What It's Like
Carl Walz and Tapasya hold a pennant in front of the space shuttle on the launch pad

Astronaut Carl Walz and Tapasya display her winning pennant design near the launch pad and space shuttle Endeavour. Image Credit: Rama Das

Tapasya has a way with words.

Her writing talent paid off in the summer of 2007, when she won the NASA Space Pennant Design Challenge. In the challenge, students ages 6 to 12 submitted thousands of designs for pennants about spaceflight. In addition to submitting their artwork, the students had to write essays explaining their designs.

The combination of her artistic skill and her writing ability allowed Tapasya, of Mount Laurel, N.J., to secure first place in the contest for one of her submissions, "Education 4 Exploration." In the contest, which was sponsored by AOL's kids' Web site KOL and by Mad Science, students were allowed to choose one of two themes for their pennants -- the STS-118 space shuttle mission or the future of space exploration. Tapasya combined both of those themes in her winning entry.

Because her design was chosen as the winner of the contest, Tapasya was awarded a trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the launch of the STS-118 space shuttle mission, which would carry her design into orbit. The STS-118 mission of the space shuttle Endeavour was a milestone for students and educators, marking the first flight of a NASA educator astronaut, Mission Specialist Barbara Morgan.

Not only did Tapasya win the challenge, another of her designs was also selected as a finalist, meaning that she created both of the finalist designs from her age division.

The Pennant Design Challenge was one of several educational opportunities and resources NASA offered to help students and teachers capitalize on the excitement of the historic STS-118 mission. The challenge supported NASA's education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

Tapasya put her writing talent to good use again after attending the STS-118 launch. In a letter to NASA she described her experience watching the shuttle, with her work on board, soar into orbit:

Tapasya stands in front of three flagpoles and a countdown clock

Tapasya had an excellent spot for watching the STS-118 launch. Image Credit: Rama Das

Thank you for the wonderful tour of the NASA facilities at KSC, and the opportunity to watch the launch of Endeavour. The experience of actually visiting the orbiter processing facility and the payload processing facility was very fascinating. I was awed by seeing the Atlantis being prepared for the next launch and especially getting to hear more details and actually touching the sample tiles. The payload processing facility opened up an entire world of possibilities that have been made feasible by cooperation between so many nations. It was really inspiring to imagine the future of space travel by hearing about the Constellation program.

The night-time tour was a spectacle to be experienced. The dazzling lights and the spotlighted Endeavour was a post-card picture beyond imagination. The shuttle launch experience, itself, was breath-taking in its intensity. The space shuttle sitting across the water from us surrounded by millions of pounds of rocket fuel, exhaling fumes, visibly impatient to defy gravity, touched the core of my being. The roar that followed seconds after the launch and the deep vibration is something I will never be able to forget. The experience of watching history being written as the first teacher in space made her trip was awesome. I felt extremely lucky to be present at that moment and a thrill ran though me as I realized that I had been blessed to have my pennant design accepted and flown into space.

For this wonderful event in my young life, I must thank the entire staff at NASA and AOL for making it a possibility. ...

Seeing the launch in real life was a lot better than seeing it on TV! I loved it! So as you can tell I thoroughly enjoyed my time at NASA!

Thanks for the special treat!

Tapasya Das

Related Resources
STS-118 Education Challenges
Education for Exploration -- Pennant Design Challenge Winners
STS-118 Space Pennant Puzzle
NASA Education Web site   →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services