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NASA Challenge Seeks Elements for Human Presence on Mars

Mars surface and atmosphere

Mars surface and atmosphere, from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, mission. (

8 May 2015.   NASA is asking the public for ideas on ways to establish a long-term presence of Mars in a new challenge offered by InnoCentive. The competition has a total purse of $15,000 and a deadline for submissions of 6 July 2015. InnoCentive in Waltham, Massachusetts conducts open-innovation, crowdsourcing competitions for corporate and organization sponsors, in this case NASA.

NASA is well underway developing systems for reaching Mars, and technologies for orbiting the planet and exploring its surface. Once on Mars, the space agency plans to establish a presence in what it calls “pioneering space,” and is seeking new techniques and methods that can enable crews to function independently from Earth. Innovative solutions are needed, says the agency, because of infrequent resupply schedules — a minimum of 500 days between resupply opportunities — and size limitations of space craft.

To address these limitations, NASA is looking for technical proposals to establish or enhance a sustained human presence on Mars describing the capabilities to be developed and the steps needed in the short and long terms, to achieve those capabilities. Proposals can include approaches, individual systems, or sets of integrated systems.

The space agency says submissions should include assumptions, analyses, and data to support them. Submissions should also include processes to develop, test, implement, and operate the proposed systems. Proposals will be evaluated on relevance, creativity, simplicity, resource efficiency, feasibility, comprehensiveness and scalability.

InnoCentive calls this type of competition a theoretical-licensing challenge, where the sponsor is looking for ideas that are not yet at the proof-of concept stage, but participants still need to provide enough details in their proposals to describe the feasibility of their ideas. As the sponsor, NASA is seeking a non-exclusive license to implement ideas in participants’ proposals; participants do not need to relinquish all intellectual property rights. Nor does NASA seek rights to any ideas not winning awards.

Prizes will be awarded in increments of $5,000, up to a total of $15,000. Up to 3 prizes will be awarded, but NASA says no number of prizes is guaranteed.

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