Shooting for the stars

Senior is named finalist in national space challenge


courtesy of Josiah Hickman

After winning a trip to Florida, senior Josiah Hickman sits in a Blue Origin crew capsule. Hickman won his trip to Florida and Blue Origin by being named a finalist in Space for the Benefit of Earth Challenge.

Eshwar Murali, News Sports Editor

Senior Josiah Hickman was already entranced with space at a young age. When he visited NASA’s Space Center, Hickman had found his calling.

“Seeing the spacecraft, the rovers and the different structures they had was beautiful to me. It’s almost like a piece of art on display. It’s as beautiful as any work of art. I think the utility of [the display] and the practicality of what they built drives a certain beauty that derives from its use,” Hickman said.

And now, as he prepares to go to USC for Astronautical Engineering, his passion for all things space has yet to dry up. Specifically, Hickman and his team of three were named finalists in the Space for the Benefit of Earth Challenge.

“The Space for the Benefit of Earth Challenge’s prompt was to brainstorm a solution to utilize space resources for the benefit of Earth. It was a collaboration between Blue Origin and the Conrad Foundation,” Hickman said.

Hickman and his team created a research proposal and an accompanying five-minute video showcasing their solution to the prompt. However, Hickman’s solution didn’t derive from something extraterrestrial, in fact, it came from something uniquely earthly.

“My solution was to create these snake-based robots that utilize snake-like movement to traverse the surfaces of Mars and asteroids to map out extraterrestrial cages. This locates ore deposits and uses stuff like neutron spectroscopy,”

Hickman’s solution showcases a process called biomimicry. Biomimicry, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, replicates or takes influence from parts of nature to solve problems or create new technology.

“I read a book about biomimicry in the aerospace industry. In the example in the book, they were looking at the aerodynamics of a boxfish, which is a fish that is oddly rectangular, yet it still propels itself through the water and it evolved that way. So clearly there is some evolutionary advantage to aerodynamics. So they studied it and applied it to the aerodynamic design of a car. So I was thinking along the lines of mimicking nature and a snake came to mind since they are really efficient in traversing [changing] surfaces,” Hickman said.

After being named a finalist, Hickman’s team, with his mom as their chaperone, got an all-expense paid trip to Merritt Island, Florida, from April 24-26. Traveling to Blue Origin’s Florida Location, Hickman had the chance to meet Blue Origin engineers and other finalists.

“When I got to Florida, they took us to the Blue Origin facilities and we were with the other finalists. We got paired with another team and we got saddled with some Blue Origin engineers and they worked with us to combine our ideas into a larger project,” Hickman said. “We got to meet a lot of interesting people and networked with them. Listening to them speak was really enlightening for me because I got to learn a lot of interesting things. Some of them were young and really successful, so it was pretty cool.”

One of the highlights of the trip for Hickman was meeting Vlada Stamenkovic, a Senior Director of Space Resources at Blue Origin, who even invited Hickman to visit Blue Origin’s Southern California location.

“He was a really smart person, I felt like I got to learn a lot just by working beside him and tossing my ideas off of him. He further expanded on what I just started on [the research proposal] and then further expanded it out into something feasible in the real world,” Hickman said.

Hickman’s team was working under some tight time constraints.

“I saw the competition like two weeks before the deadline to submit. I pulled a couple of all-nighters and drank six cups of coffee in one day. I was even working on it during class and I was not worried about anything else.”

While the process of making the solution was strenuous, Hickman was motivated to push on by his parents.

“My parents are two people that have really inspired me because they’re just really hardworking. My mom has been working two jobs since I’ve been conscious. She’s always just made her largest effort to support me and make sure I’m able to accomplish what I can do.”

When you have somebody working so hard for you, you feel like you can’t fail.

— Josiah Hickman

Although he was happy with a free trip, Hickman was happier to do more space work

“The free trip to Florida sounded nice, the opportunity to network sounded nice, but if that’s your only motivation, the physical reward, you’re not gonna get really far. So besides all of that, I really love and enjoy being able to work in the space field. Any opportunity I get to work in the field of space is something I thoroughly enjoy and I’m ecstatic to do so.

Outside of the Space for the Benefit of Earth Challenge, Hickman has pursued a future career in many different ways, from being a recipient of a $40,000 Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship and conducting research at SLU, however, taking Physics C with science teacher Shannon Campbell at LHS affected him immensely.

“Taking Physics C with Campbell was a great experience. She’s a great teacher in general. Can’t have anyone better to teach the class. She makes it so easy to have a love for the subject. [Physics C] was definitely a challenge, but it was enjoyable. I wanted to be challenged and I embraced the challenge that came through the class,” Hickman said.

While she doesn’t think that she had much of an influence on Hickman, Campbell believes that Josiah is a special type of student.

I want to find a space exploration company and maybe win a Collier Trophy and be able to retire my parents.

— Josiah Hickman

“I don’t think I have had much of an influence on him but I did push him when he was struggling. Students like Josiah don’t have many classes that cause them to struggle so it was a new experience for him and I think I helped him learn how to overcome challenges,” Campbell said. “Students like Josiah are rare. I have been teaching for 17 years and five come to mind.”

Hickman will be a student at USC next year and he has goals for his time there.

“I’m using college as a way to explore myself and as a gateway for my career. I also want to try to find a start-up during college, but if the ideas don’t, then they don’t come. It’s not something I want to force.”

Campbell believes that Hickman will make his chosen impact.

“I know that I will hear or see him again and I do believe that he will make a mark in his chosen field and I can’t wait to watch,” Campbell said.