Have a good idea that you’ve been dying to test in zero gravity? NASA is opening up a few spots on the International Space Station for research ideas from private entities, providing some of its prized zero-gravity research real estate to ideas from commercial firms, non-profits, and academic institutions as well as federal, state and local governments.
NASA is particularly interested in two key areas of research: payload integration and support equipment that allows for more sophisticated research to take place on board ISS in the future.
The opening of the ISS is apparently a gesture from the international group that runs it toward the taxpayers back on Earth that keep it humming. The station is nearing completion and can now begin conducting more space-based research, some of which should come from the private sector mission managers say. It probably also has something to do with the fact that some within the science community seem to feel the orbiting lab is under-utilized.
Under-utilized it may well be, but NASA still has plenty to show for its $50 billion investment. Research conducted aboard ISS has previously led to better understandings of cancer drug delivery mechanisms, protein structuring and plant and animal development in zero gravity conditions. DARPA and MIT are researching force field thrust aboard the ISS, and NASA is doing its own research up there, sending its newest humanoid ‘bot into orbit for testing.
About 150 experiments are currently underway on ISS, so if you really want your idea to gain traction with NASA brass, you’d best make sure you differentiate it from those or the 400 already completed there. Our idea: determine whether we can teach ants to sort tiny screws in space. We hear NASA started that experiment once but were never able to complete it.