Eric Liu and I write about “challenge awards” in our book, Imagination First—prizes offered to people for accomplishing a stated task or solving a given problem. We point out the value of deliberately open-ended challenges, which create more room for bold and unexpected ideas to emerge. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program’s recent call for proposals is a perfect example.
NIAC, the press release reports, “is seeking proposals for revolutionary concepts with the potential to transform future aerospace missions.” The concepts “should enable new capabilities or significantly alter current approaches to launching, building, and operating space systems.” Within those broad criteria, the possibilities are limitless. Awardees will be chosen on the basis of their ideas’ innovativeness, technical sophistication, and early developmental status.
This is NIAC’s second call for proposals. The first group of Phase I concepts, chosen last summer, is now being studied; some will advance to Phase II this year. Due to the large number of submissions in 2011, the 2012 application process involves two steps: people may submit short, two-page proposals until February 9, and then NASA will invite selected individuals and teams to submit full, ten-page proposals by April 16. This summer, NASA will announce the approximately 15 Phase I concepts that it will fund, awarding up to $100,000 to each for one year. The competition is open to U.S. citizens and researchers working here.
“NASA is looking for futuristic concepts that may enable leaps forward in how we work in, and explore, the space frontier,” says Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program. “We’re asking for ideas from all sources, from American citizen-inventors or educators working out of their garages to the visionary small business owners fueling our nation’s economy.”
To read the call for proposals, click here. May the most imaginative thinkers win!
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