Peter Homer wins the $200k Astronaut Gloves Competition: link to Discovery Channel.
I’m in favor of the Centennial Challenges, such as this, that say to citizens, “Hey, we’re missing this key technology, can you figure it out for us?” When you give someone a limited budget — and I mean a real limited budget based on your personal savings or small donations, not a limited multibillion dollar government budget — they are required to be innovated to fit their own financial constraints. In this case, a guy goes to public stores until he finds the equipment and materials he needs, and then does it. It’s a different mindset. When you have lots of money, it’s no problem to spend lots of money to create a solution; when you don’t have it, you don’t spend it. You must create new configurations for existing things or tease your long-time crazy idea into a feasible manifestation.
A larger question that surfaces in my mind from this: what sort of roles and tasks should NASA have? In this case, they benefit from getting a relatively cheap solution, and then applying it. Is NASA’s role to develop technologies for spaceflight, or to apply them? If you were to create a list of what NASA should do, what would it contain? Could you move the Earth atmosphere observation missions to NOAA and the Earth science missions to USGS? Could you give the volatile, high-risk technology development problems to others — government or private — to solve on the the cheap, and then focus on applying the solution?
I don’t think that “solve on the cheap” works for every technology problem, nor is every proposed solution worthwhile, but the gloves are, in my opinion, a good example of prize money well spent.