Centennial Challenge competitions invite and encourage innovation from anywhere.">
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In This Issue
From the APPEL Director—Project Management Trends and Future Reality
The Knowledge Notebook—On Not Going It Alone: No Organization Is an Island
Space Exploration in the 21st Century: Global Opportunities and Challenges
Interview with William Gerstenmaier
Sharing Knowledge About Knowledge
NextGen: Preparing for More Crowded Skies
Anatomy of a Mishap Investigation
Are We Alone? Answering This Question Is Not a Lone Venture
NASA Past and Future: A Personal Memoir
The Next Big Thing Is Small
Cities at Night: An Orbital Perspective
Petrobras and the Power of Stories
Masten Space Systems' "Xombie" vehicle ascending during its first flight. (Click image for close-up) Photo Credit: NASA/Tony LandisPrize competitions are only one of many ways to pursue research and development at NASA, and they offer some unique features not found in conventional contracts and grants. Prize competitors do not only need to meet a given budget, schedule, and set of performance requirements. Challenge teams need to do things as inexpensively as possible since they are spending their own money. They not only need to meet a schedule, they need to do things more quickly than their competitors. And they not only need to meet the performance requirements, they need to exceed them by as large a margin as possible if they expect to win a prize. The prize competition ensures that solutions are found in a cost-conscious and effective way, and the government expends no money at all unless a solution is demonstrated.
The LaserMotive team prepares their climber prior to launching on their prize-winning climb. (Click image for close-up) Photo Credit: NASAAmong the challenges offered so far have been development of a new, more flexible spacesuit glove; a reusable rocket that can make two successful flights with accurate landings in a fixed time period; wireless power transmission; super-strength materials; and a regolith excavator that can dig and transport lunar soil. A new green aviation challenge under way is to build an aircraft that can fly at least 200 miles in less than two hours with an efficiency equivalent to 200 passenger-miles per gallon.
First-place winner Peter Homer demonstrates his glove during the 2009 Astronaut Glove Competition. (Click image for close-up) Photo Credit: NASAThe winners of the challenges show that innovation comes from diverse and sometimes unexpected sources. The first Astronaut Glove Challenge was won by Peter Homer, who developed his design working alone at his dining room table in Maine. Homer conducted dozens of failed experiments that helped him arrive at the winning design. After winning the prize he formed his own company to manufacture pressure-suit gloves and related products. Another competitor in that challenge, Ted Southern, is a costume designer from New York who partnered with a former rival and won the second-place prize in the latest astronaut glove competition.
The team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute stands with their excavator Moonraker, which won them $500,000 in the Regolith Excavation Challenge. (Click image for close-up) Photo Credit: NASA/Tony LandisMany prize competitors are existing small businesses; these small companies find that the prize competitions allow them to focus their efforts and provide them with visibility and credibility not easily attained in fields that are often dominated by large corporations. That was the outcome for Armadillo Aerospace, based in northern Texas, and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, the two Lunar Lander Challenge winners. Both companies have been recognized nationally as entrepreneurs and are pursuing new opportunities with potential commercial and government customers.
Andrew Petro is the program executive for the Innovation Incubator in the Innovative Partnership Program Office at NASA Headquarters. His responsibilities include the Centennial Challenges program and several other public–private partnership activities. Most recently, before moving to NASA Headquarters, he was the Ares launch vehicle integration manager for the Mission Operations Directorate at Johnson Space Center.