• Bhupinder Rathore, a student at Simon Fraser University, and his team of high school students won first place at NASA's space settlement competition. (Photo: Marianne Meadahl)

A Simon Fraser University student and his international team of high school students have taken one more giant leap towards helping put a man on the moon — permanently.

Bhupinder Rathore and the Grumbo Aerospace team, some of whom hail from Princess Margaret Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., recently became the first Canadians to take home the top prize at the annual International Space Settlement Design Competition at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

Their challenge? To design a permanent moon settlement containing manufacturing and tourism districts large enough to house more than 10,000 people while at the same time taking into account costs, sustainability, climate, quality of life and, of course, those pesky laws of physics and mathematics.

With just 43 hours to work on the submission, the team came up with a design that would place 180 building-like capsules underground instead of on the moon's surface.

“We ended up making modules underneath the surface of the moon, covered in layers of mud,” Team leader Rathore says. “The temperature on the moon varies a lot. So if you go underground you’re not dealing with the temperature change, you’re getting a stable temperature.”

The design also included a hotel, driving tours of all the Apollo landing sites and even opportunities for moon dwellers to go hiking or throw a traditional Earth wedding.

The manufacturing district featured self-repairing exterior structures, spacesuits, spaceship modules and even a unit for converting lunar raw ore into products for use in construction.

Coaching alongside Rathore was space-technology engineer Jack Bacon — dubbed the next Carl Sagan — and, together, Grumbo Aerospace submitted a design that was praised for its attention to detail and creativity, says a press release from Simon Fraser University.

Comprised of four separate teams from across the world, Grumbo Aerospace’s biggest challenge at the start of their gruelling two-day design marathon was organization and cooperation, Rathore says.

“Designing a city in space itself is tough, but time management and communication were definitely issues,” he says. “We took everyone out for dinner on the first night to get everyone talking to each other.”

The bonding technique seems to have worked pretty well.

When the competition clock struck zero, Grumbo Aerospace had completed a 50-slide presentation of the design as well as business ideas for how to cover the cost of building the station, says Rathore.

Designs like the one put forward by Grumbo Aerospace go towards ongoing research by NASA and Boeing into constructing the real-life version of a permanent space colony.