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Space Science

NASA Needs Prize Contest Ideas 180

Michael Huang writes "If you like the idea of tech contests--think ANSARI X PRIZE and DARPA Grand Challenge--and you also like space, then NASA wants you. It needs ideas (and rules) for the Centennial Challenges, prize contests with $20 million funding in 2005. Current ideas (download Excel spreadsheet) include: Mars and asteroid microspacecraft missions, lunar robotic landing, robotic triathalon, rover survivor, Antarctic rover traverse and extreme environment computer. Wikipedia has good coverage."
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NASA Needs Prize Contest Ideas

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  • by phats garage ( 760661 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:35AM (#9083221) Homepage Journal
    I live in an area with lots of tall pines. My plan is to make the worlds biggest slingshot. So far I'm a bit short of orbital velocity, so I might apply for some money to get better rubber bands.
  • What about... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SavedLinuXgeeK ( 769306 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:35AM (#9083225) Homepage
    Artificial Intelligence. I mean robots, space missions, even just regular things are all cool, but Artificial intelligence would enhance them all. It would allow for more unmanned space flights, and lessen the amount of direct attention necessary for some given projects. Not to say that we are to rely on AI solely, but that it can be a great aide in what NASA is trying to do, and it would help other realms of science as well.
    • What are you doing Dave?
    • You should look at some of the robotics projects. For example, there is one contest (I think DARPA is sponsoring it) which IIRC requires robots to find their way through a course at high speed---autonomously. There's AI right there, although it isn't quite yet of the "not opening the pod bay doors" caliber.
  • by theAmazing10.t ( 770643 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:38AM (#9083250)
    How about proving there is intelligent life in the universe?

    They could start by trying to prove there is some on the third planet from that G3 star near the edge of the Milky Way galaxy.

  • by Himring ( 646324 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:39AM (#9083260) Homepage Journal
    Current ideas (download Excel spreadsheet) include: Mars and asteroid microspacecraft missions, lunar robotic landing, robotic triathalon, rover survivor, Antarctic rover traverse and extreme environment computer.

    And Lander Fear Factor! The rover has to drink a wicked puree of something a rover would find revolting....
  • AI not ready yet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The_reformant ( 777653 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:39AM (#9083262)
    Part of the problem about using AI is that it is kind of an umbrella term which covers everything from expert systems, neural nets, adaptive computing, machine vision. Also AI techniques aren't always the best way to approach large engineering type tasks like space missions. While getting neural nets to perform intelligent behavious is helping our understanding what intelligence is and how it works most of these technologies just aren't ready for prime time yet
    • by ControlFreal ( 661231 ) * <niek.bergboer@net> on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:59AM (#9083500) Journal

      Parent: +6 Insightful

      I'm a researcher in AI, and I can do nothing but backup the parent's claim (sad as it is). When we use AI, we would expect a robot to be able to perceive its surroundings (analyzing sensory inputs), make decisions (reasoning) and act (generating actuator outputs).

      I can only comment on the first, since I'm a Ph.D. student in Computer Vision. And the general picture is, to be quite honest, depressing. Forget all you've seen in e.g. Terminator (e.g. the robot analyzing its visual input, and all the nice text in the image): it ain't gonna happen for a long time! Although space missions are (presumably) less complex in terms of sensory inputs, the state of affairs in dealing with normal natural images gives a nice idea of what's currently (im)possible:

      I'll provide an example here. I'm doing Computer Vision (face-detections), and the current state of affairs is about this: When finding faces in 800x600 images, this can be done in about 1 second (yes: 1 full second), at about a 90% detection rate and a couple of false detections per image. For more complex object classes that are not so nicely symmetric (think cars, houses, landscapes, etc.), the performance is dramatically worse.

      You can look at the BitTorrent link []. And ONLY if that doesn't work, use this []. As for reasoning: this is still in it's infancy, but I'm not working in that field, so I cannot comment on that well. Any takers? ;)

      • As another person who has done research with AI and computer vision, I agree with you somewhat. We're nowhere near having an autonomous system with capabilities anywhere close to what a human, or even a very small insect, can perform.

        However, AIs in space only have to perform very specific tasks. These sorts of tasks are things which AIs are already capable of, or could be made capable of with a little more effort. Here's what I could think of off-hand:

        space navigation: This is the sort of thing an AI excels at. I think it's actually already been used on Deep Space 1 [].

        surface exploration: If humans on the ground can periodically give high-level goals and destinations, the rest can be handled by a reactive or behavior-based system. After Sojourner []'s primary and secondary missions were over, it was switched over to a behavior-based control system (developed by Rodney Brooks' lab, I think), and autonomously wandered around the surface.

        space construction: This hasn't really been done yet, although many vision problems can be alleviated by the fact that you have complete control over the materials used. Special parts can be given special colors, and one might be able to assume that all prior pieces have been accurately placed by a robot.

        By the way, nice face detection work.
      • Bah! more details. I watched your face detection video and read the blurb on your web page, do you have a paper or tech report on it? I've seen another video from a research group here that looks almost identical to this one, kind of amusing.

        I've seen real time demos of Viola-Jones cascades that work reasonably well. And training time isn't so ridiculous if you cut out the adaboost feature selection. Your idea to pre-process input images (segment them) into interesting and non interesting regions seems
  • by NonSequor ( 230139 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:39AM (#9083273) Journal
    How about a contest to find the best method of begging congress for money? It pays for itself!
    • slightly OT: I would love to see an non-profit organization set up that could collect monies from anyone and allocate them to a specific prize. For example, the organization would set up a list of space-based objectives like orbiting a man for 1 week without government funding, landing a man on the moon without government funding, or putting a man in orbit around mars. People, governments, buisinesses, and organizations could then donate money to whichever goals they thought their money would be best put to
  • TV (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:40AM (#9083285)
    1. Start "Rover Survivor"
    2. Sell the show to some TV channel.
    3. Pay out Prize Money with the money from the TV-deal.
    4. ?
    5. Break Even!
  • Sustenance studies. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by torpor ( 458 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:41AM (#9083291) Homepage Journal
    Lets see NASA put all that human medicine/nutrition knowledge to use, and set up a "Survivor" program in ... say ... Mozambique ... that uses bare-bones scientific evaluation of bio-mass consumption to prolong human survival as long as possible.

    Another idea is ocean habitats. It seems very strange to me that we haven't 'prototyped' long-term human sustenance studies by building an "International Ocean Station" somewhere in the Marianas trench or something ... Perhaps we have, perhaps its not useful, but it sure would be interesting to see all the details about human sustenance that an underwater, sealed 'biosphere X' kind of project could provide...

    IF we've gotta live for 6 months on de-hydrated/hydroponic foods, lets do it in that other hostile environment we have yet to fully explore, provided by our Oceans, or Deserts, where ordinary 'normal' humans are also struggling to survive...
    • Promise me whatever happens, you won't let Pauly Shore into the biosphere... The results could be dire
    • by kippy ( 416183 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:54AM (#9083444)
      Another idea is ocean habitats. It seems very strange to me that we haven't 'prototyped' long-term human sustenance studies by building an "International Ocean Station" somewhere in the Marianas trench or something ... Perhaps we have, perhaps its not useful, but it sure would be interesting to see all the details about human sustenance that an underwater, sealed 'biosphere X' kind of project could provide...

      The Navy has been using submarines with nuclear power sources and life support systems for decades.
      • by torpor ( 458 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:58AM (#9083480) Homepage Journal
        The Navy has been using submarines with nuclear power sources and life support systems for decades.

        Yeah. That is true. But are they growing their own food?

        The Navy isn't self-sustaining. U-boots still need a supply convoy and system if they wanna stay out there ... ain't no room for grow rooms in those torpedo bays, aaiiighht!

        yo. just imagine your grow room scenario on a trident-class submarine ... ;)

        • Yeah. That is true. But are they growing their own food?

          They could if they wanted to. It's just that submarines are war machines. If for some reason they wanted to retrofit all the weapon systems with greenhouses and UV lamps, I'm confident that they could stay submerged for years.

          really though, submarines and a mars colony are apples and oranges. I'm just making a point that a self sustaining martian colony is totally possible as long as you have an energy source, local resources and a little smarts.
          • Also, nuclear submarines generate their Oxygen by splitting watter into H2 and O2.

            Unless someone's found a decent source of water on Mars, the technology doesn't apply.
            • Oxygen can also come from reacting CO2 with hydrogen. It gives you graphite and water. split the water again, breathe the oxygen, hydrate the CO2 and repeat. a small supply of hydrogen that you can get from the air or polar caps is all you need. That and power.
    • Decent study ideas, but is undersea exploration and nutrition studies really the function of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration?

      Perhaps the other branches of government, such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration [] and the National Oeanic and Atmospheric Administration [] should start X Prizes of their own?
  • How about a Gumball [] Rally?

    I can see it now: "Now accepting applications for the Gumball Inerplanetary Rally - fewer cops, more space junk"
  • by datastalker ( 775227 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:44AM (#9083323) Homepage
    Here's what I would do if I were to design a space contest: I would establish a contest so that the first person to collaborate with Dr. Robert Zubrin [] and get a human to Mars within 5 years would not only be rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but would become the most famous person on the planet. I would also sell ads like crazy, since that would get the funding needed - corporations would love to sponsor the first human Mars landing. It might be a tad tacky or crass, but it would get the job done. And then we would have a human on Mars within three years. ;)
    • I would rather stay poor, unknown, and healthy than become the first man on Mars, rich, famous and permanently crippled.
    • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @10:23AM (#9083837) Homepage
      The quickest way to make this happen is a one-way trip. I doubt NASA is going to fund an group to kill someone, no matter if the person is a volunteer who's willing to do it.

      [Now, there's other groups in the US government who might be willing to provide funds for killing people, I just don't think that NASA is the one, though]

      But let's think about it -- you'd probably have to find someone who's willing to make the one-way trip, but wouldn't be crazy enough to commit suicide on the trip there. That's a pretty dedicated person. [Although, I am making the assumption that they'd be looking for a live human on Mars, and not just someone shooting a corpse up there because of a poorly worded contest]

    • I think Mars is setting the bar too high when no private entity has yet taken the prize for a mere sub-orbital flight. I'd go for the moon.

      I also think the whole point is letting private industry figure out the best way to get the job done, whatever that may be; and I'm not convinced "manned" is necessarily the way to go.

      So the "job" is "go there, do stuff, come back", and we want to offer prize money for the first person to do it. But this involves all sorts of rules/definitions about what you've got t
  • You're welcome.
  • by orbit0r ( 731107 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:45AM (#9083334)
    uh, How about saving me a seat on the next mission?

    It might seem a bit far-fetched, but seriously, if I designed something for NASA that might really advance humanity, a space-flight isn't too out of the question, is it?
  • by VernonNemitz ( 581327 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:45AM (#9083341) Journal
    The suits from the Apollo era are rotting away in museums, in spite of efforts to preserve them. I sometimes wonder just how long those suits on the International Space Station will be usable, because they NEED to be usable when an emergency happens. Next, the 1960s-era suits were also quite cumbersome to put on and work in. Fixing those two things will be essential if we want a long-term human presence in space.
    • by torpor ( 458 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:51AM (#9083404) Homepage Journal
      yeah, this is quite interesting, actually ... i always wonder what it'd be like if we -only- built space suits ... and how far that could really go if we put more energy into it.

      imagine an 'environment' suit you can put on which is good enough to act as the primary housing for the entire trip through to orbit. a suit so good, you put it on, then 'latch on' to a rocket booster, and its all you need to get you to the docking port of ISS2, or whatever ...

      how much 'lighter' could our space transport systems be if we put absolutely 1000% more into human-sustaining suits, i wonder ...
    • Modern spacesuits are pretty dire; they're a bad compromise between a full constant-pressure hardsuit and a zero-volume skinsuit. This means that they tend to blow up when they're pressurised, which means they resist movement. This makes them very hard work to actually move around in. They're also very complicated.

      Constant-pressure hardsuits would be one alternative, but as they require complex joints for all the limbs you won't be exactly agile in one.

      A more interesting alternative is the skinsuit. This consists of a very close-fitting elastic body stocking that provides pressure on the skin to protect you from vacuum, while not actually containing any air. (The only hollow part is the rigid helmet.) These would --- probably --- be much more comfortable, restricting motion much less, probably be more reliable, certainly simpler to construct, etc. Although they might be rather hard to put on.

      Unfortunately, I can't find any references to skinsuits, although I gather they've been tried in prototype --- can anyone confirm this?

      • Yes skinsuits have been studied and prototyped. Jerry Pournelle wrote about them years ago in his "A Step Farther Out" column.
      • The problem with a skinsuit is that it will do absolutely nothing in the case of being struck by space debris. In order to overcome this particular issue you're going to have to put armor on it, and then you come back to the point where you might as well be wearing a hardsuit.

        What I think makes the most sense is a skinsuit worn under a hardsuit. This way, you're protected from impacts, but if your suit should get holed you're still protected. Seal the helmet away from the rest of the suit, of course, so t

        • Actually, considering the many thousands of KPH of impact speed, almost anything that actually hits you in space is going to do serious damage to you, hardsuit or not. However, a very loose lightweight aluminum-foil outer layer (like a rain poncho) will have an interesting effect; small space debris (like paint flakes or micrometeoroids) that impact against this "poncho" will be vaporized, making a tiny hole in it -- and the skinsuit will very likely protect you adequately from the spray of fast-moving gas
          • It does sound like a good idea though I think it might prove to be too fragile and/or bulky. The hardsuit should be layers of composites and possibly some sort of non-solid stuff, a liquid [] or a gel perhaps. Now that you mention it, putting a pressurized gas behind that might be a nice way to make it more reactive. If you could make it seal the hardsuit in the bargain it would be really amazingly slick. Using composites keeps the total mass to a minimum while still giving you a rigid shell. If someone swung
      • Unfortunately, I can't find any references to skinsuits, although I gather they've been tried in prototype --- can anyone confirm this?
        You can't find any references because the largely don't exist other than as a sci-fi staple. They have numerous significant problems, and no clear paths to solving them. (Go to Google Groups and search for 'skinsuit' or 'skinsuits' in the* groups. They are a perennial topic of discussion there.)
    • I knew it was a bad idea for them to make spacesuits out of meat.
  • by Jonny Royale ( 62364 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:47AM (#9083364) Homepage Journal
    Webcams in Space! Live webcam pics (or streams) of the Earth from orbit, maybe one on the Moon (pointed at the earth?). Someday, even one from Mars? I know they have pics from the mars rovers, but what about a continuous raw feed?

    • by torpor ( 458 )
      duh. that is so 50's-era. []

      So weird. "Satellite Cameras" are the reason you can buy a cheap CCD at Fry's for $15, right next to the snap-dried ice cream ...

    • An asteroid-cam would be cool. If we could find an asteroid that's orbiting between the Earth and Sun on a medium period orbit (6 months/year), land a probe on it, and allow it to photograph the visual field while it journeys around the Sun. After it has completed the mission, it transmits/launches itself from the asteroid. We get to see if the Earth real does have a twin on the other side of the Sun :)
  • by mattgreen ( 701203 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:48AM (#9083377)
    Why not a contest to see who can devise the best space-related contest, complete with rules. I think it would be positively groundbreaking!
  • NASA needs money. This is the way to do it:

    Porn, pot are keys to NASA salvation []

  • by RecycledElectrons ( 695206 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:50AM (#9083400)
    All the really cool stuff happens once we leave orbit, right? (Deimos, Asteroids, Europa, etc.) Because there is already a prize for getting to orbit, so now we need to develop cheap spacecraft that can go that next step. I suggest that NASA allow experimenters to develop different spacecraft components. Categoires include: 1. Electrical Generation Systems 2. Navigation 3. Main Engine 4. Ways to "see" objects (sensors?) 5. Ways to gather volatiles frozen on something. 6. Ways to tow something. NASA takes the entries, tests them on the ground, and then takes the first 10 workable entires in each category to LEO, where they test them in space. NASA promises to take the winner from each category, and scale them to build a ship, which will be used to visit some piece of rock floating somewhere. NASA pays the prize as "royalties" to the winner. Andy
  • by krysith ( 648105 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @10:01AM (#9083519) Journal
    Well, what NASA needs more than anything, is low cost access to orbit. That is what the X-prize is about, but NASA could probably get more bang for their buck by having a prize for a high specific impulse rocket engine which can operate in atmosphere. Simply set a minimum thrust, maximum weight, and minimum specific impulse, and see what people come up with. Ion and plasma engines have Isp of 10,000 or higher, but can't run in atmosphere (and require power supplies). If the space shuttle had that high of an Isp, it would need a ton or two of fuel (just guessing, don't feel like doing the math at the moment).

    Of course, who knows how someone would find a way to make an engine like that. However if it is something with a low cost of entry (unlike the X-prize) which every backyard inventor can work on, then you instantly have a few thousand amateur rocket scientists working for a prize of a few hundred thousand. A pretty good deal, I say.
    • Fuel is cheap. Several million pounds of liquid oxygen and hydrogen may sound like a lot, but in fact fuel costs only account for about 1% of the cost of a Shuttle mission. Contrast this with airlines, where fuel is around 1/3rd of the total cost for any given flight.

      Lowering fuel requirements would lower costs indirectly, mostly by allowing vehicles to be smaller and more robust, of course, but fuel itself isn't a killer.

      The problem is that better engines are a fundamental physical problem. The Isp of ch
      • Orion IS politically possible. We who support nuclear just need to drown out the voices of those who are anti-nuclear.

        As for a Space elevator costing tens of billions of dollars, that is still insanely cheap compared to what it would cost to ship everything up or down the way we are now. After all, once we get a space elevator up, we could just start assembling ships in space instead of on earth. That would also give us the ability to eliminate the heat shielding and smooth surfaces required for atmosp
        • At this point, having no better place to write it down, I should mention a weird little idea that my brother and I came up with a while back. It might even be possible with current technology.

          One of the most cumbersome parts of Orion was the shock absorption springs and blast plates to smooth out the explosions happening underneath. Nuclear propulsion would be much easier if it could be made continuous.

          Is it possible to make a critical mass of fissionable material while it's in vapor state? Consider a set
        • Orion IS politically possible. We who support nuclear just need to drown out the voices of those who are anti-nuclear.

          Not gonna happen. I don't know what the numbers are on "pro-nuclear" versus "anti-nuclear", but you need to be far more than pro-nuclear to be pro-Orion. I'm pro-nuclear-power, but I'm not pro-Orion, and I think very few people would be. Nuclear power is, in fact, incredibly clean. It releases basically no radiation unless there's an accident. By contrast, a single Orion launch would set o
        • Orion has snowball's chance in hell. I am pro-nuclear power, I even support NERVA engines for planes and such, but I would never support orion because, as another poster pointed out - you're talking about the atmospheric detonation of many nuclear bombs with a single launch. IIRC, before it got killed, the orion project entailed a study of the environmental/health effects of a launch that predicted dozens of terminal cancer patients per launch of orion, merely from the radiatioactive materials released into
    • Well, what NASA needs more than anything, is low cost access to orbit. That is what the X-prize is about,

      Sorry, the X-prize is nothing about that. The X-Prize is about developing a low cost ballistic reuseable'spacecraft'. The leap from there to an orbital booster (even setting aside the thorny problem of re-entry) is a long one. (That's not to say the Prize isn't valuable, but that it's only a small start.)

      but NASA could probably get more bang for their buck by having a prize for a high specific impu

    • Actually, this doesn't make much sense - as you pointed out, NASA already has high specific impulse engines with isp's of >10,000. These engines actually can run in the atmosphere, it's just that they're useless for boosting crafts out of earth's gravity well - because they have incredibly small amounts of thrust (typically 1 kN). What NASA needs are engines that have higher ISPs, yet still produce similar amounts of thrust to those in use today, or better yet, those that were used on the Saturn V (33,40
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @10:02AM (#9083527) Homepage Journal
    We're very keen to see a person on Mars. And we also know that using current technologies, the costs will be extraordinary. There's probably no reason for that, I mean, a converted Winnebago (it doesn't have to be roadworthy, so you can always get a used one for about $4,000, launched into space, sealed and made to withstand one atmosphere of pressure (how hard can that be?) together with some parachutes for the actual landing could be used to transport someone from here to there quite easily and comfortably. Parachutes, of the sort used by the military et al, are quite expensive, but those aren't really suitable for this kind of application, so you'd have to make your own, and funnily enough that again works in your favour - some huge sheets, bought from Goodwill, stitched together, ought to do the trick.

    Issues with solar flares etc can be dealt with by wrapping the entire thing in aluminium foil. Aluminium foil is reflective (I can't believe nobody's thought of this), so this should protect anyone inside, and that's assuming a solar flare occurs at all.

    Communication costs are coming down all the time. Most cellular companies these days have excellent coverage and well defined roaming agreements.

    So really, it ought to be quite cheap, but I think the reason it's seen as expensive is because it's professionals doing it, and they can't very well be seen stitching old sheets together and covering rusty Winnebagos in foil.

    So what I'd do, if I were NASA, is set up an award of $6,000 for the first person to go to Mars and come back in one piece.

    And if NASA's willing to do this, I for one would throw my hat into the ring.

  • Biosphere 3? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by johnjay ( 230559 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @10:03AM (#9083539)
    Create an almost entirely closed environment (receiving only heat and sunlight from outside), that is able to support human life indefinitely.

    I know the name is cringe-worthy, but (I think) it hasn't been done successfully yet, and it needs to be.
  • i see... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by acceber ( 777067 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @10:04AM (#9083553)
    ...enrich NASA research by reaching new communities. Help address traditional technology development obstacles...
    But the overview states that only US citizens who are not federal employees can enter. It is certainly limiting its goals of reaching new communities to enrich their research and only disadvantages NASA since they will be restricting themselves against potentially landmark innovations in science from other areas of the world.

    Innovations which address obstacles which have stood in the way of technological development in science would be of highest priority, were I to enter. Barriers in science such as the claim that NASA don't have the technology to fit a de-orbit module [] onto the Hubble so that it's eventual re-entry into earth doesn't threaten human lives, could be avoided. It would save a lot of time, money and other valuable resources including human labour if future obstacles were addressed in the design of new scientific material, instead of attempting to tackle the problem when its too late.

    • Wouldn't someone from overseas just need to find a sponser who is a US citizen?

      I heard some guy from Nigeria is looking for a sponser, but that might be something else.

  • So, um .. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Bitmanhome ( 254112 )
    They're running a contest to find more contests? Will there be another contest to determine the prize for this contest?
  • How about a contest to come up with ways to prolong the life of the Hubble telescope? It has been such a boon to astronomy and yet they plan on letting it just die. With some good minds out there and a little incentive maybe a safe alternative could be found to extend its life longer than is expected.
    • I'd like to see more orbiting telescopes. Hubble's a great tool and yes it should be fixed, but more instruments could only mean more science. Maintaining and upgrading Hubble safely should be a top priority, but developing its replacement should be up there too.

      For bonus points, make sure the new one doesn't require corrective lenses upon installation, and make its onboard computers accept input in english and metric units. ;)

      Also, how about communications upgrades for the Deep Space Network? We've got s
  • It's inevitable; an "Astronaut Training Reality Show," winner gets to go on a space mission.

    These contests aren't about discovering the next technological advancement. If NASA needed a new technology, they could just use the $20mil and contract it or do it themselves. No, this is all about public relations and generating interest in the space program.

    The training program is already configured like a reality show, just add camera crew. Contestants have to endure countless hours of torture, physical cha
  • by bwags ( 534113 )
    I see one of the biggest things holding back the computer industry is the lack of a good battery. I want a battery that can power a laptop for a couple of years. We need more power!
  • How about some interval math implementations to alert people that hey, those numbers seem a bit out of range... they're probably not in the right units! There's nothing more embarassing than crashing a probe into Mars, except for crashing a probe into Mars because the units were wrong on the input data.
  • by Darth Yoshi ( 91228 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @10:56AM (#9084328)
    If you're going to award monetary prizes, why not get serious.

    Jerry Pournelle was suggested the following:

    I can solve the space access problem with a few sentences.

    Be it enacted by the Congress of the United States:

    The Treasurer of the United States is directed to pay to the first American owned company (if corporate at least 60% of the shares must be held by American citizens) the following sums for the following accomplishments. No monies shall be paid until the goals specified are accomplished and certified by suitable experts from the National Science Foundation or the National Academy of Science:

    1. The sum of $2 billion to be paid for construction of 3 operational spacecraft which have achieved low earth orbit, returned to earth, and flown to orbit again three times in a period of three weeks.

    2. The sum of $5 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a space station which has been continuously in orbit with at least 5 Americans aboard for a period of not less than three years and one day. The crew need not be the same persons for the entire time, but at no time shall the station be unoccupied.

    3. The sum of $12 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a Lunar base in which no fewer than 31 Americans have continuously resided for a period of not less than four years and one day.

    4. The sum of $10 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a solar power satellite system which delivers at least 800 megaWatts of electric power to a receiving station or stations in the United States for a period of at least two years and one day.

    5. The payments made shall be exempt from all US taxes.

    That would do it. Not one cent to be paid until the goals are accomplished. Not a bit of risk, and if it can't be done for those sums, well, no harm done to the treasury.

    Henry Vanderbilt points out that having a prize, say $1 billion, for the second firm to achieve point (1) above will get more into the competition, and produce better results. I agree.

  • by Doug Dante ( 22218 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @10:57AM (#9084346)
    These challenges are not the same as X-Prize, as they have shifted from ones directly competing with NASA (e.g. independent, private launch capabilities) towards ones more complimentary to NASA (e.g. better Astronaut gloves, robotic insects).

    If the US Government wants to encourage more independent space resarch, the Congress and President must work together to establish goals INDEPENDENT of NASA. One possibility is to simply have the Congress double the prize money for the next few X-Prizes once those details are finalized.

    NASA will NOT spend its money to pay for the development of a competing private space industry.
  • Easy: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mac Degger ( 576336 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:07AM (#9084467) Journal
    Here's my idea: 'best plan for developing and maintaining cheap space tourism', the prize money to be invested in the application of aformentioned plan.
  • Hey, did'nt they leave a flag on the moon last time they were there?
  • by Rorschach1 ( 174480 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:41AM (#9084961) Homepage
    Easy contest to define, but maybe not so easy to win. Just specify the material properties needed for a practical space elevator, and offer a sizeable prize to the first group to present a sample of a certain size.

    Also, you could offer annual prizes for the best results each year, even if they don't meet the final prize criteria. At least that'd give the research groups a short-term goal to reach for.
  • Here are my list items:
    1. COD DELIVERY / PAY BY THE KILO: NASA shall pay by the kilogram for goods delivered to the ISS. The price shall start at $5000 per kilogram for the first 100,000 kilograms delivered. No contract required, cash on delivery (COD). Goods desired can be any consumable and capital goods including liquid O2, liquid H2, military MRE's.
    2. RAIL GUN: Competition using railguns. Projectiles of various sizes in different classifications (class 1 = 1 kg, class 2 = 2 kg, class 10 = 10 kg, etc.
  • EM Assisted Launch (Score:4, Interesting)

    by i8a4re ( 594587 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:27PM (#9085526)
    What about an electromagnetic assisted launch? I remember from my astro engineering class that a very significant percentage of any launch vehicles fuel is required to just get it to clear the tower. Why not build a scale model launch vehicle and tower that is capable of attaining a certian altitude using EM assisted launch. Make one of the requirements that you use 20% less fuel than a non-EM assisted launch. We already have maglev trains that go 300 MPH and roller coasters driven by linear induction motors, so it doesn't seem like it would be too hard to adapt these technologies to space launch.
    • by justanyone ( 308934 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @01:05PM (#9086105) Homepage Journal

      This was my intention when (above) I mentioned railgun launches. Since most of the mass we want in orbit is (at present) consumables and other commodity products, this would do fine for EM launches.

      A competition featuring the best railgun designs (open to all university engineering students especially) would stimulate development of this area. I am convinced the military has versions of this they are not mentioning, but the civilian world should have some capabilities here too.

      This is a fairly simple project to build for an engineering department, and would combine the disciplines of mechanical, power, and computer engineering departments to get things right. Further, if groups of engineers in a city wanted to build such a device, this would be a possible thing to try.

      A note about manned launches using EM / railgun / mass driver technologies. In physics class in high school we worked out that it was nearly impossible to build a railgun / EM launch vehicle that would achieve orbital velocity and carry a manned payload. The G-force limit of 12 G's prohibits acceleration to mach 25+ in a reasonable ground distance (it's way too long geographically to build).

      Escape velocity (Earth) = 11000 m/s (about mach 25 or 19,000 mph)
      1 G acceleration = 10 m/s/s
      = 1100 seconds @ 1 g
      = 110 seconds @ 10 g's
      = 11 seconds @ 100 g's
      = 5 seconds @ 500 g's

      This competition would be easy to run (at some gunnery range, out over an ocean, etc.). Military radar could track the payloads. Bonus points could include if the payloads were recoverable, and more bonus points if the payloads contained inert liquids that would simulate liquid O2 in density.

      • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @05:41PM (#9089447) Homepage
        A competition featuring the best railgun designs (open to all university engineering students especially) would stimulate development of this area.
        Except that railgun design isn't really the show stopper. Developing a TPS to protect the payload from the effects of atmospheric heating *is* however a showstopper.

        Even if the exit of the railgun was on top of Mt Everest, you are still deep within the sensible atmosphere, and miles and miles below where boosters normally add their speed. (Boosters normally go more-or-less straight up, then bend their trajectories over to add the horizontal velocity needed to reach orbit.) Given the amount of atmosphere you have to traverse after leaving the railgun, you need to leave it at much higher than orbital speed, to offset for drag, that you have a truly frightful thermal problem.

        Another issue often handwaved away by EM launcher supporters is the need for a propulsion system for the circularization burn. Lunar surface-Lx railguns don't need these systems because they are not going into orbit around the launching body. Earth-to-orbit systems however do and generally end up being around half the total throweight at the launch systems muzzle. (Just having a projectile traveling at orbital velocity is meaningless. The *direction* of the velocity vector is all important, and EM launchers cannot produce the proper vector.)

        The final problem is the extreme G factor typical of EM launches. This causes structural weight to dominate total throweight, to the great detriment of payload fraction and total payload throughtput of the launcher. (In theory the structure can be recovered as raw material at the target, but in practice you end up with more raw material than you can use.)

        . I am convinced the military has versions of this they are not mentioning,
        Why would you be so convinced? EM launchers are simply not practical in the near term, and are likely to remain so indefinetly to Earth-to-Orbit operations. There are simply too many practical problems.
        • by Teancum ( 67324 )
          I do like the original poster's comments about using a railgun as an assist to get some initial velocity onto a rocket using a railgun right at launch. As he pointed out, a not insignificant percentage of the fuel is burned just trying to clear the launch tower itself... if the tower were a railgun instead, you could get some initial velocity from the launch system, just like aircraft carriers give some initial airspeed to jet fighters through a steam catapult system aboard ship. This isn't to say the fig
          • I do like the original poster's comments about using a railgun as an assist to get some initial velocity onto a rocket using a railgun right at launch. As he pointed out, a not insignificant percentage of the fuel is burned just trying to clear the launch tower itself...

            The problem with whole scheme is that fuel is cheap, while railguns are not. Even when rockets get cheap enough that fuel costs become important (as is the situation for airlines today), the cost in fuel to boost the rocket that is heavie

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @01:08PM (#9086146) Journal
    As noted on the web page, there's the Centennial Challenges program is organizing a workshop [] in Washington DC on June 15-16. You can register online [] (please, authentic registrations only!). This sounds like an excellent opportunity to help shape history.

    Here's the blurb from the web site []:

    To kickoff Centennial Challenges, NASA's new program of prize contests, NASA will host a workshop on June 15-16 in Washington, DC. The purpose of the workshop is to:

    1. Gather ideas for Challenges,
    2. Develop rules for specific Challenges and gauge competitor interest in various potential Challenges, and
    3. Promote competitor teaming.

    This workshop will be a key input into Centennial Challenges planning, helping to determine what specific Challenge competitions NASA announces in 2004 and 2005 and the rules of those competitions. All potential Centennial Challenge competitors, including interested members of industry, academia, students, and the general public, are invited to attend.
  • ...out how to do stuff (hence offering minimal prizes to entice other people into doing the research for them) but they now can't even decide what it is that they should even be trying to research. I find this worrying.

That's the thing about people who think they hate computers. What they really hate is lousy programmers. - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in "Oath of Fealty"