"Can the foundation for a bright future in aviation and space be built one LEGO brick at a time?" That's the question NASA asked budding aerospace engineers for "NASA's Future Missions: Imagine. Invent. BUILD" contest. These are the winning designs.

The Mission

There were two competition categories, one for aviation and one for space. Each category called for design ideas for future aircraft that would achieve realistic goals currently sought by NASA's aeronautical innovators, such as "creating aircraft shapes and technologies that increase fuel efficiency, and reduce harmful emissions and noise." The second category focused on designs for futuristic vehicles to travel into space. The competition was open to builders 13 years old and up.

The Winners

Claes Sundstrom of Sweden was the overall winner in the "Inventing the Future Flight" category with his "Hydrogen-Powered Regional Airliner." Sundstrom's design is intended to carry up to 189 passengers, with a range of 3,500 miles and "features a blended hybrid wing body and hydrogen-fueled, turboelectric engines."

Image Credit: Composite by NASA / Jim Banke

"Here is an example of our more modern design in flight, with true smooth lines and aerodynamic curves. We can see this type of plane flying through our skies in the near future. We believe that the builders here truly understand what it takes to build such a plane," the contest judges wrote.

Image Credit: Claes Sundstrom

William Nodvik, 16, created the "Flying Extinguisher 4000 Fish Eagle," which won the young, student builders group. This long-range supertanker puts out wildfires: "It has vertical and short field takeoff and landing capabilities (V/STOL), and its high aspect ratio wing allows the airplane to soar for long distances."

Image Credit: Composite by NASA / Jim Banke

"We were really impressed by the level of detail and thought in this model. We could easily see the V/STOL engines noted, and the pontoons for landing and water storage. The length and shape of the wings were cleverly and beautifully designed with nature in mind," the contest judges wrote.

Image Credit: William Nodvik

The overall winning entry in the "Imagine Our Future Beyond Earth" category was "The Sunbeam." This satellite model was designed by Jay Semlis, of England, "designed to probe the outer corona of the sun."

Runners-up included "The ORACOM," which was a Mars-bound spacecraft designed by Sergio Parra, of the U.S.. and "Asteroid Initiative," a spacecraft designed by Peter Hollander, also of the U.S. that would collect and move asteroids. The winners were selected by a panel that included NASA and LEGO officials. Each winner will receive a LEGO trophy and a slew of NASA swag, including "a crew patch flown on one of Melvin's shuttle missions." [NASA]

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