NASA has released its fiscal year 2005 budget, which includes specific prizes for the various activities outlined in President Bush’s new space initiative announced earlier in January. One interesting line item is $20 million set aside for something called the “Centennial Challenges“. Here’s the description:
Request includes funding to establish a series of annual prizes for revolutionary, breakthrough accomplishments that advance exploration of the solar system and beyond and other NASA goals. Some of the most difficult technical challenges to exploration will require very novel solutions from non-traditional sources of innovation. By making awards based on actual achievements instead of proposals, NASA will tap innovators in academia, industry, and the public who do not normally work on NASA issues. Centennial Challenges will be modeled on past successes, including 19th century navigation prizes, early 20th century aviation prizes, and more recent prizes offered by the U.S. government and private sector. Examples of potential Centennial Challenges include very-low-cost space missions, contests to demonstrate highly mobile, capable, and survivable robotic systems, and fundamental advances in technical areas like lander navigation, spacecraft power systems, life detection sensors, and nano-materials.
This sounds like NASA is going to be awarding prizes for successful space accomplishments, similar to the privately-funded $10 million X-Prize that will reward the first private firm to achieve sub-orbital flight twice within two weeks. Prizes like this have been one of the most successful technology drivers in the past; one of the best known examples is the Orteig Prize, won by Charles Lindbergh, which demonstrated that flights across the Atlantic Ocean were possible.
Pretty exciting news, we’ll see how this turns out.
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P.S. Thanks to Spaceprojects.com for the heads up.