Each year, the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) organize an art contest meant to encourage young people to become familiar with (and participate in) aeronautics, engineering, and science.
"The quality of the art we see is unbelievable," says Dik Daso, who has been a judge for the past five years. Daso, a curator of modern military aircraft at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, along with two other judges, selected nine first-, second-, and third-place winners from approximately 170 state finalists.
The theme of this year's contest was the 50th anniversary of human spaceflight, and more than 6,800 students from 24 states participated in the U.S. competition. (Students first compete at the state level; each state aviation organization then sends its finalists to NASAO.) The artwork of the U.S. winners (who range in age from 6 to 17 years old) will be entered in the international aviation art contest, held in Lausanne, Switzerland this month.
For those states that do not hold a competition, students and teachers were able—for the first time—to send submissions to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, Arizona campus, which then grouped submissions by state. "What's interesting," says Kathryn Solee, president of the NASAO Center for Aviation Research and Education, "is that New Jersey sent over 400 pieces of art to Embry-Riddle, and had two national winners."
"100 years ago, your great-great-grandparents read about traveling through space in science fiction books," reads the contest brochure. "50 years ago, your grandparents listened the radio or watched on television when the first human orbited the earth, and today you can watch a small crew of astronauts from around the world share living and research quarters on the International Space Station on your laptop computer.... Time to grab your favorite paintbrush or markers, buckle up into a secure position in front of your desk, and blast off into your imagination..."
Through a process of elimination, each judge argues for his or her favorite pieces. Since the winning artwork will be made into posters, "you look for themes that have public appeal," says Daso, "in addition to artistic skill."
Daso's interest in the competition goes beyond enjoying the artwork, however. "I'm very excited to see young people getting involved, really involved with aviation topics," says Daso.