Project: NASA Solve
NASA is known for many things. Some are obvious (the moon landings, for example), and some not so obvious (like memory foam*). What you probably don’t know is that NASA has a long history of citizen science initiatives. These range from public-engagement oriented contests like the one to name the twin Mars rovers (http://www.space.com/18289-opportunity-rover.html), to genuine citizen science projects like Clickworkers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clickworkers).
The agency’s most recent initiative is called NASA Solve (http://www.nasa.gov/solve/), and not only can members of the public participate in NASA challenges, they have a chance to win prize money by doing so.
“Anyone from the public who wants to get involved in helping develop meaningful solutions for real world problems related to NASA’s mission,” states the Solve website, “contributing the skills, time and passion they uniquely have to give are encouraged to use this site as your first stop for information and engagement.”
The site currently lists 18 open challenges, the newest of which is the Mars Balance Mass Challenge (http://www.nasa.gov/solve/marsbalancechallenge/). The project is looking ideas for how NASA can turn entry, descent, and landing balance mass on a Mars mission into a scientific or technological payload. In other words, NASA wants to know how to make the ballast on the craft more useful. The prize is up to $20,000.
NASA wants kids to participate in Solve too. In the Future Engineers 3D Printing Challenge (http://www.nasa.gov/content/future-engineers-3d-printing-challenge), students in Grades K-12 are encouraged to use 3D modeling software and submit their designs. The winner will have their design printed in space on the 3D printer aboard the International Space Station.
“NASA is committed to engaging the public through innovative activities,” said NASA Chief Technologist David W. Miller. “And NASASolve is a great way for members of the public and other citizen scientists to see all NASA prizes and challenges in one location.”
For the complete list of challenges, check out: http://www.nasa.gov/solve/engage-in-challenges/. And have fun!
* But not Tang, the powdered orange-colored drink, contrary to popular belief. For more info, see http://spinoff.nasa.gov/spinfaq.htm#spinfaq8.
Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can connect with her on Twitter @chandraclarke.