no easy task. With one-sixth the gravity of the earth, things can be difficult for earthlings. You jump six times higher on the moon, mistakenly thinking yourself to be Superman. But hazards unthinkable on the earth abound on our planet’s satellite. Hostile atmosphere, no oxygen, space debris and lunar dust all have to be taken care of.

The team got down to the task, dividing itself into seven departments — structures, operations, human factors, automation, business, schedule and cost and special studies.

The company was named Vulture Animation.

All departments got down to work. A site was selected on the lunar surface to make the settlement. Protection from space debris and availability of sunlight were taken into account. It was set on the outer edge of Copernicus crater. That side of the moon has sufficient sunlight through out the year. Solar panels were set up. Balderol was to run on solar energy. The structure designed was in the shape of a dome, the most stable structure. The fibres used had to be resistant to the lunar environment. Calculations were made with tables provided by NASA. There were domes within domes, housing different sections. A whole city was planned inside the dome. Houses had the facade of suburban Indian houses, for building them lunar dust was packed and used in form of bricks along with PVC. (Lunar dust is a strong building material.) Hospitals were planned, parks designed and other forms of entertainment worked out. Three-dimensional and interactive games were also there to keep the population entertained.

Use of robots

All the work was to be done by robots. After all if mankind is settling on the moon, they couldn’t be expected to carry out menial tasks. Gardens were planned on rooftops, to make optimum use of available space. The lunar hanging gardens.

Different types of robots were to work on Balderol. From mining robots to household robots. Like humans, robots had to have protective gear, to shield them from heat and tough environment. The terrain was tough and the mining outposts were far away from the residential dome.

Farming and horticulture were planned to feed the settlement. They were placed under a separate dome. The tier system was used to save space and water. Anyway, everything was to be recycled.

The time frame for building Balderol was 12 years. Costs of different material to be used were calculated, including the inflation expected during the years it took to build it. To top it, the Request for Proposal said Balderol was to be built 40 years from now. The team had to start from what the scenario would be 40 years hence. A leapfrog into space age. The mission was completed when the team was able to convince the judges that their plan was the best to work for Balderol. Data gleaned and gathered from various sources was used. Information from NASA’s missions to Mars and the moon came in handy. The students also browsed books and depended on the Internet.