Feature

NASA Awards $350,000 in Astronaut Glove Challenge
11.23.09
 
In the 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge on Nov. 19th, NASA's Centennial Challenges program awarded a first place prize of $250,000 to Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor, Maine and a second place prize of $100,000 to Ted Southern of Brooklyn, NY. The competition was held at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Florida near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It was managed for NASA by Volanz Aerospace, a non-profit space education organization based in Owings, Maryland. Secor Strategies LLC of Titusville was a commercial sponsor for the event. The gloves were tested in a glove box and with other equipment provided by NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The Astronaut Glove Challenge seeks innovative glove design concepts to reduce the effort needed to perform tasks during spacewalks. In this challenge, competitors demonstrated their glove design by performing a range of tasks with the glove in an evacuated chamber. The gloves were also tested to ensure that they would not leak. In order to qualify for a prize, the gloves had to meet all of the basic requirements and also exceed the flexibility of the current NASA spacesuit glove (ISS Phase VI EVA glove). For the 2009 Challenge, teams had to provide a complete glove, including the outer, thermal-micrometeoroid-protection layer and the inner, pressure-restraining layer. In the 2007 competition, only the pressure-restraining layer was required.

The two competitors were tied in several categories but Peter Homer, who won $200,000 in the first Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2007, claimed first prize this time by outscoring his rival in joint-flexibility and in the pressure test. In the burst test, each glove had to withstand an internal pressure of at least 16 psi. Ted Southern’s glove reached 17 psi before beginning to leak. Peter Homer’s glove reached the maximum pressure that could be provided, at 20 psi, without any leakage. Since winning in 2007, Homer has continued his work in pressure suit gloves and founded a new company called Flagsuit LLC to manufacture gloves for the emerging commercial spaceflight market.

Ted Southern, who captured second place, also competed in 2007 but was not successful in his first attempt. Southern’s regular job is as a designer of costumes. This time he teamed up with another competitior from 2007, Nikolay Moiseev. Moiseev has worked for the Russian space agency. According to Alan Hayes, of Volanz, Inc., “Both competitors improved their designs significantly from 2007, but Ted’s progress was especially impressive.”

The challenge offered an additional discretionary prize of $50,000 that would have been awarded to any competitor for an especially innovative design of the outer glove layer. Although both were good designs, using some novel materials and construction techniques, the judges did not think that the designs rose to the level of deserving the additional prize money for exceptional innovation.

The designs presented in the competition were measured and evaluated by engineers from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, including Richard Watson and Kate Mitchell, and NASA’s spacesuit-manufacturer, ILC Dover (Bobby Jones, Ryan Lee, Bill Welch and Don Lacy). Rob Mueller and Dale Ketcham from the Kennedy Space Center were also judges along with Alan Hayes and Sigmund Gorski of Volanz and Paul Secor.

The Astronaut Glove Challenge is one of six Centennial Challenges prize competitions managed by NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program, which provides the prize funds. This was the fourth consecutive Centennial Challenge event with prize winners and the program has awarded 3.65 million dollars this year. “Our challenges have been difficult, multi-year efforts and in many cases it has taken several years for competitors to perfect their designs. We are now seeing the results of their perseverance.” according to Andrew Petro, Centennial Challenges Program Manager.

For more information on the Astronaut Glove Challenge: http://www.astronaut-glove.us

For more information on Centennial Challenges, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/ipp/innovation_incubator/cc_home.html