NASA wants your origami skills to help stop cancer in space
Today is the 48th anniversary of the day that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon (yes, he really did). Four hundred thousand people worked on that mission, including the woman that coded the software that made it possible.
Nowadays, NASA is relatively puny – but with around 18,000 employees, it still has no shortage of talent. Unfortunately, it seems short of origami experts. The space agency is teaming up with Freelancer for a competition to source an innovative foldable shield to block out galactic cosmic rays from the Mars transfer vehicle.
There are plenty of health risks associated with human space flight and these cosmic rays are thought to be the main cause, being strongly linked to cancer, radiation sickness, degenerative tissue damage, heart disease, cataracts, and damage to the nervous system. The challenge is to create a shield that can be packed and deployed for space usage, and so expert compact folding seems the most sensible solution.
Although not rocket science in the literal sense, it is nonetheless quite a major challenge to overcome. As NASA’s own page on galactic cosmic rays explains: “Shielding against GCRs is much more difficult than shielding against terrestrial radiation because a greater mass of shielding material is required and GCRs can penetrate shielding material.”
“We’re calling upon our 24 million users to imagine how robots can automatically prepare the space environment for human arrival, making life easier and more secure for the incoming astronauts,” explained Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie. “NASA represents some of the very best ideas that our planet has to offer and I’m sure our community will once again show the power of human ingenuity.”
This isn’t the first time that NASA has used Freelancer to seek out, well, freelancers. Last year the company sought designs for a robotic arm for use on the International Space Station, and previous competitions have sought similar outside expertise on everything from smartwatches to 3D modelling. In all, the company claims that it’s received more than 6,800 entries over 29 competitions. It turns out even rocket scientists can do with some outside-the-box thinking every now and then.
If you have an idea for an award-winning design, the competition opens on 26 July.
Image: Brownpau used under Creative Commons