NASA and Nike share more in common than you think: both agencies need to figure out more efficient, sustainable ways of developing fabric. For Nike, the reasons should be obvious: its main line of business is apparel, and it could always use more cost-effective and environmentally friendly manufacturing methods. For NASA, new fabrics are key to developing the next generation of spacesuits, which it plans to use to send astronauts into deep space. So both organizations, along with the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), have all joined forces in a new global contest to find the next great innovations in textiles manufacturing.
Looking for "self-healing materials" and fabrics with "surprising attributes"
Officially kicked-off earlier this week at Nike headquarters outside of Beaverton, Oregon, the Launch Systems Challenge 2013 invites anyone with a good, practical idea for new fabrics materials or manufacturing techniques — from individuals to entrepreneurs to companies to nonprofits to university groups — to send in to the Launch submissions website by July 15th. A panel of expert judges commissioned by NASA and its partners will choose the top 10 best ideas, but the public will have a chance to vote as well. As for what the Launch contest organizers are looking for in terms of new ideas, they want written proposals that include everything from "self-healing materials," fabrics with "surprising attributes," ways to eliminate toxins in manufacturing, and "zero waste," systems, among many other guidelines.
An idea doesn't have to address all of the guidelines, just one or more, but the creators of the top 10 ideas will then be flown out all-expenses to visit NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in September, where they will get to present their work before the Launch Council, a panel of 40 "thought leaders in business, government, science, technology and communications." In addition, NASA and Nike said they will be giving the first 10 applicants a "special message from an astronaut or elite athlete." There's no cash prize for the work, but the Launch team hopes that the trip to JPL and the opportunity for an "honest, face-to-face" critique by its thought leaders will be enough to spur interest. Sure, it's no Air Jordans contract, but if you're interested, check out the contest criteria for yourself at the Launch Systems website.