Agency News

Statement by NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden about the NASA Prize Competitions
One year ago this month, the President released his "Strategy for American Innovation," calling for federal agencies to increase their ability to promote and harness innovation by using tools such as prizes and challenges.

Within the government, NASA has been a pioneer and early-adopter of challenge approaches.

We've been using prize competitions such as NASA's Centennial Challenges since 2005. Centennial Challenges have triggered an outpouring of creative solutions from students, citizen inventors, and entrepreneurial firms for technologies such as lunar landers, space elevators, fuel-efficient aircraft, and astronaut gloves. NASA recognizes that competition and prizes can have an enormous catalytic effect in spurring our most adventurous entrepreneurs and inventors to tackle the critical challenges that face America today and in the future.

NASA has conducted 20 Centennial Challenges competition events in six challenge areas, and awarded $4.5 million to 13 different teams. Each challenge is managed by non-profit organizations in partnership with NASA without any upfront government funding. In doing so, NASA leverages private sector investment many times greater than the cash value of the prize and pays only for results.

Open to all, NASA's Centennial Challenges boasts an impressive track record of generating novel solutions from student teams, citizen inventors, and entrepreneurial firms outside the traditional aerospace industry. And NASA is putting the innovations to work. NASA recently announced awards to the two small aerospace firms for flight testing of rocket vehicles based on designs that won prizes in the Lunar Lander Challenge.

NASA also is using an online "innovation marketplace" to spur solutions to problems such as forecasting solar activity, astronaut health and medical issues, and developing a compact aerobic device for astronauts.

This year, NASA awarded a $30,000 prize to a retired radio frequency engineer in New Hampshire for his ideas on how to predict the adverse effects of solar flares on astronauts and spacecraft. NASA also has held challenges to develop better astronaut gloves and ways to safely store food longer in space.

Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor, Maine, won the first place prize of $250,000 and Ted Southern of Brooklyn, NY won the second place prize of $100,000 in NASA's Astronaut Glove Challenge. A new approach to spacesuit glove design was demonstrated through the challenge and the commercial space industry has gained a new member – Homer has started his own company, Flagsuit.

Alex Altshuler, a mechanical engineer from Foxboro, Mass., won an award for his proposal for a compact aerobic and resistive exercise device, which delivers the proper motions for exercises in space under very limited or zero gravity and meets very specific size and space requirements.

Bruce Cragin, a retired radio frequency engineer from Lempster, N.H., won an award for his proposed solution for forecasting solar activity, which poses a significant radiation exposure risk to humans and hardware in space. Until now there has been no method available to predict the onset, intensity or duration of a solar particle event. Cragin's solution allows for a 24-hour forecast window of the event onset, with 75 percent accuracy.

By spurring innovation through competition, NASA is providing seed money for which private companies of all sizes can vie, encouraging collaborative competition and sharing the risks of highly challenging problem solving.

Continuing our pioneering leadership in prize competitions, NASA recently inaugurated an employee challenge, NASA@Work, a collaborative problem-solving program that will connect the collective knowledge of experts from all areas of NASA using a private web-based platform for NASA "challenge owners" to pose challenges to internal "solvers." The solvers who deliver the best innovative ideas will receive a NASA Innovation Award.

Today, the administration has announced a new online platform that empowers the federal government to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation's most pressing problems. On, entrepreneurs, leading innovators and citizen solvers can compete for prizes by providing novel solutions to tough problems and, at the same time, take pride in engaging with their government to advance national priorities.

I'm proud that NASA's been singled out as an early pioneer and leader in successful use of government prize competitions for strengthening America's technology and innovation base and is now included as part of NASA will continue to employ innovative approaches in advancing its aeronautics, science and exploration missions, and in building a technology foundation for our nation.

Charles Bolden
NASA Administrator