Participation in this event is part of a long history of Space Settlement Design Competitions.
It all started in 1983, when plans were being made by the Boy Scouts of America for the 1984 National Exploring Conference. The steering group for the Science and Engineering Cluster decided it would be great to do something neat about space. One problem: nobody on the committee knew much about space. But Evelyn Murray from the Society of Women Engineers knew Anita Gale, who worked on the Space Shuttle program. Letters followed, recommending and expanding ideas, and concluding with a telephone call between Anita in California and Rob Kolstad (a member of the steering group) in Texas. During that conversation, they brainstormed and created the basic structure of the event, that it would be both a design competition and a management simulation game. Anita and cohort volunteer-for-many-things Dick Edwards wrote the materials for the game. The first Space Settlement Design Competition was conducted at Ohio State University (between thunderstorms and tornadoes) in August 1984, with about 75 participants. It was wildly successful. Even astronaut Story Musgrave stopped by to watch design presentations.
The Explorers' Science and Engineering Cluster (headed by Brian Archimbaud) was so impressed by this event, they decided to make sure it would continue in some form. Eventually, Dr. Peter Mason and the Space Exploration Post at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, agreed to try it out on a local level. The first SpaceSet (Post member Nathan Hawkins came up with the name) was held in 1986. Eighteen SpaceSet competitions were conducted at JPL, with continuing participation by Anita Gale and Dick Edwards, Rob Kolstad, and Dr. Mason. As many as 160 young people participated each year, with a different design challenge each time. The Competition organizers requested space settlement designs in Earth orbit, on Earth's moon, on and in orbit around Mars, and on and in orbit around Venus (including some global atmospheric alterations to make it habitable). One Earth orbiting settlement was required to be capable of moving to another solar system.
The first annual National Competition was organized when SpaceWeek International Executive Director Brian Archimbaud (same guy) considered that a Space Settlement Design Competition would be appropriate to include in commemorating the 25th anniversary of the first lunar landing, in July 1994. Before he had a chance to figure out how to get back in touch with Anita Gale and Dick Edwards, he happened to recognize Anita at the other end of a wine-tasting counter at the Snoqualmie Winery in North Bend, Washington. The National event took place July 17 through 19, 1994, in Washington, D.C. Astronauts and Cosmonauts recruited as volunteers for this event were so impressed with its educational value, they insisted that it continue as an annual event.
After Brian Archimbaud left SpaceWeek International late in 1994, the organization decided not to continue supporting the program. Epcot in Walt Disney World agreed in 1995 to help Anita and Dick meet the promise made to the astronauts and cosmonauts. In 1996, the Competition acquired new hosts, The Center for Space Education and NASA - Kennedy Space Center.
Sponsorship by The Boeing Company made continuation of annual International Space Settlement Design Competitions possible. In 2001, the KSC venue of the Competition was moved to more spacious facilities at the Kurt Debus Conference Center, operated by the KSC Visitor Complex. In 2005 this facility was unavailable due to a planned Space Shuttle flight, and alternate arrangements were made at hotels in Titusville. When a 2006 Space Shuttle flight again made KSC facilities unavailable, the Competition organizers decided to permanently move Finalist Competitions to the Gilruth Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Volunteer efforts that make the Competition happen are contributed by members of Sections of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Texas and Orange County (California), the Society of Women Engineers in Texas, The Boeing Company, NASA JSC, and other entities in the area around JSC.
In addition to SpaceSet at JPL, local events based on the Space Settlement Design Competition format have been conducted for NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center (Antelope Valley and Victor Valley, California), NASA Johnson Space Center (Houston, Texas), and NASA White Sands Test Facility (Las Cruces, New Mexico).
The idea of a Semi-Finalist Competition was first suggested by Mark Shaw from Brisbane, Australia. In 2004, advisors of a Finalist team from Patiala, India, asked if a Competition could be conducted in Asia. Within months, procedures for the first-ever Semi-Finalist Competition were developed by Anita and Dick, with Abhishek Agarwal in India, and travel was arranged through a generous donation from The Boeing Company. The first Semi-Finalist Competition was conducted at The American Center in Delhi, India, in December 2004. Mark Shaw assembled a committee that conducted the first Australian Semi-Finalist Competition in January, 2007. Starting in 2008, the local JSC event was declared an International Space Settlement Design Competition Semi-Final, and Regional Competitions selected Finalists from Latin American and Eastern Europe. A Semi-Final for the UK and Western Europe was established in 2010.
In 2008, the Competition was recognized with presentations of two Awards to Anita. The National Space Society presented the Space Pioneer Award, in the Category of Educator. The Boeing Company presented the William Allen Cup for Exceptional Volunteer Service.