NASA To Offer Prizes For New Space Technology

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Inspired by the excitement and progress generated by the Ansari X Prize, NASA is establishing a cash-prize program (possibly up to $20 million in 2005) of its own, called "Centennial Challenges." The program is designed to tap the nation's ingenuity to make revolutionary advances in support of the Vision for Space Exploration and other goals, NASA said. At a workshop in Washington, D.C., last month, NASA invited engineers, scientists, officials from the X Prize Foundation and others to brainstorm and help establish priorities and parameters for the program. NASA spokesman Michael Braukus told AVweb last week that the conference generated a lot of ideas, and they are now under review. It's too soon to say when decisions will be made regarding what the categories and prize amounts will be, he said. Congress has not yet authorized funding for the prizes, he added. "Centennial Challenges is a small but potentially high-leverage investment by NASA to help address some of our most difficult hurdles in research and exploration," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said in a news release. "I look forward to stimulating competitions and very innovative wins that advance the nation's Vision for Space Exploration." The goal of Centennial Challenges is to stimulate innovation in fundamental technologies, robotic capabilities, and very low-cost space missions. The initial round of prizes is expected to comprise purses of $250,000 or less, with prizes of up to $20 million to follow in fiscal year 2005. The concept was supported in a recent report released by the President's Commission on Moon, Mars, and Beyond.