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A 12th grade artist with a passion for NASA and space took home the top prize for the 2024 NASA Student Art Contest, a nationwide competition hosted by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Esther Lee, of Washington State, was selected as the grand prize winner for her submission “Beyond Imagination,” which depicts a young girl and her dog in a cardboard box exploring the universe. Lee said she was inspired by memories of her adventurous childhood.

“Beyond Imagination,” 2024 NASA Student Art Contest grand prize winner
NASA / Esther Lee

“The underlying inspiration from this piece actually originates from childhood memories. As a kid, I used to sit down in cardboard moving boxes and shuffle along the carpet or wood floors, pretending that I was a pirate or adventurer on a ship exploring the vast unknowns,” Lee said. “Ultimately, I wanted my piece to capture that same childlike innocence and joy from all those years ago.”

Lee’s piece stood out among a crowded and creative field. This year’s theme, “Connecting the Dots”, encouraged K-12 students to explore innovative ideas about the intersection of science, technology, and art.

“The milky ways party” by Ziyo Cui, 1st Place Kindergarten Division
NASA / Ziyo Cui

Art contest coordinator, Kristina Cors, said this year’s contest, which brought in more than 2000 entries, was one of the best. “The art contest received a record number of entries this year and the quality of the art was absolutely incredible. From the impressive skills of our winners to the joyful imagination of our youngest entries, each piece represented an excitement for exploration and creativity,” remarked Cors.

“We’re going back” by Hannah Kim, 1st Place 8th Grade Division
NASA/ Hannah Kim

Lee’s victory is a product of years of continued efforts and inspirations, as well as a personal interest in NASA’s missions and space science. “I’ve been drawing on and off since elementary school. As I had more time during the pandemic, I had the opportunity to explore digital art more seriously. NASA and space have always been a huge inspiration for me,” she said.

Esther Lee holding her grand prize-winning artwork, “Beyond Imagination”.
NASA / Esther Lee

Using the software Procreate on her iPad, Esther took her interpretation of the prompt “Connect the Dots” skyward by imagining a connection between dreams and reality. She said “Beyond Imagination” emerged from a personal philosophy. “As a child, your dreams could take you far beyond your ordinary world. Equipped with just a cardboard box, paper hat, and plushies, you could travel all the way up to space and beyond. Your future is only restricted by your imagination.”

To view this year’s contest submissions, click here.

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Last Updated
Apr 25, 2024

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