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A Guide to NASA's Upcoming Grand Challenges

The U.S. space agency is looking for a few good ideas. Got any?

2 min read

11 October 2010—NASA is looking for a few good ideas. This fall, the Office of the Chief Technologist, Robert Braun, is opening its doors to the best and the brightest to help take its long-term space missions to the next level. Braun, who joined the organization in February as NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s principal adviser, is soliciting cutting-edge, disruptive technologies through a new series of competitive "grand challenges." Optimally, the technologies developed would enable a range of Earth observation missions, as well as robotic and human exploration voyages to the asteroids, Mars, and beyond.

The grand challenges address three areas: accessing space more routinely, managing space as a natural resource, and future quests. Achieving these goals mostly boils down to improvements in spacecraft propulsion, energy use, and safety; advances in astronaut health, communication technology, and artificial intelligence; a better understanding of near-Earth environments, such as meteors, solar wind, and cosmic rays; observations of climate change and predicting natural disasters; and searching for extraterrestrial life and Earth-like worlds.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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