Makers Lead Tomorrow’s Innovation

By David W. Miller, NASA Chief Technologist

Technology drives exploration. NASA’s traditional partners play a critical role in our work. But we need new, innovative ways of doing things, and a growing community of space-enthusiasts has the ability to contribute to NASA’s mission through their passion and technical expertise.

Driven by a desire to explore and understand the universe, the agency is constantly developing new technologies and improving upon old ones. Makers are driven by that same desire, and NASA is reaching out to them for new ideas and new ways to accomplish our goals. Makers have helped NASA peer into new galaxies. They are working to make air travel safer and more efficient, and building robots to explore other worlds. They are helping us understand Earth’s changing climate.

Inventing the future is a passion NASA shares with Makers.  We are working together to create the technology to drive exploration here on Earth and out in space.

At the first White House Maker Faire today, NASA announced new opportunities for Makers: a 3D printing challenge, an additive manufacturing competition, and a new way for Cubesat developers to work with NASA. These efforts with help inspire a new generation of space enthusiasts and bring new ideas into NASA.

In conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation, NASA will host a challenge for middle and school students to design an item that will be printed on the first 3D printer aboard the International Space Station. The winning student team will be able to watch as the item is printed in space, and other teams may have the opportunity to have their design printed at local Maker spaces.

NASA has an active Cubesat program, working with students and entrepreneurs across the country. Working through the Space Grant network of colleges and universities, we will release a new announcement of opportunity designed to reach out to states that do not have a Cubesat presence in space.

We are partnering with America Makes on an additive manufacturing competition to challenge participants to find new ways to create safe habitats using locally available materials and constructed at the point of use.

These new efforts complement the work NASA is already doing in the Maker community. Five NASA centers have Makerspaces on site. The Centennial Challenges program offers Makers a diverse set of prizes for building innovations like future astronaut suits, sample return robots, lunar landers, and environmentally friendly planes. Several Makers who participated in NASA challenges have established businesses, showing that Makers are a critical part of the American innovation economy.

Makers are also a key element of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, which is to find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them. The AGC, which turns a year old today, is working with Makers through the Asteroid Data Hunter contest series, and partnerships with SpaceGAMBIT and Slooh designed to bring citizen scientists into the effort to find all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them.

The space community has always been a home for Makers. From rocket builders to satellite builders, and amateur astronomers to software coders, what we do at NASA is made better by the involvement of Makers.

The author is NASA’s Chief Technologist.