Sunday, December 30, 2007

Catching up on Unreasonable Rocket

I'm a bit late on this, but Unreasonable Rocket continues to be busy on the Lunar Lander Challenge and some other rocketry fun. A good portion of the activity is covered in the comments.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Energy Victory Interviews

I recently posted about Robert Zubrin's book Energy Victory, which advocates mandating all vehicles sold in the U.S. be flex-fueled (by which he means not just supporting ethanol and gasoline, but also methanol). The link above also describes some legislation supported by an organization he mentions in the book that includes flex-fuel and automotive prize provisions.

In a Space Show interview, Zubrin mentioned that the publisher is out of the book for now, and at the moment still shows that it's out of stock. That's too bad - making a big post on a book you can't get. You can still get an overview of the idea, though, in the following interviews.

The Space Show - Dec 18 Zubrin interview, mainly on Energy Victory, but also linking the proposal to space efforts.

C-SPAN2 - 10:00 EST, Dec 29, Zubrin talk on Energy Victory at the Ethics and Public Policy Center

C-SPAN video library - I think this is the same talk that C-SPAN2 is playing tonight. In this case you can watch it on your own schedule on your computer.

Your mileage may vary -- I find his arguments that rely the most on his technical background rather than world politics or predicting the secondary results of the change to be the most convincing. Try to get to those parts.

Friday, December 28, 2007


CNBC has an article about another potential Google Lunar X PRIZE team, Team FREDNET. A lot of the article content is in the video. The team is using an open source approach.

The article is in "Funny Business :) with Jane Wells" ... are they trying to tell us that the giggle factor is still there?

Update (Sunday Dec. 30): The Team FREDNET blog has a post about the CNBC article.

Is It Legal?

The Space Law Probe notes that there's a Google Lunar X PRIZE wager/trade capability at Intrade. This one is down towards the bottom of the Flyby list.

Mars Impact?

NASA Watch reports on an asteroid that may impact Mars. I mention this here because, although I'm fond of space access prizes, one of my favorite ideas for a prize - one that seems to me to fit very nicely with the advantages of prizes over other ways of getting things done, and one that perhaps doesn't even need to be in the millions of dollars to work - is a prize for detecting natural objects that will impact the Earth. I described this idea in one of my earliest posts (announcing the Planetary Society Apophis Mission Design Competition). One of the questions I asked about how the rules for such a prize should be designed was:

Would there be a bonus for detecting small impacts, or impacts to other solar system bodies, in advance so the impact can be monitored by scientific instruments?

At any rate, the (currently 4% with the data available) chance that we could see a decent-sized impact at Mars makes the Apophis competition all the more interesting.

2008 NASA Budget Under the Microscope

Space Politics has an interesting post and comment discussion reviewing NASA's 2008 budget. As I mentioned earlier, Centennial Challenges is again not funded at all. I'm not sure if the will is there to correct that problem next year. Centennial Challenges is mentioned in one of the comments to the Space Politics post:

Of important note are the site-specific earmarks in the bill. I counted 81 such earmarks totalling over $83 million. A PDF of the bill is here:

The earmarks start on page 118 in the PDF (page 113 in the document).

It’s really hard to see the NASA connection in many of these earmarks. Some would appear to belong to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, and even the Department of Health and Human Services. Here’s a sample:

... here the comment includes a long list of earmarks - but only a small fraction of the actual list - any of which would have been able to kick off at least one new Centennial Challenge ...

It’s very sad that Congress is willing to levy $83 million worth of uncompeted, low-return, and often non-relevant activities on NASA, but can’t find a lousy $4 million to expand and improve the number of highly competitive, high-return, highly relevant technology inducement prizes in the Centennial Challenges program, or $78 million to fully fund innovative, high-leverage, government/industry COTS partnerships that are proving to be critical to covering the “gap”.

This is only part of one comment in an interesting discussion on the budget that so far concentrates on the NASA COTS and Constellation funding problems.

I encourage you to check out the full Space Politics discussion, and also the budget document. To make the budget document fun, see which earmarks you'd like to replace with a Centennial Challenge or some other preference. The budget document includes the dollar amounts and descriptions for the various earmarks. For comparison, the Centennial Challenges program was looking for a modest $4M this year, and individual Centennial Challenge prize competitions so far have been in the ballpark of $1M (varying from prize to prize, and changing from year to year for most prizes).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Heinlein Centennial Short Story Contest

A couple months ago (sorry I missed it then), the Heinlein Society presented the rules for the 2008 Heinlein Centennial Short Story Contest. Entries are due June 1, 2008. First prize gets $5,000; second and third get $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.

Geneticists in a Candy Shop

Nature Genetics asks numerous geneticists

What would you do if it became possible to sequence the equivalent of a full human genome for only $1,000?

There are as many diverse and useful-sounding answers as geneticists answering the question. Actually, most of them couldn't contain themselves, and gave several different projects they'd like to see happen.

SpaceDev and the Moon

A Babe in the Universe discusses the Moon, with an emphasis on SpaceDev. The discussion brushes by the Lunar Lander Challenge, SpaceShipOne from the Ansari X PRIZE, and the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

Mprize Newsletter

The Methuselah Foundation blog presents a detailed progress report, including a lot of information about the Mprize. The Mprize information is at the end of the post. For example:

The Mprize is designed to jumpstart scientific research into life-extending biomedicine with the twin incentives of (1) a large cash award, and (2) a prestigious public victory in a prominent research competition. The support of our generous donors is the key to this strategy: the magnetic draw of the Prize grows with every dollar pledged to this program. Therefore, we are pleased to report a substantial increase in the total amount of money in the Mprize fund, which now stands at $4.6 million.

They expect to get more competitor teams soon. They also have some ideas on lowering the costs of doing business for the teams. One is to outsource mouse trials. Another is described below:

Another way of limiting the cost and time required to perform anti-aging studies in mice is to encourage more researchers to compete in the Rejuvenation arm of the Mprize, which requires researchers to test their interventions in 16-month-old mice (instead of starting at weaning, as in the Longevity prize). Most of the Foundation's donors already favor the Rejuvenation Prize over the Longevity Prize by a very large margin, as measured in completed pledges to the two Prize funds: $1.48 million vs. $0.16 million - a ratio of more than 9 to 1. This preference is based on the urgent need to develop interventions that can extend the healthy life spans of people who are already middle-aged, in hopes that people alive today can still be rescued from a death by biological decay brought on by the aging process.

What To Do When You Want a Bigger Energy Bill

From the X PRIZE Foundation, Tom Vander Ark looks at the somewhat indadequate steps of the recent Energy Bill, which he doesn't expect to be able to deliver either energy independence or sufficiently reduced pollution:

The recently signed Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 does little to improve independence or security. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a few small steps in the right direction but it’s not leadership, it’s bringing up the rear. By the time fleet averages are required to reach 35 mpg in 2020 the climate game will be lost. That’s about all we can expect out of a congress that is increasingly partisan and decreasingly able to address complex problems.

As is so often the case, solutions have to come from the private sphere. He lists a number of growing private efforts, including:

Prizes. A suite of X PRIZEs launched in the next 24 months will advance a set of compelling, difficult but achievable goals and will mobilize investors and entrepreneurs around the world to take big smart green risks. The results will include important breakthroughs, changed public perception, and reshaped markets.

DeltaX and LaserMotive in the Media

The Space Elevator Blog features a BBC video that covers the Space Elevator Games, including representative teams in the Beam Power and Tether Challenges. It also gives a background on the space elevator concept.

Monday, December 24, 2007

All We Need Is a Good Map

Barbylon discusses the NASA budget in the context of lunar landers:

As NASA is underfunded in its ambitious Exploration program, it decided to cut the RLEP-2 lunar lander last year, saying all it needed for return to the Moon was "a good map." That might be true if you want to just land once, look around, and fly away. But this return to the Moon (we hope) will be so much more than that.

Yes, that "good map" statement (and related NASA decisions that seem to indicate the statement was made in all seriousness) was one of the more absurd ones we heard this year. If we returned to the Moon with humans with just the good map from precursor robotics, would we know where to go, what to do there, or why we're bothering? NASA's exploration program
is fortunate that foreign space programs, NASA's own Discovery program, and perhaps the Google Lunar X PRIZE are helping fill in some of the gaps while they concentrate on another NASA-designed and operated rocket or 2.

Barbylon compares small Lunar X PRIZE style missions to the bigger ones we might see from MSFC:

There are a lot of ideas out there for ultra-low-cost lunar missions, like little rovers for the Google Lunar X-Prize and other small sats. I'm all for creative design of lunar micro-orbiter or micro-landers. They could send back some cool photos or movies, and it would certainly generate a lot of excitement, which is political capital. But, those class of spacecraft can't do the real tasks that scientists and engineers need as part of renewed exploration - that is, sophisticated sample analysis at multiple sites, self-similar platforms to test human lander components, and sample return. To accomplish these significant tasks, we need a more serious investment. Even if you think NASA costs are bloated, try cutting them in half. The MER rovers cost $850 to launch. Cut it in half, then half again for a single lander - you're still over $200M.

I'd still like to see what kinds of cheap lunar missions Ames would come up with. I suspect they'd return more than just cool photos or movies, at a much lower cost than most would expect. Of course I don't know this for sure without seeing the proposals. Ames, bring 'em on!

It could easily be the case that multiple lunar missions in a sort of FDA food pyramid, with the big missions in the "Use Sparingly" category, would be the best approach.

I'd also like to see NASA encourage the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams to help NASA's goals by giving bonus prizes for meeting objectives of use to NASA. This could be, for example, scouting locations where NASA is considering sending humans, making specific science measurements, demonstrating some engineering capability, or delivering some small NASA payload. With this approach, a little incentive could go a long way. I'm not sure whether or not this meets the letter of the law of Lunar X PRIZE rules limiting government funding of teams, but it seems to meet the spirit, and is an opportunity NASA shouldn't miss.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Apophis Tagging Mission Animation

Here's an animation of an entry to the Planetary Society's Apophis Mission Design Competition. The comment for the video is:

Based on my ART mission design proposal - an entry for the competition by The Planetary Society, B. Jones from London, UK had made this beautiful animation, bringing a whole new look to my design. Many thanks Jones for your work.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Site Covering Automotive X PRIZE

In the comments for the article mentioned in my previous post, I noticed a link to a site that covers the Automotive X PRIZE, X Prize Cars. Since this site is dedicated to covering this one competition, and clearly is covering it in a lot more detail than I am (with pictures, lots more AXP articles, and comparison tables for some AXP entries), I'd recommend going there rather than here if you're interested in that specific prize.

It's great to see a dedicated site, external to the official site, for the AXP. Now if I could only find an independent site totally dedicated to the Google Lunar X PRIZE, another for the Regolith Excavation Challenge, etc ...

Wired on the Race to Build the Supergreen Car

Wired has a really interesting article on the Automotive X PRIZE. I'd rank it as one of the best AXP articles I've seen from the point of view of "a good read". This one gets into some details on a few of the teams. It also covers a lot of the design tradeoffs that have to be made to reach the fuel efficiency, marketability, and carbon emissions standards of the competition. There's also a link to the the X PRIZE Ecosystem, a brief review of some of the innovation prizes that are out there.

Another Year in Review Emphasizes Prizes

New Scientist gives us another of those "year in review" articles. This one is on spaceflight. As with similar articles I've mentioned, it gives space prizes a lot of weight considering the relatively low funding for the prizes. The article also emphasizes NewSpace events and robotic science spacecraft far more than NASA's Ares I/Orion plans (which interestingly are covered mainly under section "NASA woes"). I think that reflects on the level of interest in, and expectation of results from, the public has in the prizes, NewSpace activities, and robotic science missions compared to ESAS.

Since the ESAS rockets don't attempt to lower launch costs, don't encourage much commercial (not contractor) activity, and don't even help the non-NASA space field by using EELVs, they should at least have strong public support and (non-scandal-related) interest. Yet if "year in review" articles like this one are any indication, it seems the professional judgement of the media is the public isn't tremendously interested in ESAS. That leads to the question "Why isn't the public interested in ESAS?", followed by "How can ESAS be changed so the public is interested in it?". I suspect the answer has nothing to do with communication strategies, but rather is all about changing ESAS so it has some of the characteristics of the activities (space prizes, COTS, NewSpace, robot science probes) the public apparently is interested in.

Space Elevator Game Plans, Part 2

The Space Elevator Blog gives us part 2 of the ambitious plans for the 2008 Space Elevator Games. This post describes the huge system they're considering to allow them to test climbers going up a whole kilometer.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lunar Lander Challenge Questions

The Space Fellowship has some recent and interesting answers to questions about Masten's plans and decisions, as well as some things we can expect to see on the Masten blog.

Meanwhile, a rocket tether test from SpaceDev brings up another question about the identity of the mystery 9th Lunar Lander team at RLV News.

Land Robot Competition

I'm not sure if DARPA is going to follow up the 2007 Urban Challenge robot car competition with another round (or a different competition altogether) next year (or later), but here's news of a Military European Land-Robot Trial, or M-ELROB 2008. I didn't notice anything about an actual prize, but it looks like the competition will allow the companies to show their capabilities in different scenarios.

Regolith Excavation Challenge Announcement

I got the following messagel from the Regolith Excavation Challenge mailing list today:

We are pleased to announce today that the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge will take place August 2 and 3, 2008 in the Engineering Plaza on the campus of California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo. We would like to thank the Cal Poly College of Engineering for their efforts to make this a reality.

In addition, we have decided to extend the "Early Bird" registration deadline back by two weeks to January 15. This is to allow extra time for teams that may have been waiting for this announcement before registering.

You'll also find news about the first registered team and FAQ update on the site's blog. The FAQ is here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New Reality Show in the Spawning Stage

Someone in my household seems to relate on a personal level to reality show "Beauty and the Geek". If you're like her and that television treat isn't enough for you, Personal Spaceflight describes a plan for a new show:

The concept: put a bunch of, well, geeks, in, um, space. Actually, a simulated spaceship here on Earth, where the contestants, in a bizarre array of costumes, would live together while competing in challenges.

All I can say is, if they have to eat space maggots, as Beavis and Butthead would say, "We're there, dude."

On second thought, there had better be real space maggots, real spaceships, or at least a Devon Island level of realistic simulation of a space adventure, or I don't think I'll bother. Also, please
throw in some Zero-G rides in the contests.

Also, what ever happened to the "Right Stuff" image of astronauts? It probably would make sense to add some of that to the contestant mix, since TV is TV and, while geeks are after all a sure-fire ratings draw, photogenic contestants have been known to help ratings a bit now and then, too.

Anyway, the prize would be a suborbital space flight ... assuming one can be arranged. Let's not be cheap, now ... how about orbital? For all we know Bigelow flights might be available before suborbital tourism. At least throw in a few suborbital rides.

2008 Space Elevator Climbers to the Sky

The Space Elevator Blog posts about the Spaceward Foundation's planning for the 2008 Space Elevator Games. The prizes, and the difficulty of the challenge, are both literally going way up for the Climber part of the games:
  • The climb will now be 1 kilometer (10 times what was required in the 2007 Games).
  • There will now be two levels of prizes: $900,000 (for a climb averaging 2m/s and $1,100,000 for a climb averaging 5 m/s).

The magnitude-sized increase in the length of the Power-Beaming climb will now almost certainly mean that only laser-powered entries will be able to successfully compete.

However, the post shows that Spaceward has a way to help the teams meet the expense of laser power beaming ...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ramblings About Centennial Challenges and Politics

I have a few thoughts about the trouble getting Congress to fund new Centennial Challenges for several years. You can see some of the recent history of this effort by checking the "Politics" tag below, and if you want going back to older posts with that tag. You'll see the struggle as the Space Frontier Foundation, the National Space Society, ProSpace, the Space Exploration Alliance Space Budget Blitz team, and others made efforts to support space prizes, but so far no new funding has resulted, in spite of plenty of money for expensive and duplicative rockets like Ares I as well as lots of earmarks.

I tend to agree with Rick Tumlinson's position that

If we can’t win something this relatively small in the battle to change our national space agenda, it bodes extremely ill for our chances not only to force NASA to implement a pro-frontier strategy, it also is an ill omen for our ability to defend the newborn child of NewSpace and our chance to move beyond governments into space.

(from Transterrestrial Musings). That was during last year's Centennial Challenges budget setback, and already it seems we've got to look to next year.

I'm not sure what the level of support for Centennial Challenges is in the space interest world like the members of the organizations that form the Space Exploration Alliance. Certainly they support the prizes, and many of the organizations have fought for them and done their own work in the prize area - you can see evidence of that on this site. However, each group has it's own focus, and the generic concept of prize competitions may not get many members politically active compared to each group's main focus area (Mars missions for the Mars Society, etc). Perhaps support for space prizes in these communities is like support for space in the general population: "a mile wide and an inch deep". It's hard to say from here - I'm not very politically minded myself, other than being interested in the actual results of the political process, and have little sense for such things.

I'm not sure what kind of response there would be in 2008 if the space interest groups tried to not only continue the Congressional face-to-face discussions of prizes, but also to, as a group, gather petitions, start letter-writing campaigns, present discussions in emails or magazines, and the like in support of Centennial Challenges, sort of like the Planetary Society Save Our Science campaign. Would the members respond, and if they did would Congress respond in turn? It seems that more of an effort is needed than we've seen in the past, but is the will there? Such a campaign might need to involve not only the space interest groups, but also the Centennial Challenges Allied Organizations, the competitor teams, and the sponsors and partners of these participants. Less than that might not be noticed by Congress.

One thing that may be missing is widespread knowledge of what new Centennial Challenges are at stake. RLV News gave some insight into this early in the year's budget process. From the budget document:

With the FY 2008-2012 funding request of $4M/year for Centennial Challenges, new prize
competitions will be initiated to support NASA's science (e.g., the Station-Keeping Solar Sail
Challenge), aeronautic (e.g., the Micro Reentry Vehicle Challenge), and space exploration (e.g., the Human Lunar All Terrain Vehicle Challenge) goals. Centennial Challenges is continually working with each of the NASA Mission Directorates to ensure that competitions selected are addressing the current set of NASA's technology priorities.

You can get more ideas on the kinds of prizes they've considered here. That's an old Centennial Challenges document that considers future prizes like a fuel depot demonstration, a micro reentry vehicle, a station-keeping solar sail, a human lunar ATV, a low-cost space pressure suit, a non-toxic RCS engine, and a lunar night power source. Here's another old document from New Scientist. My gut feeling is that most people, even those actively interested in space, don't have an idea what new prizes are being considered.

What would be good to see is an up-to-date idea on the top few prizes that Centennial Challenges is considering, what kind of funding they'd need, and what their priorities are. The idea is for these potential, but currently unfunded, future prizes to be discussed in magazines, web sites, and so on. A single prize idea could be featured in detail in an article, of course with the point that it's currently unfunded presented up-front. Fancy artist's impressions of winning entries for the new prize being discussed could be featured in articles - and even made part of contests akin to NSS's calendar art contest. It's not as if other as-yet unfunded ideas have never been presented before. It would be good to see some kind of web site set up by some dedicated advocate for each top-ranking Centennial Challenge prize idea under consideration. To be honest, I've seen very little discussion of specific new prizes, so I'd have to bet most other folks in the general public haven't, either.

To be clear, what I'm talking about may involve some additional communication work from the NASA Centennial Challenges folks, but virtually all of the effort I'm suggesting might be needed has to come from outside - for example from the space advocates.

This type of publicity would give space advocates an idea of what they would be fighting for, or not fighting for, if they choose, or do not choose, to speak up for the prizes. A Moon Society member may not care in particular about the abstract concept of prizes, but they may be a lot more interested in supporting a human lunar ATV prize or a lunar night power source prize. On the other hand, they might not care about some other, non-lunar prize. The same might be true of a space business like SpaceHab deciding whether or not they want to advocate for a micro reentry vehicle prize that could be used to return experiments from the ISS. If they know the prize under consideration would be of business use to them, they might be a lot more interested than if it's irrelevant to their planned business. The same goes for potential prize competitors.

All of this also applies to non-space constituencies. If Centennial Challenges comes up with a plan for a suborbital rocket prize pushing specific capabilities (such as high altitude, large payload, or reusability), space advocates made get interested if the plan is publicized and discussed in their information sources. If the suborbital prize requirements include capabilities of interest to other constituencies, like high quality Earth imagery or other measurements for environmental, military, disaster relief, urban planning, science, or intelligence interests, and these capabilities can be publicized in the information sources those constituencies use, there may be a much bigger push for the prize than if only space interests were involved. Selecting a prize with appeal inside and outside the space community may involve a lot of up-front investigation, but it may be worth the effort.

The publicity of specific prize ideas that are seriously in consideration by Centennial Challenges would give the public a better, more concrete way to decide whether or not they're interested in supporting the prizes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Some Congressional Excerpts on Centennial Challenges

I'll just pass along a few excerpts from the Congressional budget documents linked at NASA Watch. First:

Funds for announced prizes otherwise authorized shall remain available, without fiscal year limitation, until the prize is claimed or the offer is withdrawn. Funding shall not be made available for Centennial Challenges unless authorized.


The amended bill does not provide any new funding in fiscal year 2008 for the Centennial Challenges program. The funding proposed in previous fiscal years for this program is sufficient for NASA to run this prize-based competition. Providing additional funds to a program based on prizes only creates a sizeable amount of unused funds while other aspects of NASA’s mission are being cut or delayed due to a lack of funds.

This is immediately followed by 7 solid pages of "congressional directives", mostly in the several hundred thousand to low millions of dollars. I counted about 80 such juicy directives, most of which could kick off a very nice Centennial Challenge.

SciAm 50 Awards

Scientific American has one of those "year in review" wrap-ups. This is for the "SciAm 50" awards. The third award of the 50 is for "Policy Leader of the Year", which goes to the X PRIZE Foundation (which may be why I found the link to the article at their site).

Optech, Robert Richards, and the Lunar X PRIZE

Earlier mentioned that Odyssey Moon founder Robert Richards is Director of Optech Incorporated's Space division, and the caption in an image on the right mentioned that Pptech is a member of the Odyssey Moon team. There may have been more news about it that I missed or don't remember, but a press release at GIS Cafe clarifies what Optech's role in the effort is:

Optech Incorporated is a privately owned Canadian high technology company that leads worldwide markets in advanced laser-based imaging and survey systems. Optech’s lidar (laser radar) technology was the first of its kind in orbit and is currently on the way toward Mars aboard the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander. Lidar based technologies for safe landing and rover navigation are expected to play an essential role in robotic and human lunar missions.

Optech’s technology was featured at the roll out of Odyssey Moon in a demonstration of a lunar rover prototype, the K-10, developed in collaboration with the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group. Optech’s ILRIS-3D sensor is used by the rover to provide 3D terrain visualization for navigation and science. The rover system was successfully demonstrated this past summer during field trials at Haughton Crater in the Canadian Arctic.

In other news, Robert Richards, representing Optech and Odyssey Moon, will be the Keynote Speaker at the Accelerating Space conference.

Meanwhile, Atomic Razor is skeptical of the Cringely Lunar X PRIZE team.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lunar Lander Challenge and Lunar X PRIZE Updates

I don't have much time today for posting (it's the end of the semester, which means the computer is in heavy use in this house), but you can get plenty of space prize news at RLV News:

- Masten Space has a setback during testing, but it's all to be expected in a test program.

- Armadillo also gives a progress report.

- There's more information about the Google Lunar X PRIZE team led by Astrobotic.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Automotive X PRIZE at Upcoming Car Shows

Autoblog posts on a couple of car shows where the Automotive X PRIZE and its teams will be presented, and in the second show, where the prize will officially be announced. The link is from the X PRIZE Foundation news scroller.

Cosmic Log Book Selections

Cosmic Log presents a collection recently published science-related books in different categories that you may find you'd like to read, or give as holiday gifts. Some of the books in the list (or mentioned in associated text) have a prize connection:

An Inconvenient Truth - Al Gore - His Nobel Prize was in part related to this book and the associated movie.

Energy Victory - Robert Zubrin - Zubrin advocates a relatively cheap mandate that all vehicles sold in the U.S. be flex fueled (in this case meaning supporting E85 (85% ethanol), M85 (85% methanol), and gasoline), which would give gas stations the incentive to install E85 and M85 pumps. That would lead to the development and improvement of numerous sources of ethanol and methanol for liquid fuel. Zubrin believes this would result in energy independence, an improved economy, improved balance of trade, reduced poverty worldwide because of agriculture, replacement of farms for narcotics with farms for energy, a better environment, reduced funding for terrorism, and lower gas prices. As I mentioned in this post, an organization he promotes in the book is supporting government prizes that would supprt energy independence.

A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life - Craig Venter - Venter is on the Board of Trustees of the X PRIZE Foundation, and even appeared on the Colbert Report (link care of the X PRIZE Foundation), of all places, recently.

Rocketeers - Michael Belfiore - As I mentioned in other posts, this book covers the Ansari X PRIZE competition.

There's also a prize up for grabs for Cosmic Log readers. From the Cosmic Log post:

Now it's your turn: What science-oriented books hold an honored place on your bookshelf - or on your holiday wish list, for that matter? Feel free to leave your suggestions below, and if your pick becomes a future Cosmic Log Used Book Club selection, I'll send you a DVD of "Flatland: The Movie."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Prizes Prominent in Year in Review

CNet is writing a number of "2007 Year in Review" articles covering various categories (Web 2.0, etc). One of the categories is Science, and just about everything in the yearly science review covered either space, or robotics, or both. Not only that, but space prizes and robotic prizes (or both at the same time) are featured heavily. To be honest, even I wouldn't have featured space or prizes so prominently in a category that covers science in general, unless I were giving space and prizes a bit of a boost because they're so fun to read about.

If you check the links to the right of the article, you'll see a lot more prize-related headlines from 2007.

2008 PISCES Lunar Outpost Design Student Competition Announced

As I mentioned a few days ago, the rollout of the 2008 PISCES Lunar Outpost Design Student Competition was expected about now, and here it is. Here are the areas they're looking for:
  • overall habitat design (architecture). Teams considering submissions should review last year’s reports, which can be found on the PISCES web site (up to two awards will be given)
  • lunar resource utilization. This could include work in finding, extracting and utilizing lunar materials for support of a lunar outpost or for commercial purposes. This is of particular interest to NASA, who is supporting up to three awards in this area. NASA has requested that design studies in this area focus on the problems/solutions for extracting water from deposits in permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles.
  • supporting subsystems (life support systems, communications, robotics, energy conversion and power, surface transportation, etc.) that may be simulated in the PISCES environment. (up to two awards)
  • issues of operations in space and on planetary surfaces, such as the conduct of field geology, remote exploration from a planetary base, or problems of human performance and health.(up to two awards)
  • Business students are invited to participate by submitting business plans detailing concepts for developing commercial goods or services aligned with a lunar outpost, or with the PISCES simulation facility (up to two awards)

Cringely Lunar X PRIZE Team?

Bob Cringely from PBS is working on setting up a Lunar X PRIZE Team ... I think. I thought he was just having some fun with an earlier article on setting up the team, but now it sounds like he's really getting into it. For example:

So far we have raised $500,000, with the biggest single investment being $100,000 from a guy whose motivation is to share an adventure with his nine-year-old son. It's a lot of money, sure, but this is money that will never be regretted by those who invested it because it isn't enough to have any impact on their lives -- that is unless we win the prize. It's true mad money. One Team Cringely investor is also bankrolling the iPhone Dev Team hackers group simply to pull Steve Jobs' chain.

... and ...

So Team Cringely now has a Program Manager, a role I gladly hand over so I can go back to evangelizing and raising money. Our Program Manager is Tomas Svitek, who has a PhD from Caltech, was a systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the NASA Mars Scout, Mars Surveyor, Mars Sample Return and various Discovery Missions. He was the Principal Scientist for Orbital Sciences Corp., Project Leader for the BlastOff Lunar Lander project and AeroAstro's miniature spacecraft project. He has managed and completed projects for NASA, the U.S. Air Force Research Lab, Microcosm Inc., and SpaceX Corp.. He was lead engineer for Jeff Bezos' Blue Origins crew capsule and has long run his own space consulting company in California.

There's more on the effort in a post on a Google clean energy (wind power via big kites) investment that also covers Cringely interest in a MiG-23 air launcher. There's even more here, here (at the bottom of the article), and the original announcement. Here's part of their web site that's being built with some details on their design.

Middle School Launch Challenge

In the second-in-a-row student contest post from Space for All, the Mississippi State University Space Cowboys, themselves a competitor in the University Student Launch Initiative NASA competition, offer a rocketry and essay contest for middle school students. The total prizes available add up to $1,350.

UK Student Contest to Make a Real Satellite Experiment

In the first of 2 student contest posts, Space for All highlights a UK student contest where the winners get their lunch box sized experiment idea to actually go up on a satellite made by Surrey Satellite Technology. The winning experiment concept will get a budget up to 100,000 pounds.

Friday, December 14, 2007

DuPont Science Essay Challenge

Spaceref covers the DuPont Challenge, a student science and technology essay competition with $25,000 in prizes (some for the students, some for the teachers).

Hardard University Paper on Local Genomics Prize Entry

Th Harvard Crimson covers Harvard Medical School professor George M. Church and his team's effort to win the Archon Genomics X PRIZE for cheap genome sequencing.

If everyone could sequence their own genome, they would know if they were susceptible to certain diseases, and take certain preventative measures, including screenings and diet changes, said Xiaole Shirley Liu, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the School of Public Health.

Liu offered the example of cancer. “It takes multiple mutations to get cancer. If you find out that you have a few mutations already accumulated, it is not sure that you will get the additional mutation to get cancer, but you are more susceptible,” Liu said. “So these people can be more cautious in terms of cancer prevention or early detection.”

The link is from the X PRIZE Foundation.

CMU Moon Team and University of Arizona?

Spaceref posts on the possibility that the University of Arizona will work with the CMU Moon Team in their attempt to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE:

Editor's note: Word has it that the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is looking to partner with Carnegie-Mellon and Raytheon in a Google Lunar X-Prize bid.

If it gets approved by the university, this would be a quite formidable team. The University of Arizona is the first university that comes to my (admittedly non-expert) mind when it comes to planetary science. Perhaps Cal Tech (JPL) or Johns Hopkins (APL) occur first for planetary science probes, but U Az is up there, too. Here are links to the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Lab, as well as the important Earth and Space Sciences catalog from the University of Arizona Press. I shouldn't forget the link to the Phoenix Mars Mission.

Isle of Odyssey Moon

How do you start off a post about the Google Lunar X PRIZE with a picture of a USPS stamp of Frank Sinatra? It'll become obvious when you check Really Rocket Science. Also check out the link in that post on the Isle of Man where Odyssey Moon is based. There's a bunch of space activity there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mprize Longevity Prize Donations Rising

There are a lot of blog posts at the Methuselah Mouse anti-aging prize (Mprize) blog site (for the Methuselah Foundation) that I haven't covered since they aren't directly related to the Mprize. Some are about a book and videos related to their goal to end or reverse harmful effects of aging; others are about funding anti-aging research grants (passing $5 Million in grant donations, a 300% match for donations through the end of the year - or I suppose until one of the matches is exhausted, etc). It's all part of the same effort as the prize, so if you're interested, catch up over there using the link above.

The post I'll draw the most attention to is the one related, in part, to the Mprize. The Foundation announces that the total donations they've received has passed $10M, including donations for the prize, research grants, and other Foundation work.

I have to admit that, for non-accountants and non-prize-bloggers, some of the other recent posts are probably more interesting reading.

Prize4Life Anniversary

Prize4Life, the organization that

seeks to create breakthroughs in effective ALS/MND (Lou Gehrig's disease) treatments using the leverage of large inducement prizes,

celebrated the first anniversary of their ALS Biomarker Prize (worth $1M dollars) a bit over a month ago.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pomerantz Report on Odyssey Moon

RLV News posts on, among other interesting topics, the latest X PRIZE Foundation Pomerantz Report blog post. This one is on the Odyssey Moon announcement for the Lunar X PRIZE, and compares the results from teams that let the public know the details about their progress to the ones that keep quite.

Also check the Teams button at the Google Lunar X PRIZE site. There's a page or two
for Odyssey Moon, and also a forum, similar to the Automotive X PRIZE forum. The forum is a good communication tool to allow teams to communicate with preferred partners, find suppliers, find team members, discuss the fine points of the rules, and so on. W. Pomerantz has started a lot of the discussions with a post that clarifies what each category is meant to cover. If you look through the discussions, you'll see (already, and presumably more in the future) a lot of interesting information from teams, prospective teams, and the X PRIZE Foundation folks. For example, from Moderator William Pomerantz on a question on a 2008 Conference/Summit/Event:

We are working on finalizing those details, and hope to be able to distribute them in the near future. However, I can tell you that we will indeed be hosting a "Team Summit" event in the May/June timeframe. It will be held in Europe. The event will be a forum for people to ask questions about the rules and for leading thinkers to talk about important issues related to the prize (such as how does one respectfully visit a historical site on the Moon), and will also be a great venue for potential teams to meet each other, find partners and suppliers, et cetera. Please stay tuned for more info!

Look around the forum for a lot more interesting Lunar X PRIZE information.

Planetary Defense Blog and Apophis Contests

Planetary Defense blog has a recent post on a conversation at the Space Investment Summit with Bruce Betts from the Planetary Society. According to the post, the judging for the Apophis Mission Design Competition will probably be finished by January (a bit delayed).

Planetary Defense blog has a lot more on Apophis, by the way. Just use the blog search bar to find more articles on it. One cool post gives some links to articles on, and project websites for, various entries in the Apophis contest. I've posted about the SpaceWorks/SpaceDev entry, but there are details about entries from aerospace power Astrium, universities (GIT, MIT, and University of Michigan), and a couple other teams. One paper from Orbital isn't confirmed as an entry, but it's for an Apophis rendezvous mission. The University of Michigan site gets a special link here for a professional-looking site that appears (to my eye, which admittedly is a mostly or entirely untrained one in the spacecraft engineering disciplines) to cover all the bases (although I was hoping that "Proposal" button would work for me so I could see the results!).

Here's another Planetary Defense blog post on a visit to the Georgia Tech Apophis team, including a link to the presentation and the class website.

Finally, here's a Planetary Defense post (with appropriate links, of course) on an AIAA student design competition to characterize (not tag, this time) Apophis.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lunar X PRIZE Race and Unreasonable Glow Wire Copter

RLV News has the links to keep you up to date on Unreasonable Rocket progress (Unreasonable Rocket rules the night by helicopter, and does some difficult programming too) and the Lunar X PRIZE (the Lunar X PRIZE Moon looks ok to a Mars supporter).

Planetary Society and Odyssey Moon

Follow the link and you'll find a fairly detailed article on Odyssey Moon and the role of the Planetary Society in their project.

Not only that, but pretty soon I'll not only know how to spell Odyssey without thinking about it, but I'll even be able to type it.

ACME Robotics to the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge

From I-Newswire comes a press release apparently from a new (at least new to me) Regolith Excavation Challenge team, ACME Robotics. Even though they didn't appear in the 2007 Challenge, they may be in good shape because they were trying in 2007 with a design that may be suitable for the 2008 Challenge:

The first event was held in May of 2007 (no winner) and competition was fierce between the four participating teams. However, Mr. Dhabolt wasn’t there, “I entered the competition. My prototype was nearly complete, but I had to drop out early.” Lack of funding and sponsorship were the main reasons for the early withdrawal, he said. The event highlighted quite an array of designs, but each machine was strictly a “stand and dig” machine – all were autonomous but none had locomotion. ACME Robotics read between the lines and designed a mobile, autonomous excavator. “I guess we have a head start for the 2008 competition,” Mr. Dhabolt said.

There are already a bunch of posts on their blog detailing some of the testing they've done, as well as general information about the contest. Of course they're looking for sponsors and merchandise sales.

VerySpatial on Odyssey Moon

VerySpatial is a blog on geography and geospatial technologies. This is an area I find interesting, and in fact my paper the semester before my "Space Prizes" paper was on Google Earth as it applied to commercial space.

The linked post is on Odyssey Moon going for the Lunar X PRIZE. It's a brief post without much new if you've already followed the earlier Lunar X PRIZE posts, but it's a nice excuse to point out how vibrant the intersection of space and geography is.

This particular blog has well-populated tags for various interesting and space-friendly categories, such as space (not spatial!), remote sensing, navigation (i.e. GPS), virtual globes like Google Earth and Virtual Earth, virtual environments, and (nicely for the prizes part of Space Prizes) geography contests.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Rounding Up More Google Lunar X PRIZE Team News

Aero-News has an "Aero-Cast" on the Odyssey Moon team that's going to try to win the Lunar X PRIZE. They have a quite detailed podcast interview of Dr. Robert Richards, one of the team's founders. I like these Aero-News interviews; they tend to get into a lot more interesting detail than many general news sources, and the interview questions are usually pretty good. has an article about the Space Investment Summit. The article is about investing in space businesses, including the new Lunar X PRIZE businesses. They emphasize businesses with space applications where the primary business is on Earth; the space part of these businesses is "the icing on the cake".

Update (Dec 9): Here's more (text this time, with a few pictures, instead of sound) on Odyssey Moon from Aero-News. If you have the time, I'd still go to the radio interview linked above first if you want more details about Odyssey Moon.

Automotive X PRIZE Car Picture Tour

CNet has an update on the Automotive X PRIZE, including lots of pictures. They're up to 43 teams, and plan to kick off the contest officially next Spring at the earliest, following some exposure at the Detroit Auto Show for the teams in January. The article is more of a set of commented pictures, most of which feature a specific vehicle and team. A couple of the featured teams are new to me.

Cool X PRIZE Cup Picture Album

There's not much for me to say; just check out both pages.

2008 PISCES Lunar Outpost Design Competition Coming Soon

The California Space Grant Consortium anticipates that the 2nd PISCES lunar design competition will be announced in a few days. The winners of the 2007 competition recently did their presentations in Hawaii. While we wait for the details about next year's competition, here's the 2007 Competition site.

Ambitious Lunar X PRIZE Teams

RLV News has more on the CMU Lunar X PRIZE team, including some comparisons of launch costs that teams like this have to consider.

Wired has been publishing lots of articles on the Lunar X PRIZE teams the last few days. Here's one that concentrates on the advertising and media angles of the GLXP:

Presenting at the Space Investment Summit in San Jose, London said the company was seeking $75 million of funding, but that they expected to return 5 to 10 times that amount of money to their investors via selling the media rights to their HD footage of the moon.

I've expanded the list of links on the right for Lunar X PRIZE teams. We'll see how well I keep up if lots more teams are announced. Interplanetary Ventures is one of the teams. If you look on their discussion forum, you'll see that their team roster includes Bob Steinke from Lunar Lander Challenge competitor SpeedUp as a Technical Advisor/Consultant. They also list some potential competitors there (and I've seen others in my web surfing), but I'm waiting to learn more about them before including them.

Student Competition Internet Resource

The Oregon Space Grant Consortium has some blog tags that seem to be good, regularly updated resources on engineering contests and essay competitions. They include some that I haven't covered here. Here are the tags for essay competitions, competitions, and contests. The tags are for the same blog so they have some overlapping content.

Unreasonable Rocket in the Christmas Spirit

Unreasonable Rocket considers altoids containers, and uses gingerbread cookie tins, for electrical noise shielding.

NASA Innovation Fund and Sponsorhip Act

Spaceref presents a press release from Representative Ken Calvert on the NASA Innovation Fund and Sponsorship Act, H.R. 4308. The Act would allow NASA to earn money for the NASA Centennial Challenges prizes by offering advertising - a prospect that doesn't make commercial space companies that seek advertising sponsorship very comfortable. This concept was debated quite a bit earlier this year; check the "Ads for CC" tag below to see earlier posts and links on it.

The consensus in the discussions I read was that NASA should simply fund Centennial Challenges adequately and refrain from competing with private industry. This would be easy enough to do, since Centennial Challenges, even if considerably expanded, would still be a tiny part of NASA's budget, and there are certain activities with a troubled history that NASA currently does where budgets could be made available by trimming back NASA in-house efforts and using private services instead.

Having said all that, it would be good to have a funding source for Centennial Challenges. Here's an article by Representative Calvert promoting the idea.

Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Update (Dec 9): Check RLV News, including the comments section there.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Odyssey Moon and CMU Moon Team Rollout

Continuing the news from my earlier post, here's more on the rollout of 2 Google Lunar X PRIZE competitors. (The links I gave earlier are a good place to start, though).

The Odyssey Moon site is now up and running. It's time to go surfing around there and find out all the details about the project. The Google Lunar X PRIZE site has a full page of such details. The Planetary Society has announced a role on the project, as does big-time aerospace firm MDA.

Apparently Odyssey Moon was in the works before the Lunar X PRIZE announcement, but the prize has brought focus to their efforts. notes that the Google Lunar X Prize was a catalyst to their plans – but the group had been shaping a lunar business strategy and a pathfinder mission to the Moon for over a year. also gives insight into their business plan:

Richards said that science, exploration and technology validation will be the Moon market needs of government enterprises. "There are ways that the private sector can play a role in helping them do that."

Moreover, there are ancillary markets that also constitute lunar dealing, Richards added, be it for entertainment, education, or novelty ideas. "But those are not driving what we see as our business plan. We are an exploration company for lunar commerce."

According to the Planetary Society link, the Odyssey Moon lander is designed to deliver scientific, exploration and commercial payloads to the surface of the Moon.

Meanwhile, Space Pragmatism has a press release on the CMU Moon Prize Team, which is using the experience of Raytheon. The Moon Prize team has formed AstroBotic to go after the prize. The business clearly also intends to go after more markets than the prize itself:

Astrobotic Technology, Inc. is the commercial organization through which Dr. Whittaker plans to carry out the lunar mission as well as engage in potential commercial orbital transfer services and potential cis-lunar services that may be best enabled by leading-edge robotics.

Both teams are making their announcements at the Space Investment Summit 3.

Not to be a Grinch, but it would be good to hear some healthy skepticism about the teams' plans along with the promotion. I'd like to see no more and no less skepticism than what's needed to make the teams think seriously, if they haven't already, about their business plans. I suppose these 2 teams have considered their business, but have all ~340 teams? The Space Cynics, at least 1 of which is supposed to be at the Investment Summit, should be able to do the job.

In addition to all of these links, RLV News has another post on the announcement with several prominent links I haven't included above.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Robert Zubrin's New Book: Energy Victory

Robert Zubrin is best known as the President of the Mars Society, author of The Case for Mars and the Mars Direct plan to get humans to Mars, and other space-related work. This past weekend, however, I read his new book Energy Victory, figuring that with the following technical academic qualifications it would be interesting to see what he has to say about achieving energy independence:

He holds a B.A. in Mathematics, a masters degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, a masters degree in Nuclear Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering.

(That's from the Case for Mars link above).

The book is an interesting read, and worth getting. There is a lot of Zubrin's save-the-world style that space advocates are familiar with. It doesn't just cover energy independence as it relates to defeating terrorism, but also many other political and social problems, like corruption, world poverty, global warming, the drug trade, and past wars, all from the perspective of "putting the world on the alcohol standard" instead of the oil standard. Zubrin, as usual, pulls no punches with either (or any) side of the political spectrum. His compliment for one Presidential candidate's policy is "a dwarf among Lilliputans" or something like that. When he's convinced he's right, that's that (sort of like ESAS and NASA Administrator Griffin I guess), but at least he puts up a good argument.

I read the book mainly to learn a bit about the technical side of the energy situation. Zubrin gives an easy-to-read overview of the pros and cons of ethanol and methanol, and he advocates that the U.S. mandate that all vehicles sold in the U.S. be flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) able to run with E85 (85% ethanol), M85 (85% methanol), or gasoline. He makes the case that this would be relatively easy and cheap to implement using existing technology, and would give an incentive for gas stations to offer E85 and M85 (which are currently only offered in scattered locations because most cars aren't FFVs). This would allow investment in more ethanol and methanol production and R&D from countless sources that he describes. It would also provide a lot of help in the political and social areas I mentioned above (you'll have to read the book to see how). Such is his argument, and you can get a taste of it Front Page Magazine, The New Atlantis, and Cosmic Log.

As for prizes, he describes the Set America Free Coalition, which is interested in energy independence, and advocates the House version of a bill based on SAFC ideas. It has measure similar to Zubrin's idea to enforce E85/M85/gas flexibility in vehicles. From Thomas:

(4) FLEXIBLE FUEL VEHICLE- The term `flexible fuel vehicle' means a motor vehicle warranted by its manufacturer to operate on any and all blends of gasoline, E85, and M85.
(5) FUEL CHOICE-ENABLING MOTOR VEHICLE- The term `fuel choice-enabling motor vehicle' means--
(A) a flexible fuel motor vehicle; or
(B) a vehicle warranted by its manufacturer to operate on biodiesel.

(2) SCHEDULE- Not less than 50 percent of each light-duty motor vehicles manufacturer's annual production of passenger cars manufactured on and after January 1, 2012, and before January 1, 2013, and no less than 80 percent of each manufacturer's production of passenger cars manufactured on and after January 1, 2013 shall be fuel choice enabling motor vehicles or alternative fuel automobiles.

This bill includes a series of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Prizes. From The Library of Congress (Thomas):


(a) In General- The Secretary of Energy (in this section referred to as the `Secretary') shall carry out a program to competitively award cash prizes to advance the research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology.

(b) Categories- The Secretary shall establish prizes for--
(1) batteries using nanotechnology for application in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or in plug-in hybrid fuel cell vehicles;
(2) prototypes of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that best meet or exceed objective performance criteria;

... skipping much of the prize section of the bill, including many other categories of prizes ...

(g) Authorization of Appropriations- There are authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary for carrying out this section $50,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2008 through 2011, of which no more than $1,000,000 for any fiscal year may be used for administrative expenses. Funds appropriated pursuant to this subsection shall remain available until expended.

The Senate version doesn't have the provision Zubrin is looking for, but it does have Plug-in Hybrid Electric and Hydrogen Vehicle Prizes. Again from Thomas:


Section 1008 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 16396) is amended--

(1) in subsection (c), by inserting `, including plug-in hybrid and hydrogen vehicle technologies' before the period at the end; and
(2) in subsection (e)(2)--
(A) by striking `$5,000,000' and inserting `$450,000,000'; and
(B) by inserting `, to remain available until expended' before the period at the end.

The hydrogen vehicle concept is demolished in Zubrin's book, by the way.

Odyssey Moon Announcement Countdown

I already posted a couple of times (here and here) about the upcoming Odyssey Moon announcement of the first Google Lunar X PRIZE team registered. Their web site is still veiled in secrecy, ticking down the last few hours before the announcement (possibly not the best timing if the Shuttle launches with Columbus, an event that large parts of the space community has been anticipating for many years). The site now lets you sign up for alerts and news.

So ... will the suspense be ended with some kind of surprise? Will the team involve some household name ... some rich entrepreneur or company ... or at least a household name in the houses of space advocates? Or ... is it a new team we don't know now but will come to know in the years ahead?

Update (morning of Dec 6): Cosmic Log has a lot more details well worth reading, and also describes some of the CMU Moon Team plans. Also see RLV News.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Putting Cosmology Prize Money to Good Use

It's often the case that an innovation or research prize winner puts the prize money to use doing more innovation, research, or related work like making a business out of the innovation.

Spaceref posts on a press release from the University of California at Berkeley about what 2006 Physics Nobel Prize winner George Smoot is doing with his prize money. He's used $500,000 of his Nobel Prize money to help start the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics, with the help of some other large donations (including money from Saul Perlmutter from his 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize).

New Genomics X PRIZE Team Led By George Church

From the X PRIZE Foundation news update list comes a link to an article from about the Genomics X PRIZE, including a new team:

Harvard Medical School genetics professor George Church, 53, who helped originate the Human Genome Project, is set to announce he will lead a team that will compete for the X Prize. Church said he hopes his Personal Genome X team, vying with five rivals from both sides of the Atlantic, will accomplish the task in 2008.

The article gives some details on the team's approach:

Church's team, consisting of about 20 engineers and technicians at his Church Lab in Harvard Medical School and other labs around the world, plans to line up about 200 of their customized genome-sequencing machines somewhere in the Boston area to handle massive volumes of sequencing simultaneously. The team is also using "open source" hardware and software, posting their specifications online for public inspection.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Space Elevator on the Space Show; Space Elevator Games Compilation

The Space Elevator Blog notes that Dr. Brad Edwards will be on the Space Show. The discussion will include the recent conference on space elevators and Space Elevator games.

The Blog also includes a really big compilation of post Space Elevator Games links. I haven't gotten far yet (I just read the post itself and the Punkworks links so far); there's a lot in there that probably should be sampled in small bites.

March Storm 2008

Space for All reminds us that, according to weather reports derived from data from our POES and GOES satellites, the 2008 ProSpace March Storm on Washington DC is approaching. I'm not sure if ProSpace will be including something like their Space Act of 2007 as part of the agenda they'll encourage Senators and Representatives to adopt, but it would be interesting if they do. Here's a summary of the Act:

This groundbreaking legislation will create THE NATIONAL SPACE PRIZE BOARD (NPSB).

This NPSB's purpose will be to use cash prizes as a means to accelerate the commercial expansion of economic, national security and scientific uses of space and spaceflight. The SPACE Act provides the board with an annual budget of $100 million and the authority to offer prizes up to $400 million.

Unreasonable Rocket Helicopters and Decisions

Unreasonable Rocket posted a few days ago on tank and helicopter testing (apparently with some advice in the comments from at least 3 other Lunar Lander Challenge teams). Today they continue posting with an important decision branch approaching.

Some Old But Cool Lunar Lander Videos and Pictures

I just thought I'd link to a couple old discussion threads I just ran across. They feature some cool pictures and videos of Lunar Lander Challenge hardware and attempts. The discussions are here and here. Look for the pictures and videos by PistolPete.

Space, Space Prizes, and Education

Presidential candidate Barack Obama has a plan to fund an education program in part by postponing NASA's Constellation program by 5 years. That's the program to replace the Shuttle with Ares I/Orion and COTS vehicles, and to return to the Moon.

I'm not the biggest advocate of Ares I/Orion, and in fact I wouldn't mind if it were replaced with more COTS, space prizes, robotic/satellite science missions, use and encouragement of commercial space, and small X vehicle demonstrators. I actually think that could be done in a way that offers huge benefits to education while also providing a lot of benenfits to science, commerce, the environment, and national security.

For example, a NASA program that really emphasizes (and funds) the types of student space prizes I have listed on the right (and discussed in many posts) could be very productive educationally while being quite cost-effective. Student space prizes can get a lot of students involved in learning math, science, engineering, communication, and teamwork. The prizes themselves could also be in a form that helps education. For example, they can be in the form of scholarships, or for large school teams perhaps in financial rewards for the winning schools. They can be designed so they help students and schools in financial need, but that show that they are winners nonetheless.

A NASA program that dramatically expands the NASA Centennial Challenges program could have great benefits to university teams. It would also benefit younger students that aspire to university work and that get involved with the K-12 events that usually go along with the bigger Centennial Challenges.

At another level, having NASA offer lots of real high-altitude plane/balloon/rocket flights, suborbital flights, or even orbital rides for student experiments, and that gives incentives to actually personally reach space like Teachers in Space, with rides for members of each Congressional district and additional rides to encourage the educational districts in the greatest need, could be a great boost to inspire math and science education.

Adding to that more science missions with university participation and analysis, more modest ground-based telescopes that serve both researchers and students of all ages, and enough emphasis on commercial transportation that students still see the human side of spaceflight progressing, and you've started something dramatic in the educational world.

To do this, you just need to make education, in the context of real space commerce, science, and exploration, NASA's goal. Oh, don't forget to emphasize the entrepreneurial side of space commerce, since that's what gets a lot of young people interested in space, math, science, and education in general.

All of this could be done using the Ares I/Orion budget, probably with funds left over for museum upgrades and other educational improvements. A lot of it could even be done in conjunction with sponsors and allied organizations.

On the other hand, I'm quite skeptical that adding the Constellation budget to a pure Federal education program would have much benefit, since it would be such a small drop in the education bucket.

Anyway, what was I getting around to? Oh, yes, the whole point of this is to link to an education web site that addresses technology in the classroom. Among other things, it discusses the Google Lunar X PRIZE:

The Infinite Thinking Machine (ITM) is designed to help teachers and students thrive in the 21st century. Through an active blog, an Internet TV show, and other media resources, the ITM shares a "bazillion practical ideas" for turning the infinite universe of information into knowledge. It is part of the Google Educators network that offers Goggle Earth, Weekly Reader, and Lunar X/prize. Lunar X/Prize's space education content is designed to get your students interested in math, science, and history.

Yes, not only does the Google Educators site show the Lunar X PRIZE education site, but also other space-related software like Google Earth and Sketchup (used within Google Earth). There's also a student Open Source Software Competition by Google (this is NOT the $10M Google phone software contest I mentioned recently).

More on Odyssey Moon, First Registered Lunar X PRIZE Team

I posted links to the news about the first Google Lunar X PRIZE team registration a few days ago. Now I'm just noting that Spaceref has a post on it. The Spaceeref post is linked by the X PRIZE Foundation site, and it also contains a link to the Odyssey Moon site. Right now the site is kind of like the curtains before the show starts; presumably the curtains at the site will be lifted soon.

It currently (a tiny bit dramatically I suppose, but why not?) says "History Restarts 2007.12.06".

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Aeronautics and Space Greenhouse Student Competitions

Spaceref has some posts about student challenges to design a plant growth chamber for astronauts on the Moon and to present their ideas on the aircraft of the future.

The aeronautics contest is divided into high school and college levels. The site doesn't seem to commit to specific cash prizes (they depend on availability of funds), but

Cash prize amounts will be on the order of $5000 for first place, $3500 for second place, $2000 for third place. In the case of a tie, prizes will be determined based on funds available. Non US schools are not eligible to receive cash awards.

Internships are also possible. The suggested first team and individual prizes for the high school level are $1500 and $1000.

Aeronautics entries that address space goals are possible, and have won awards in the past. For example, this year the Mars Heavy-Payload Entry, Descent, and Landing Team from the Georgia Institute of Technology tied for third place.

USST on the Move

You can see a bit of recent news about Beam Power team USST as they travel to Summits and Workshops.

Mars Sample Return Mission Design Contest

Here's a page on the Mars Drive Mars Sample Return Mission Design Contest. This is late; I hadn't heard of the contest until now. Entries were due in February, but I'm not sure what the status is on judging the entries ... is the jugding still in progress, did someone win, or is the contest going to continue into 2008? I don't know, but I thought I should present the link anyway.

The cash value part of the prize at stake is modest in comparison with the Planetary Society Apophis Mission Design Competition for asteriod tagging, but there are other rewards, too:

Contest Prizes

1st Prize -

All expense-paid trip to present at the ISDC 2008 Conference
$500 Cash purse
Showcased on all MarsDrive partners sites
Submission to the AIAA
Recognition at the annual Mars Society International Conference

2nd Prize -

$100 Cash purse
Showcased on all MarsDrive partners sites

You can see a number of entries to the contest here.

Here's some insight into the contest judging:

Mission Selection Designs will be selected from submissions by a panel of leading experts in various areas of expertise including:

Astrobiology: Dr. Christopher P. McKay, Planetary Scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames.
ISRU: Dr Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society
Science/Engineering: Louis Friedman, President of the Planetary Society