Astronaut Glove Challenge Winners Announced

NASA’s Astronaut Glove Centennial Challenge contest was held yesterday at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Florida, and two contestants walked away with a total of $350,000 in prize money for their improved designs of space suit gloves. Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor, Maine, won $250,000 for his glove, and Ted Southern of Brooklyn, New York won $100,000. Both contestants had participated in the 2007 event, and Peter Homer qualified for a prize last time.

Both of the gloves performed well in the tests. The rules of the design competition specified that each glove was to undergo a burst test, in which it was filled with air in a tank full of water until it burst. Homer’s glove – which is an updated version of the one he used to win the last competition – held out to 20psi before bursting. Southern’s glove made it to 17psi.

The gloves were also tested as to how fatiguing they were to use during thirty minutes of pinching, gripping, and other tests that involved manipulating small objects and finger-flexing. The judges also awarded Homer first place in this part of the competition, but both gloves beat an “in-house” glove in all of the tests, qualifying both for prizes.

As we reported earlier this week, this year’s competition involved the added complication of designing a thermal micrometeorite garment (TMG), the outside layer of the glove that protects the astronaut’s hand from damage. This is basically a complete glove that is ready for operation in space.Ted Southern watches his glove as it is subjected to the burst test. Image Credit: NASA

“This is the first year we are testing the full unpowered glove. Having the TMG will make the glove harder to use, and will make the tests more realistic.  The TMG will be evaluated according to the rules and team
agreement as published,” said Alan Hayes, Volanz Aerospace Chairman and Chief Operations Officer. Volanz Spaceflight is a non-profit educational organization that ran the competition as an allied organization to the Centennial Challenges Program.

“Both competitors improved their designs significantly from 2007, but Ted’s progress was especially impressive,” Hayes said in a NASA press release.

The Astronaut Glove Challenge is one of NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program, which offer cash prizes to private companies or individuals for innovation in space-related fields. This is the third in a series that has wrapped up these past few months, the other two being the Space Elevator Games and Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. A total of $3.65 million has been awarded this year alone.Both participants receive their large - and well-deserved - checks from NASA. Congrats! Image Credit: NASA

Congratulations to the winners of the glove challenge, and all of those that participated in the events this year – it’s been a truly exciting time for space innovation!

Source: NASA, email exchange with Alan Hayes

Designing a Better Astronaut Glove

If you can build a better mousetrap, then you can certainly build a better glove for astronauts! Making a glove that both protects the hands of the astronauts in the harsh environment of space or on the Moon, and allowing them the dexterity to manipulate tools is a tough challenge for NASA. That’s why they are holding the second Astronaut Glove Challenge on November 19th, with a $400,000 prize for the best glove.

The layers of protection that an astronaut glove needs to have to shield against micrometeorites in space and insulate the hand of the wearer make for one rigid glove. The gloves are also pressurized, which makes them more rigid and further detracts from the mobility of an astronaut. NASA has held one previous competition to see who could build a better glove, in 2007, and the winner was Peter Homer, a former aerospace engineer. He took home the $200,000 prize last time, and is expected to return this year to compete against at least one other team. To read more about his story and see a video of his glove in operation, visit NASA’s page about him. Homer was also featured on Wired Magazine’s “Geek Dad” series, and a video interview is available here.

The last competition involved performing a series of tasks inside of a box that is under vacuum to measure how fatiguing to the fingers the glove was. The inside bladder of the glove was subjected to a burst test, in which it was pressurized to the point at which it bursts. The amount of force required to bend each finger of the glove was also measured.

These same rules will apply in this year’s competition, but the added challenge will be to perform all of these tests inside of an improved thermal micrometeorite garment, the outside layer of the glove that protects the astronaut’s hand from damage. This is basically a complete glove that is ready for operation in space.

NASA has been holding several challenges with some hefty prizes to incite development in space-related technology. The Centennial Challenge program most recently gave away prizes for the Power Beaming Challenge and the Lunar Lander Challenge. The prize will be provided by NASA, but the competition is managed by Volanz Aerospace Inc. of Owings, Md. and sponsored by Secor Strategies, LLC of Titusville, Fla.

Good luck to all the competitors, and may the best glove win!

Source: NASA, Astronaut Glove Challenge