Challenge Under Stars

Rio Tinto launches a astronomy-based challenge.

BORON -- Rio Tinto launched a national competition at the end of June with the intent to have families and children reaching for the stars while staying close to home, according to a news release.

The “Challenge Under the Stars” competition runs through the end of August and will feature several educational segments available via YouTube.

Each week, participants will receive all the details of their challenge by email. They will then be able to view the video capsule on a space-related theme. 

The challenges will call upon the stargazers’ skills by asking them to draw a picture, solve a puzzle or test their memory by answering questions. Participants have a chance to win over $5,000 in prizes, including telescopes and binoculars to further their new passion.

The competition aims to be both educational and help people focus on something besides the current novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping both the nation and the world, according to  Benoit Laplante, Rio Tinto’s procurement business partner for Boron and Rio Tinto Fer et Titane Canada. 

“The main reason we put this competition together is for an activity that families can participate together at home,” Laplante said. “They can just go outside, especially with those who live in the Boron or Mojave area. The sky’s pretty dark out there, so it’s perfect for stargazing.”

Laplante, also considered a space mission specialist, serves as the competition’s face on the YouTube videos.

Another goal of the competition is to foster an interest in science and astronomy.

“Especially in Mojave, you’re surrounded by space-related history,” Laplante said. “You’ve got Edwards Air Force Base, a rocket testing site, Mojave Air and Space Port. Maybe this will give them a chance to look up at the sky, learn the beauty of what we have up there and start wondering what is out there.”

He added that Rio Tinto has already seen enthusiasm for the subject from children when it launched a similar French-language contest in Quebec, Canada in June.

“It’s not just about looking at the stars, it’s about the mechanics of how things work and the number of countries involved in the International Space Station,” Laplante said. 

Laplante said his own love for the subject grew from the Apollo 11 moon landing.

“As a kid, I remember when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and for me it was ‘wow,’” Laplante said. It fostered a love of space, and a desire to go there. He said while his goal of joining the Air Force as a pilot hit a roadblock due to eyesight not being 20/20, it didn’t stop him from pursuing the topic.

“I had the chance to meet a Canadian astronaut who introduced me to a chance to get more involved with the space program,” Laplante said. “I had the chance to do some training at Huston and got my private pilot’s license.”

Since 1999, he has also been a space mission specialist on TV news shows in Quebec.

Laplante said Rio Tinto will look at launching a similar competition in the winter so participants can understand the seasonal changes in the night sky. He added that children who want to pursue space-related careers will need to understand the stars they see during the summer aren’t the same as those in the winter.

To enter, visit and click on “Go for the Challenge” to subscribe and participate.

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