Sure, the opening ceremony for Beijing's Summer Olympics may have been visually stunning (and that was just the athletes' outfits) and benefited from the latest in space technology, but even that wasn't enough to get us interested in anything with the word "olympic" attached to it (Blame it on unfortunate PE experiences while in high school). And then we discovered the Space Olympics.

Just to make it clear, I'm not talking about this Space Olympics, nor am I talking about this Space Olympics - Although, I have to admit, I really want to find out more about the latter one; I mean, come on: Batman never cheats. No, I'm referring to the real Space Olympics, an annual 10-day crash-course hot-housing of today's students in a suburb of Moscow that makes them realize that space really is the place. Running since 1994, the Russian International Space Olympics for Students (to give the event its full title) takes place this October and is available for students from the US, UK, Russia, Australia and Europe who, judging by one particular application form, are verbose enough to give great essay:

The opportunity to participate will be competitive based on a student's research project, grades/courses taken, and answers to questions in the application package... The research project and student presentation of the project are an important part of the International Space Olympics. The topic identified for research is space exploration. To assist applicants in considering topics, the broad NASA research areas are presented. However, the applicant may use research data from any viable source. These four research areas are: Human Exploration and Development of Space; Earth Science; Planetary and Space Science; and Transportation Needs in Space. Research should reflect the scientific investigation process that is a part of the Science Standards of Learning (ES.1, ES.2, BIO.1, PH.1, PH.2), which includes: develop a question; form a hypothesis; recognize that evidence is required to evaluate hypotheses and explanations; use technologies, including computers, to collect, analyze, and report data to demonstrate concepts and simulate experimental conditions; construct and defend a scientific viewpoint; explain that observation and logic are essential for reaching a conclusion; and interpolate, extrapolate, and analyze trends to make predictions. The research process of the English Standards of Learning (11.10) should also be used. This process includes: evaluate quality and accuracy of information; synthesize information in a logical sequence; edit writing for clarity of content and effect; document sources of information, using a style sheet, such as that of the Modern Language Association (MLA) or the American Psychological Association (APA); edit copy for grammatically correct use of language, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization; and proofread final copy and prepare document for publication or submission. The research project should be explained in a paper that should be a maximum of ten pages in length, single-spaced, using 12-point font, and one-inch margins.

(Other qualities necessary to attend include "open-mindedness" and "ability to cope with adverse conditions," which suggests that someone somewhere expects something to go wrong at some point during the trip, or has a low opinion of Russian lodgings.) Successful applicants will get to present their research projects at the Space Olympics, as well as meet Russian Cosmonauts, visit Russia's Mission Control Center, hang out at the Kremlin and, hopefully for all involved, hook up with other space geeks from exotic foreign countries. All of which sounds more attractive - and productive - to us than watching someone jump around on the parallel bars for hours on end. Space Olympics []