Gillette fifth grader among 155 selected nationwide for recognition by NASA

Mike Moore, Gillette News Record photo Tayvin Anderson, 10, flips a piece of paper over while filling it out in his fifth-grade classroom at Stocktrail Elementary School Friday, March 26, 2021, in Gillette. Anderson is one of 155 students selected nationwide for recognition by NASA in an essay contest.

GILLETTE — “Imagine you’re in NASA’s spacecraft for three days straight, with nothing to do but think about traveling to the moon.”

That’s how Tayvin Anderson, a Stocktrail Elementary School fifth grader, began an essay. And in due time, that same essay will be aboard the Artemis 1 spacecraft, scheduled to launch later this year, as it leaves low-Earth orbit on its way to orbit the moon.

An essay contest sponsored by Future Engineers, an education technology company that engages K-12 students with innovation contests and challenges in partnership with NASA, asked students across the country to imagine they were leading a one-week expedition at the moon’s south pole.

“Tell us about the types of skills, attributes and/or personality traits that you would want your Moon Pod crew to have and why,” the contest’s prompt encouraged the students.

Anderson, 10, had to make his case in no more than 200 words, but his essay — one of 14,000 submitted to the contest — caught the attention of some of the more than 1,000 volunteer judges. 

He was selected as Wyoming’s semifinalist from all the state’s students between fifth and eighth grades who wrote essays. Only 154 other students were selected across the entire country.

As a result, Anderson moves on to the next round of the competition. If he’s selected as one of the nation’s overall finalists, he’ll get to attend a shuttle launch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

In the meantime, as one of the three semifinalists from each state, Anderson will receive an Artemis gift pack worth $375 and four virtual lessons with NASA astronauts.

The Artemis program is touted as the series of missions that will “return humanity to the moon,” which is fitting because Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon, is the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. Apollo famously was the name for the series of missions that the United States undertook to reach the moon, beginning in the 1960s. 

The Artemis program will land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024. It will lead to an extensive exploration of the lunar surface, and it will serve as foundational experience upon which NASA can prepare for human missions to Mars.

Anderson said he’d been absent from school because of quarantine requirements when the rest of his classmates in Alicia Sifuentes’s science class had been learning about the assignment.

“I didn’t know a single thing about it,” Anderson said. “I didn’t get it in the Zoom call. So when I come back, we have to write it and I don’t know what to do. It ends up taking me four days to research, and on the final day, which is the deadline, I ended up writing the whole thing out in 30 minutes, just going with all of my research.”

The results were revealed in a livestream last week with Deanne Bell, CEO and founder of Future Engineers, and numerous astronauts from NASA. But Anderson already knew of the results.

Anderson remembered his mom calling to him after being contacted by Stocktrail staff.

“Tayvin, you’re in trouble!” she told him. She’s always joking around with him, he said.

His parents, Casey and Nathan Anderson, confirmed their son’s account of events. They played it up as if the call from the school was something bad.

“Then she just gave me a hug and told me all the news, straight out,” Tayvin said.

Then, Tayvin said he ran around the house in excitement.

His parents are immensely proud of Tayvin’s accomplishment, especially the scope of the contest with NASA involved. They described him as a top-notch student who’s thrived in Stocktrail’s dual-language immersion program since it began.

He’s a typical 10-year-old, his parents said. He’s obsessed with football and the Miami Dolphins, loves both playing Fortnite and getting outside for some backpacking. He plays piano without sheet music and is a “guinea pig dad” to the critters after Santa Claus brought them for his younger brother, who quickly tired of the responsibility.

His mom said she always knew there was something special about Tayvin.

“I remember when he was probably 3 years old,” Casey said. “In the bathtub, he had those rubber letters and numbers that you stick on the tub. I walked in and he’d put ‘H2O’ with the H, then the 2 a little bit lower and the O perfectly in line with the H. I mean, it was exactly the way you’d write it in chemistry class.”

He doesn’t obsess over space, like one might assume a winner of such a contest would. Tayvin said his favorite subject in school is math, which NASA could definitely put to good use one day.

When he looks to the future, he’s very much a 10-year-old boy. He wants to play in the NFL.

But he couldn’t help but be impressed with his writing ability after learning his essay had won and will be on board a space ship as it moves through outer space.

“Since it’s an essay and everything, sometimes I think I could be, like, a TV show writer, like a script writer for a movie or something like that,” Anderson said. “I just gather all this research that I think is good and I write it out.”

He was humbled by the size and scope of his accomplishment.

“Sometimes, when I’m just thinking about it, I’m like, ‘I was selected out of all of the fifth through eighth graders in Wyoming to represent Wyoming,” Tayvin said. “That’s just amazing.”