NASA Launches Innovative Approach to Solve Old Challenges

NASA field centers participated in a pilot program recently called NASA@Work to facilitate internal problem solving and communication across the agency. The goal of NASA@Work is to leverage the breadth and depth of NASA technical expertise by offering solutions to challenges that exist in currently funded NASA projects. InnoCentive Co., hosted the pilot program in coordination with NASA Johnson Space Station and the HQs Office of the Chief Technologist's Partnerships, Innovation and Commercial Space Program. Jan Aikins served as the "Center Champion" for NASA Ames Research Center and coordinated NASA Ames' participation in this pilot program with the Center Chief Technologist's Office led by John Hines.

All field centers followed a process established by InnoCentive to develop, refine, and select challenges. An award system also was implemented to recognize contributors. NASA Ames submitted five challenges for consideration. Three of the challenges were selected for further development during the InnoCentive@Work In-person Training and Challenge Workshop held at NASA Johnson. Finalized challenges from all field centers were posted on the InnoCentive website, Over the course of several weeks, participants from around the agency submitted potential solutions to the posted challenges. A summary of each of the three selected NASA Ames challenges and a sampling of their respective solutions are listed below.

Challenge 1 Overview: "NASA InternSpace"

NASA Ames is considering developing a customized social networking and new media communications platform for use by NASA interns, mentors, and managers. Suggestions are being sought for what functionality such a site should have in order to make it applicable to all of NASA following its trial period at NASA Ames.

Potential solutions include:

* Interactive field center and other location maps
* Internship Work Plans and evaluation tools
* Internal Instant Messaging
* Posting of research and other work opportunities

Challenge 2 Overview: "Low Impact Robotic Sensor Platform for Land Survey"

Many regions of scientific interest are physically/biologically fragile. Because of their fragility, systematic human surveys can damage or destroy the scientific value of such sites. Good results have been obtained using small rovers, but they have limitations, e.g elevating instruments on booms allows sensing over/around obstacles, but leaves the rover unstable in rough terrain and aggravates instrument vibration, motion, and uncertainty in position/orientation. This challenge is seeking brainstorms and "eureka moments" for alternative sensor platforms.

Potential solutions include:

* Use of a remote controlled helicopter as a platform
* Development of a low-altitude mini-dirigible (lighter-than-air) platform
* Active boom/instrument stabilization to reduce motion and vibration
* Additional passive stabilization (gel pads, shock absorbers, etc.)

Challenge 3 Overview: "Measuring Gas Concentrations in Microliter Samples"

Micro-fluidic and well-plate technologies are commonly utilized for bioassays, combinatorial chemistry, and cell culture experiments. However, valuable research in space science and biotechnology cannot be accomplished using these technologies without significant improvements in the ability to measure gasses in these system formats. Suggestions are being sought for a new small device (<10 cm3) capable of measuring key gas concentrations in small volumes (10-500 microliters) of gaseous samples.

Potential solutions include:

* Utilize voltammetry as it detects chemical species by detecting the current at the oxidation or reduction potential for the species

For more information on InnoCentive please visit:

Julianna Fishman
Office of the Center Chief Technologist
NASA Ames Research Center

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