Friday, September 17, 2010

Space Laundry


New Challenge! The General Services Administration (GSA) launched the website, where cash prizes are awarded to participants who offer novel solutions or innovations in technology, defense, education, health, safety and various environmental concerns. The platform was developed in response to President Barack Obama's Strategy for American Innovation, calling for agencies to promote innovation through prizes and challenges.

Advocates of the approach say challenges generate ideas with relatively small investments, and of course, one of the benefits of the "prize-giving" model is that they only go to the people who demonstrate results (not for potentially lengthy or costly government research that may yield little more than red tape).

One interesting $25,000 challenge that just ended (awaiting the winning name!) was the call for a "Microgravity Laundry System." As with most other basic housekeeping chores in space, dealing with the astronauts' dirty laundry can be a real... pardon the repetition... CHALLENGE.

NASA says you can:
1. Wear the same clothes for months (happens all the time on the ISS).
2. Load onto a trash craft to burn up in the atmosphere (also frequent).

3. Make planters for seed experiments (less frequent, and a bit creepy).

4. Feed it to bacteria. Seriously.

The laundry issue is listed on's NASA section, along with awards for solutions in green aviation, sample robots and night rovers, nano-satellites, power-beaming(???), and they also just added the "choose the last Shuttle Missions' music" that I mentioned last month.

NASA on Challenge.Gov
Of course, there is no guarantee that such challenges will draw mass support or truly result in high-tech successes, but who's to say major cash incentives will hurt anybody?? We're an optimistic lot when it comes to technology, and we love it when hitherto untapped talent lurches forward à la Doc Brown and his ilk! Their instructional catch phrase is, "You are the secret ingredient!"

Other areas on the site detail everything from recipes for school lunches to resume-video production to digital forensic techniques, to name just a few of the current 50. You can also keep up with supporters and new challenges on their twitter feed: @ChallengeGov.