NASA seeks innovations for space waste

Tuesday - 4/10/2012, 8:57am EDT

Beth Beck, human exploration and operations mission directorate, NASA

Download mp3

NASA is turning to innovators for ways to re-purpose waste in space.

The space agency is partnering with the State Department, USAID and Nike to solicit sustainability plans that could be applied to space missions. The LAUNCH: Beyond Waste challenge is accepting ideas through May 15.

"There are innovators out there who think differently than our engineers and scientists do, so we really do need them to reorder, reshape, revalue our thinking of design," Beth Beck, outreach manager for NASA's human exploration and operations mission directorate.

It costs up to $10,000 per pound to send things to space, and currently, 40 percent of the supplies sent to space consists of packaging, she said. A "super simple" solution would be to use radiation shielding as supply packaging. Another example applicable on earth is a biodegradable coffee cup containing seeds. "Drink the coffee, plant the cup and a tree comes up," Beck said.

"It's that kind of thinking — if we have a closed loop cycle — is whatever goes in keeps going around in circles and circles. Nothing spits out as waste," she said.

The LAUNCH challenge will accept 10 winners. There is no cash prize, but winners will be able to present their idea before the LAUNCH Council, consisting of people in business, government, science, technology and communications.

Winners "get a Rolodex of all these great thought leaders that they would maybe have 30 seconds in an elevator [with]," Beck said.

The partners in the challenge also work with the winners for up to six months to prepare the presentation.

A winning idea will not automatically be used by NASA. But the agency is looking into using some of the pitches. One idea, for example, is a film that purifies waste water.

"The cool thing about LAUNCH is we haven't gone in looking for specific technologies, but we've walked away with several technologies for NASA specifically that we're interested in," Beck said.

RELATED STORIES

NASA's LAUNCH aims for innovation

Agencies gravitate to low-cost contests as Challenge.gov celebrates its first birthday