This past October, 12 novel ideas were awarded NIAC grants, including a moon-based telescope and a proposal for genetically engineered vegetation that can survive in harsh climates such as Mars. The awards are what NIAC calls Phase I studies: six-month, $75,000 grants that allow the scientists to delve into the details. For example, Amy Grunden and Wendy Boss, the North Carolina State University scientists who proposed the martian garden, will look into which plants would be most accepting of
so-called extremophile genes, which enable organisms to thrive with limited oxygen. When finished, they'll submit their work to NIAC's science committee, which will decide
if it has enough promise to advance to Phase II --a $400,000 grant--for further refinement.