Last month the Advanced Planning Office pulled together a team to look at possible vision statements for the agency. I know a rather tall order, but it is always great to see the energy and creativity found within our JSC when it is unleashed. You can browse some of the ideas at the Open NASA post, NASA Vision and Mission. I know it isn’t really a vision statement, but the one phrase that has stuck with me is “Creating the Future: One Giant Leap at a time.” I really like the way it sums up the spirit of NASA and honors our past at the same time.
And the more that reflected on that phrase, the more I was struck by the recent events that demonstrated NASA’s role in taking these giant leaps. The most recent is LaserMotive LLC winning $900,000 in NASA’s 2009 Power Beaming Challenge. This one prize captures the imaginations of two communities and could seed a giant leap in either solar power beaming or a space elevator. LaserMotive won the prize by using a laser to power its robotic climber up a 900 meter cable that was suspended from a helicopter at Edwards Air Force Base in Mojave, California. The climber reached the top in just over 4 minutes, for an average speed of 3.7 meters per second and later repeated the feat at of 3.9 meters per second. Then on October 30th, Masten Space Systems won the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge. What is great about this joint prize between NASA and the X PRIZE Foundation is the community it is creating. I love the quote from Masten Space System’s CEO, David Masten, “To come from not flying at all last year to qualifying for level one AND level two of the LLC this year shows how far our technology has progressed.” Mark another one in the win column for NASA’s ability to spur on Commercial Space.
Yet, what more can we do to take a giant leap forward. Could we partner with Japan on their plans to construct a solar power station in space and use it to beam energy down to Earth using lasers? Or do we build a space only cruiser? What would a space cruiser look like if it never needed to fight the gravity to get off the Earth or a planetary destination? Or is it too farfetched to create a prize for a non-rocket vehicle for access to LEO? While Commercial Space companies are investing in low cost access to Low Earth Orbit using rocket’s should NASA partner up to create a prize that will look at the physics for the next LEAP forward in access to space?
OK, I have to say it… I’ll even settle for a WARP drive X Prize.
So what prize would you create to make the next LEAP forward?
Sharing the Vision,
Steven González, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office