Lonely Planet: NASA Needs Your Best Ideas About Exploring Mars

Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) —

Due to severe budget cutbacks, NASA’s Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. has instructed a number of his senior administrators to “lead a reformulation of the Mars Exploration Program” in order to continue space exploration on a budget. To do that, NASA is sponsoring a June, 2012 workshop in Houston to engage anyone who has high-quality ideas about meeting the objectives of the Mars program.

Really, anyone. It’s like the classic scene from Apollo 13: We have tube socks, a plastic container, three screws, a square of cheesecloth…and we need to keep three astronauts breathing for the next 36 hours. Well, not quite so dramatic, but this open “competition” of ideas is a good example of somewhat unintentional open government, with transparency and participation built into helping an agency achieve one of its core missions in collaboration with citizens. (The Navy’s new energy wargame is another recent example.)

NASA’s official statement reads,

NASA will consider inputs from a variety of sources and will synthesize and integrate these inputs into the various options taking into consideration budgetary, programmatic, scientific, and technical constraints. The workshop is open to scientists, engineers, graduate students and academia, NASA Centers, Federal Laboratories, industry, and international partner organizations. The intent of the workshop is to provide an open forum for presentation, discussion, and consideration of various concepts, options, capabilities, and innovations to advance Mars exploration.

Granted, the most relevant input is likely to come from professors, scientists, engineers, and related experts in space, materials science, chemistry and so forth. But technically, the ideas submission process is open to all citizens, and the workshop is as well. Indeed, NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown was quoted by the AP as saying, “Check all the boxes and you may be considered.”

There are three main “Challenge Areas” within which each has sub-challenges, and medium- and long-term challenges. They are: (1) Instrumentation and Investigation, (2) Safe and Accurate Landing Capabilities, Mars Ascent, and Innovative Exploration Approaches, and (3) Mars Surface System Capabilities. Medium term issues are geared towards a 2018 mission, and longer term issues concern the decade of the 2030’s.

This fresh approach was prompted by the decision by NASA to pull out of a partnership with the European Space Agency to complete missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is part of the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation in Washington, DC.

Image from Cornell.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Being a total space geek, I would love to suggest ideas to NASA. Is there another avenue besides the Houston conference?