Here at Xyza, we love sharing news about space, but we love the idea of space exploration and discovery even more! Looks like we’re not alone. In fact, plenty of people like entrepreneurs Elon Musk (founder of Tesla and SpaceX) and Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon), and space agencies like NASA are working on innovative space technologies that will help us better understand outer space, and perhaps even live there ourselves one day.
People like us living on the moon or Mars?
But before you go packing your bags and saying goodbye! to planet Earth, there are a few things that still need to be figured out before anyone can call a place like the moon or Mars their home. Just think, how would a person survive on Mars given crazy dust storms and a lack of food, water, or even oxygen? Survival is key, and not a simple problem to solve. That’s why NASA has been hosting competitions and challenges to get groups outside of its organization to tackle these problems. Groups with the best out-of-the-box ideas are awarded prize money to continue their endeavors—with NASA’s big thumbs up and support of course! So, what’s come out of these competitions? Check out some of the award-winning innovations below:
Self-Healing Space Suit: When you tear a hole into your favorite pair of pants, what do you do? Yes, mom or dad to the rescue, or maybe you’d drop your pants off at a tailor. But what if you were in outer space and your space suit was torn? It’d be pretty difficult to zoom back down to Earth to get your suit fixed, but leaving it torn may literally be a life-or-death situation. That’s where a self-healing space suit might come in really handy! NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) program allows innovators from around the world to introduce what seems like non-fiction ideas to NASA with the possibility of turning these innovations into real products that may further support the future of space exploration. One of the innovations that was given $125,000 to investigate further is the self-healing space suit (also called the smart suit). Others include a telescope that can be rolled up like a paper map and then installed when it arrives at its final destination and small, low-cost satellites.
3-D Printed Habitats: The competition took four days and over thirty hours of 3-D printing for the final teams to complete. What could possibly have taken these teams so long to make? Well, they were building shelters that might house people on the moon or even Mars one day. Cool, we know! Each team had to design a 3-D printable habitat that included a total of five levels (two virtual levels and three constructed levels), and then 3-D print a one-third scale model of their habitat in order to qualify for the third phase of this competition. Furthermore, most of the construction of this habitat had to be done by robots. While there’s still more work to be done, the two teams, one from AI SpaceFactory and the other from the Pennsylvania State University at University Park, have been awarded $500,000 and $200,000 respectively, to continue testing and prototyping their designs.
Carbon Dioxide Turns Into Glucose: If you ever asked yourself What can carbon dioxide do? you might be happily surprised with the answer. Last year, NASA launched the CO2 Conversion Challenge where they invited people to come up with innovative ideas to convert carbon dioxide into useful compounds like glucose (a simple sugar). Why such a competition and why carbon dioxide of all things? Because astronauts are limited to how long they can stay out in space and even how far they can explore without the ability to self-sustain while in outer space. And while resources such as water and energy are readily available on Earth, that’s not the case for places like Mars. However, there is plenty of carbon dioxide on Mars. Having the ability to convert carbon dioxide into glucose would help astronauts create things such as food and fuel, and therefore not only allow astronauts to explore Mars, but to stay there for a significant period of time. Five teams were awarded $50,000 each for their work in the first phase of this competition.
It’s an exciting time for NASA and the future of space. As one wise space explorer (or ranger!) says, “To infinity and beyond!”
If you could propose an out-of-this-world space exploration idea, what would it be? Share your idea by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!