$10,000 for your thoughts: What would you send to the International Space Station?

Space agencies crowdsource lab research ideas for ISS

If you could send anything at all to the International Space Station, what would it be? No your mother-in-law or neighbor's dog don't qualify.

The agency that manages the research being done onboard the International Space Station -- the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) - is offering a $10,000 prize for the best idea for its  "What Would You Send to the ISS?", contest which ends Sept. 16, 2013.

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Unlike Requests for Proposals CASIS has previously released, submissions for this contest can simply be ideas or concepts, not precise proposals for research, the group stated.

Some of the basic rules for your cool space experiment idea include:

  • A description of the proposed research area, idea or concept - please include the rationale supporting the idea, including related research questions and hypotheses if appropriate; the benefit of using the ISS NL research platform over traditional ground-based experiments; and identification of any potential constraints based on current ISS NL facilities or capabilities
  • A description of the Earth benefit - clearly and concise explain the scientific value or possible commercial products/applications. If commercial potential exists, identify targeted market segments and size, estimate of time to market and suggest other significant variables that may provide insight into commercial application.
  • Submitted ideas are limited to two pages. A supplemental video submission is optional, is limited to 90 seconds and should be uploaded to YouTube.com with the link provided to CASIS.

CASSI says ideas will be evaluated for relevance to CASIS goals  -- to enable and increase the use of the ISS NL as a unique dynamic platform for scientific discovery, technology development and education for the benefit of life on Earth -- and other criteria including:

  • Is the idea is bold, unconventional or exceptionally innovative?
  • Does the idea have the potential to significantly affect life on Earth through scientific advancement or commercial application?
  • Is this impact potentially attainable within 5 years?
  • Is the idea broad in scope?

A total of five submissions will receive awards for their ideas. The grand-prize winner will receive $10,000, a paid trip to Florida, a one-day pass to Disney World, an opportunity to witness a CASIS payloads launch from Florida's Space Coast as an invited VIP and the ability to work with CASIS staff to further discuss the winning proposal. Four runners-up will receive $5,000 each.

Getting the public more involved and excited about the ISS is just part of an overarching goal to pump up the use of the ISS as a lab.

According to a recent report from NASA's Inspector General, In August 2011, the space agency signed a cooperative agreement with CASIS to manage non-NASA research on the ISS. NASA currently provides $15 million annually to CASIS and the group is expected to raise additional funding through membership fees and donations.  The success of this effort largely hinges on two factors: the ability of CASIS to attract sufficient interest and funding from private users and investors, and the availability of reliable transportation to and from the Station for crew and cargo, NASA stated.

"CASIS's task is particularly challenging given the historic lack of interest from private entities in conducting research aboard the ISS in the absence of government funding. While CASIS's general goals for FY 2013 to award research grants from funds raised through donations and approve more self-funded investigations are positive first steps toward enhancing a market for non-NASA research aboard the ISS, neither CASIS nor NASA have developed specific, quantifiable metrics to measure CASIS's ability to meet these goals," the NASA IG stated.

 Maximizing the ISS's research capabilities also depends upon the success of NASA's Commercial Cargo and Crew Programs. The Cargo Program is essential to ensuring the capacity to ferry experiments to and from the Station and the commercial crew vehicles currently under development will make it possible to staff the ISS with a full complement of seven crew members (rather than the current six), thereby increasing the amount of crew time available for research.

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