Going where no one has gone before may demand new solutions from unexpected places. NASA—with the help of the public’s best problem solvers—is ready.
Last week, NASA announced “outstanding results” from three pilot Challenges posted on InnoCentive, an online innovation marketplace where more than 200,000 of the world’s brightest minds solve tough problems for cash awards. Tapping the expertise of top scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs around the globe held special appeal for an agency with no shortage of tough problems to solve.
The extreme conditions of outer space take a toll on the human body in a number of ways. Dr. Jeffrey Davis and his team at the Space Life Sciences Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are charged with anticipating and addressing the risks to human health that come with space flight. Their job is to keep astronauts healthy during long duration missions in space. As NASA goes deeper into space, new ideas are needed to help mitigate the loss of bone and muscle density in astronauts. Missions of greater length will also require new food packaging technologies with severe size and weight restrictions.
These are just two of the seven difficult challenges that NASA posted on the NASA Innovation Pavilion through InnoCentive. With nearly 1,500 problem solvers participating from 65 countries, NASA reaped important breakthroughs in all three of the Phase I Challenges.
The nitty-gritty of all three awards can be found in NASA’s press release, including the award to Alex Altshuler of Foxboro, Massachusetts. Altshuler won the prize purse for the best proposed design for an exercise device to reduce the bone and muscle loss astronauts suffer in weightlessness. Altshuler works for a mechanical engineering firm. He had never before responded to a government Request for Proposal (RFP), let alone worked with NASA. And NASA may never have found him or benefitted from his winning insight were it not for the open innovation approach.
With three successes under their belt, NASA still needs your help on three tough questions open for competition in Phase II of the pilot. Head over to NASA’s Innovation Pavilion today and help tackle some of the most unique and important challenges facing America’s space program.
Robynn Sturm is Advisor for Open Innovation to the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Phil Larson is a Research Assistant in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy