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NASA Science

NASA Wants Your Ambitious High-Tech Contest Ideas 128

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the none-of-us-are-as-dumb-as-all-of-us dept.
In an effort to create future Centennial Challenges, NASA is asking the general public to come up with (and submit) ambitious contest ideas. For the next six weeks, the Innovative Partnerships Program will be accepting ideas for new contests, with all submissions becoming public domain information. "According to NASA, any idea can be proposed for a prize competition that addresses challenges related to the mission of NASA in aeronautics, exploration, science, or space operations. Crosscutting topics or those that also address related national or global needs are especially valuable. The challenges must require basic and applied research, technology development or prototype demonstrations."
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NASA Wants Your Ambitious High-Tech Contest Ideas

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 28, 2009 @12:45PM (#29567591)

    So NASA is holding a contest to see who can come up with the best contest?

    the recursion is hurting my brain...

    • NASA Wants Your Ambitious High-Tech Contest Ideas

      because they don't have enough time or funding to do the research themselves!
      • What contests do (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Teancum (67324)

        While I know this was intended to be funny, not "insightful", there is a little kernel of truth here. NASA really doesn't have the time or funding to do all of this research themselves.

        Still, the point of doing this is due to the fact that there are many in the space exploration "fan clubs" (to use at least one term for the loosely organized groups of various kinds that support spaceflight) that have some pretty interesting ideas, and it would be a shame to throw out some very good ideas while a boring com

    • by pilgrim23 (716938)
      Well NASA does have their Ups and Downs.....
    • Don't get me wrong here. I am not saying I am encouraging this or that i am proud that NASA is doing this, but at least it will bring more attention to our space program than the average American has been giving it in recent years. It's sad, people used to crowd around the TV to watch when a shuttle launched, now they just catch a glimpse on the news when they are flipping channels from tool academy and Hasselhoff on America's got talent.
      • Re:Contest contest (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CraftyJack (1031736) on Monday September 28, 2009 @01:34PM (#29568375)

        Don't get me wrong here. I am not saying I am encouraging this or that i am proud that NASA is doing this, but at least it will bring more attention to our space program than the average American has been giving it in recent years. It's sad, people used to crowd around the TV to watch when a shuttle launched, now they just catch a glimpse on the news when they are flipping channels from tool academy and Hasselhoff on America's got talent.

        This could (and is) said of every half-baked NASA effort, including the whole "name-node-3" thing. To my mind, asking the general public to come up with ideas for Centennial Challenges means that:
        (a) NASA can't come up with a clear picture of what technologies are high priority and could benefit from a Centennial Challenge.
        (b) NASA sees the Centennial Challenges as public outreach with no real engineering payoff - so it doesn't matter what the topics are.
        (c) both (a) and (b).

        • Sometimes it is better to admit you are stupid and ask for help, than to just flounder away and get nothing done.
        • by TheLink (130905)

          There's also (d) This is just a publicity stunt and NASA is going to mostly ignore the submissions anyway.

          See: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30217550/ [msn.com]

          So go ahead waste your time. I'm not even sure if they will bother reading submissions after the first randomly sampled 1000 or so.

          • by Teancum (67324)

            While the naming contest was strictly a publicity stunt, the issue about the hardware development contests is a bit more serious.

            The #1 problem facing the Centennial Prize program is that it hasn't received any funding at all for the past 3 years. Money already allocated to the program hasn't been eliminated by congress, but at the same time nothing new has been added. It still is a line-item on the annual federal budget and is mentioned in several appropriations bills, but it makes it difficult to get an

      • by Teancum (67324)

        I don't think you quote know the extent of the support for spaceflight that there really is, and the ability to watch something like a shuttle flight is something that may get better ratings for network television than they might think.

        With the advent of live streaming via the internet, you no longer have to depend on one of the "big 3" television networks to decide if something is worth airing. You have the choice of either watching the launch on NASA-TV (I've done that a few times), or my current favorit

    • the recursion is hurting my brain...

      That's not recursion, it's meta! Yay metacontest, all hail the metacontest!

    • by Bitmanhome (254112) <bitman&pobox,com> on Monday September 28, 2009 @04:04PM (#29571217)

      They don't list any prizes, so later they're going to need a NASA Prize Challenge Challenge Prize Challenge.

  • by TechnologyResource (1638031) on Monday September 28, 2009 @12:50PM (#29567667)
    Come on guys, let's get some ideas. This isn't rocket science......oh, maybe it is.
    • Rocket science is over my head. Let's just keep this simple, alright? I think that I could go for the world's record in chin-ups. Send me to the space station!!

    • by Kamokazi (1080091)
      It doesn't have to be rocket science. We could use thrusters instead!
    • ... is to begin working on teleportation [wikipedia.org] ... enough with the big expensive space shuttles that keep blowing up or falling apart!
      • by Teancum (67324)

        If you can teleport even a single amino acid, I would be very much impressed. Right now most of the work is teleporting a single atom or perhaps for the very ambitious are sending a complete water molecule... and getting published in peer-reviewed scientific journals for doing that too!

        While in theory it may be possible (teleportation is a side effect of quantum computing), that is something for the far, far distant future... if it ever will happen at all on a macroscopic basis. I'm floored that it is eve

  • Yo dawg... (Score:5, Funny)

    by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Monday September 28, 2009 @01:00PM (#29567849)
    I heard you like contests, so I made a contest for your contest, so you can design the future while you design the future. Thanks, NASA.
  • WTF are they soliciting ideas for? If you have an idea that improves space travel, form a company and promote it. The returns will likely be better too, as you will own your ideas and can sell/lease them to foreign investors as well.
    • by MickLinux (579158) on Monday September 28, 2009 @01:13PM (#29568029) Journal

      I agree that Nasa can't afford what it has now. That said, NASA may be better off spending its money on contests.

      But this is an opportunity for any teams of graduate researchers who *want* to take their research into the market.

      All they have to do is:

      1. Design a contest that they are likely to win.
      2. Submit contest (or have a friend submit the contest, to avoid the apparant conflict of interest).
      3. Wait for similar contest to come out
      4. Enter similar contest and publicize heavily.
      5. Encourage donations
      6. Win, or come close
      7. Sell product under heavy publication
      8. Profit!

      Whether you win or not determines the initial profitability -- but not the long term profitability.
      The free publicity of being on the news helps determine long-term profitability.

      • by Banichi (1255242)

        I hope NASA does continue spending money on contests. Anything that reduces it's utility as a spacegoing agency is to be supported. When people realize it does very little (due to Congress repeatedly cutting it off at the kneecaps, financially speaking), it can be dissolved and it's assets sold to private corporations.

        It is sometimes better to scrap a bad system (NASA is rife with entrenched bureaucracy and poorly designed [24,300 unique tiles on a shuttle is an exercise in unnecessary complication] machine

  • Active Structures (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday September 28, 2009 @01:02PM (#29567871)

    I know it's a bit outside of NASA's purview, for the moment at least, but how about a contest to build structures that are held up by kinetic energy. You launch material to the top of your structure, catch it there, and throw it back down; transfering enough energy in the process to hold the structure aloft. This kind of thing could eventually be used to build Launch Loops or Space Fountains and is a pretty big engineering challenge that is probably solvable today with a little effort. And it's no more outlandish than a space elevator (probably less so in fact).

    • by guruevi (827432)

      I don't know exactly what you had in mind but it seems very science fiction-y to me and would have to account for things like: what if one (or multiple) launches fail for some or another reason and wouldn't you need more and more energy (in an infinite loop - eventually depleting all resources) over time or else the structure comes tumbling down. Space elevators are based on the idea that gravity will sustain the structure (although we need very thin, very strong, very light cable and we can (currently) onl

      • You're assuming that each object tossed up will mean energy lost to the system. In reality, you'd want to keep the projectiles at high speed, including during the 'catch and throw back' parts by having them curve around a structure rather than stop and start again. The launch loop idea is perhaps easier to understand since it doesn't use discrete projectiles but rather one, very long, flexible belt that is looped at the ends.

        Have a read if I'm not explaining this very well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La [wikipedia.org]

        • As far as I can tell, the launch loop pictured will not work. They've got the loop arching up, over and down, then it circles around and comes back over the same up-over-down path. Once back on the ground it circles around and completes the path. That means in the launch arch the loop is travelling both ways. Any attempt to induce a lift field will be matched by a field that pulls you back to the ground. In order for the launch loop to work, the forward and return portions of the loop need to be separat
          • by UltraOne (79272)

            The two top sections of the loop would be separated enough that you could connect a capsule to only one of them. Something on the order of a few hundred meters apart. Launching capsules would be connected at the West station to the West to East cable. They would accelerate by applying a magnetic field to that cable, and then release into orbit once fully accelerated. Landing capsules would have to match orbit with a section of the East to West cable near the West end. They would then decelerate by applying

        • by Teancum (67324)

          Launch loops do have some significant engineering and even pure physical challenges in order to get them to work.... many of which they do share with space elevators. While I will admit that launch loops seem to be a bit more practical than a space elevator, both technologies are years or even centuries away from happening on a realistic level.

          This is a technology that I think would be incredibly exciting to see happen, but there certainly are some advances needed in materials science and even engineering

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      That would be a great idea if it weren't for the laws of thermodynamics.

      • That's okay: we can just hook a thermodynamic compensator into the energy transfer matrix.
      • Re:Active Structures (Score:4, Interesting)

        by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday September 28, 2009 @01:44PM (#29568553)

        Care to explain? The system would certainly take energy, a significant amount of it in fact. But that energy could be produced on the ground as opposed to having to take it with you as is done in rocket launches. Put your moving pieces inside of an evacuated tube and fire/turn the projectiles using magnets there will be very little energy lost to friction. The current estimates for the power requirements of a launch loop are a 500 Mw power plant for 35 launches per day and can be scaled up to 80 launches per hour with sufficient power (17 Gw).

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by UltraOne (79272)

        This system still requires energy input to launch things into orbit, but the key point is that it requires orders of magnitude less energy than a conventional rocket launch. Without going into the math, the key feature of the launch loop, space elevator, or other "skyhook" technology is that the propulsion system applies force against a structure that is anchored to the ground. This means that most of the energy goes into accelerating the payload.

        In a conventional rocket, the propulsion system is pushing ag

  • I got it! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by wesslen (1644543)
    How about we find a useful mission for the billions of dollars in research we have just sitting around NASA? Like a mission that would improve the quality of human life instead of watching m&m's floating in zero g. I'm just sayin...
    • by sumdumass (711423)

      What about a project that uses the coolant properties of Freon and freon substitutes to power generators that create electricity and charge batteries or a capacitor.

      The idea isn't free energy or anything, it's more or less reclaiming unused energy in cooling devices. Take something like a small powered laser or a charges nickel catalyst and place it in the freon lines with a valve controlling the pressure to be directed at some sort of turbine or generate pump before the freon goes from liquid to gas just t

    • You should study history. Humankind doesn't want better quality of life. They've had thousands of years to work at that goal, but choose to wage war, rape, plunder, pillage and kill instead. Now, get off your liberal arse, and help to develop a better bomb.

      • Re:I got it! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by c6gunner (950153) on Monday September 28, 2009 @04:21PM (#29571517)

        You should study history. Humankind doesn't want better quality of life. They've had thousands of years to work at that goal, but choose to wage war, rape, plunder, pillage and kill instead. Now, get off your liberal arse, and help to develop a better bomb.

        I know that some bumper-sticker-thinker will probably mod you insightful, but I thought I'd point out that you're pretty much 100% wrong. Quality of life (and the average life span) has risen with minor fluctuations throughout recorded history, while the amount of "war, rape, plunder, pillage and kill[ing]" per capita has steadily declined. In other words, not only do we live longer and better than we ever have before, but we hurt each other less, too.

        Also, I'm fairly sure you're misusing the word "Liberal".

        Other than that, you're completely right!

  • The first idea that springs to mind would be for NASA to have a contest to see who could provide a modern online contest idea submission form. Having the "Call For Prize Concepts" and "Entry Form" as linked Word files that need to be edited with your ideas, and then attached to an email with a specific subject line is not very high-tech or open. Word is popular but not everyone has it.
    • by oneiros27 (46144)

      The sad thing is, I've actually been on NASA review panels before, and it gets even more meta than that.

      Most of us were using spreadsheets to track the scoring of each of the proposals. By the second day of the last review I was on, one of the other reviewers had customized her spreadsheet enough (I think there was some automatic colorizing, some formulas to sort the overall rankings (which were from 'poor' to 'excellent') ... that people brought up the fact that every reviewer does this each time we have

      • by Convector (897502)
        With NSPIRES, you can weed out the obvious low-scoring applicants. Only those who can successfully navigate NSPIRES can actually submit grant proposals.
      • Obviously they just need to hold a contest to find the best way to judge the contest for a contest idea, but then they'll have to properly judge the contest for judging a contest contest.
      • by Teancum (67324)

        Too bad the contest ideas aren't being submitted via a wiki instead. It would be fun to take some of the contest ideas and have some collaborative writing to help refine the ideas and improve them to something worth paying attention to.

        Yeah, I know that isn't the usual proposal process for an organization like NASA, but it is an alternative that could improve the quality of submissions and be able to even have some "self-organizing" in terms of getting a community of interested folks put together and helpi

  • Baby steps (Score:5, Funny)

    by eln (21727) on Monday September 28, 2009 @01:08PM (#29567943) Homepage
    The problem is NASA is trying to accomplish too much too fast. They should go for multi-stage contests, where individual teams can compete for each stage of a larger goal. For example, the first stage contest could be for the first group to successfully land a man on the moon. Ten years later, the second stage contest could be for the first group to successfully retrieve a human, or his remains, from the moon. The third stage could be a contest to see who could send a man outside of the Earth-Moon system. Several years after that, the fourth stage contest could be for someone to actually send a man on a trajectory to hit Mars. Fifth stage could be an economical way to retrieve small bits of spacecraft and human body parts from the surface of Mars. Eventually, around the 15th or 20th stage, we'll have a colony on Mars, from which we could attempt to contact the guy we shot off into deep space in the third stage. Simple, really.
    • by PvtVoid (1252388)

      Several years after that, the fourth stage contest could be for someone to actually send a man on a trajectory to hit Mars. Fifth stage could be an economical way to retrieve small bits of spacecraft and human body parts from the surface of Mars.

      This is pretty much what Paul Davies [nytimes.com] and Lawrence Krauss [nytimes.com] have already been arguing for.

      I wonder if they're volunteering to go first.

  • i really want to see what these shark would be capable of.
  • Design a better toilet and you'll be in the heart of every astronaut who feels the pressure.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Design a better toilet and you'll be in the heart of every astronaut who feels the pressure.

      That idea sucks, in a literal sense.
           

  • ...First prize: a mountain bike made of diamonds.

    I already made an invention for the future, I made that reverse microwave!
    I need to put freon in it to make it work. It makes ice so fast and makes beer icy cold and pizza too hot makes it a little colder so you don't burn the roof of your mouth.

    Also, as practical inventions go, there's the garbage juicer. How it works is quite incredible. All you do is take garbage out of any old garbage bag, and when the lights go on you're ready to go.
    The first tap is kero

  • They need to create some of the intresting items from the better science fiction books. Let's create a ringworld, or something intresting like that.

  • Here's an easy one (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gravatron (716477) on Monday September 28, 2009 @01:24PM (#29568193)
    How about a contest to design a modern versions of the cameras used on the Apollo project? By that, I mean a lightweight solution to taking photographs and video on the lunar surface, usable by an astronaut in full gear, with enough battery life and capacity to take a few thousand pictures and or X many hours of video.

    Bonus points will be awarded if your solution also includes extra equipment, such as monopods/tripods, high gain antenna, solar recharge kit, is capable of surviving other hostile environments, such as the surface of mars, is capable of using different filters for uv/IR/etc, remote control options, etc.
    • by Zordak (123132)

      By that, I mean a lightweight solution to taking photographs and video on the lunar surface, usable by an astronaut in full gear

      Don't you mean a lightweight solution to taking photographs and video on a sound stage, usable by an actor in full gear?

    • There's an app for that

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      How about a contest to design a modern versions of the cameras used on the Apollo project? By that, I mean a lightweight solution to taking photographs and video on the lunar surface...

      And a way to guarantee the results don't get lost Indiana-Jones style.
         

      • And a way to guarantee the results don't get lost Indiana-Jones style.

        The reason those pictures got lost is well known. Buzz Aldrin was supposed to be the first Man to step on the moon. And it's only at the last minute that (for no apparent reason) Mission Control told him to let Neil Armstrong take his place and take all the glory that came with it. Both of them had cameras, and they both took pictures of each other, but Buzz Aldrin "accidentally" left his camera (with all the pictures of Neil Armstrong) on the moon.

        Now, I'm sure you could think up of technical solutions fo

    • Bonus points will be awarded if your solution also includes extra equipment, such as monopods/tripods, high gain antenna, solar recharge kit, is capable of surviving other hostile environments, such as the surface of mars, is capable of using different filters for uv/IR/etc, remote control options, etc.

      Are there extra bonus points if it drives around by itself? My money's on Steve Squyres.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 28, 2009 @01:28PM (#29568265)

    Clean up all the debris that is already up there and you'll lower the difficulty of future challenges.

  • My contest is to design a contest.
    Thus, NASA has already chosen my entry, and I have already won!

    Quickly! To the entry submission form!

  • 1) look at some weird hobby project you did
    2) describe it's functionality in the form of a contest description :)
    3) send the contest description to NASA
    4) apply your weird hobby project for the contest
    5) profit! :D

  • by Tekfactory (937086) on Monday September 28, 2009 @02:18PM (#29569193) Homepage

    MIT is working on a Mechanical Counterpressure Spacesuit, its called the Biosuit. The materials its made out of are not as advanced as they need to be, but some of the mechanical structures, and the concepts used to design the suits are ready.

    http://mvl.mit.edu/EVA/biosuit/index.html [mit.edu]

    Basically by being a skin tight suit the wearer is better equipped to handle long hours in a space suit, right now something like 80% of an astronaut's exertions are fighting the suit, with 20% left for actually working on the Space Station or Hubble or something.

    In 'the future' we're going to spend a lot more time outside doing things, on orbit, on the moon, on mars and it'd be a lot better off if we didn't have to fight the suit to do the work.

    • by Gravatron (716477)
      Speaking of being outside doing things, what about a contest to design tool kits for planetary exploration/science? Something like a Lunar/Mars ready field geology kit? Would have to cram as many high quality tools/instruments into a set size and weight limit.
  • How about a contest to make NASA part of the public eye again? Oh I don't know, "America's Next Top Astronaut".

    If anything, it would get people involved again, and the ratings and advertising revenue might supplement NASA's ever declining budget.

    (I'm advocating a "if you can't beat'em, join'em" approach. It probably won't work, but as someone who spent only five minutes thinking about it, I really don't know)

    Good Luck (You will need it - yes you NASA)

    • by IrquiM (471313)

      That was done in Norway a couple of years ago (7-8?). And Malaysia I think, and... oh, guess the idea probably came from the US ;)

  • Dear NASA (Score:4, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Monday September 28, 2009 @02:39PM (#29569585) Journal
    Dear NASA,

    Here's a contest for you: The Find A Proper Administrator Contest.

    O'Keefe and Griffin really did a number on NASA. We've known for a while that the shuttles needed replacing, yet here we are, limping them along with no replacement* in sight. We'll have at least a five year gap in manned space flight capabilities due in part to the shortsightedness of these men, not to mention a space station that is not even complete, yet is shortly due for decommission.

    *I hear some of you saying "What about Ares?". Are you talking about the Ares that is going to lift our astronauts into an orbit with a negative perigee? Are you talking about the Ares that cannot lift the Orion module unless they strip out the airbags, toilets, land landing equipment, and a third of the astronauts? Are you talking about the Ares that is going to put the astronauts through the roughest launch environment (thrust oscillation, max-Q, G-forces, acoustics) that manned space flight has ever seen? That Ares?

    Or are you talking about the Ares that can't be built in existing factories because it is too big around? Are you talking about the Ares that needs a specially re-inforced launch pad, with thicker concrete driveways, and a new, stronger crawler because it is so heavy the current infrastructure is unable to handle the weight? Are you talking about the Ares that won't be ready to fly until at least 2020? That Ares?
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Find A Proper Administrator Contest...gap...due in part to the shortsightedness of these men...

      To be fair, their funding and political mandates change more frequently than most geeks' underwear.
         

      • by 32771 (906153)

        They need something like a millennial continuity contest.

        Coincidentally I already have a plan. People have noticed that lowest consumption trajectories to the planets exist that take a long time to complete.

        http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/03/07/215211&mode=thread&tid=160 [slashdot.org]

        Now pick one that takes you ~1000 years to reach some planet. The contestants will then develop spacecraft to travel this path for 1000 years and send them on their journey. Technically they could all arrive at the same

        • by 32771 (906153)

          This surely is going to teach me a math lesson. After 50 generations the whole world could be the family.

  • Might I suggest research into the development of space-capable Carcharhiniformes. They should be adapted to accept cranial implantation of devices that employ light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

    Just a thought.

  • From TFS:

    The challenges must require basic and applied research, technology development or prototype demonstrations.

    Translation:

    The challenges must include things that require additional funding requests and expansion of administrative functions.

  • by Yaos (804128)
    Capture an Asteroid filled with goodies and direct it at the moon.
  • NASA, having failed at their basic job of putting stuff into space, is trying, yet again, to find another mission that doesn't actually require making a working launch system.

    NASA needs a major downsizing. Closing half the "centers" would be a good start.

  • NASA clearly doesn't understand what relationship the 'S' means in NASA. Food/Oxygen/Waste recycling systems have been around for over 100 years, but NASA seems to be not to clear about this. Like wise, the Prono Industry is desperately looking for something that they can do that others cannot freely do for free. So there is only one place were "new" could be truly applied; that's right, doing the wild thing in zero-g, and filming it. My contest idea is to have Prono company's compete for the best zero
  • Don't make your forms .doc documents
  • How about a prize for the team that can destroy the most autonomous lunar rovers on their way to defile the Apollo landing sites in order to claim that idiotic x-prize.

    http://www.googlelunarxprize.org/lunar/about-the-prize/rules-and-guidelines [googlelunarxprize.org]

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