1969’s Apollo 11 moon landing was one of, if not the most, significant scientific events in the history of the human race. For the first time, human beings had slipped free of their planetary confinement, not simply to float in orbit around our own world but to step foot on an entirely new one, instead. The live images of Neil Armstrong’s descent onto the Lunar surface captivated the world, and brought our entire species together in a brief moment of pure possibility. To date, it’s a moment that is yet to be matched in terms of sheer global significance. But that could change in the coming decades, as NASA readies itself for a manned mission to Mars.
Unlike the Cold War-tinged Apollo moon missions, though, NASA’s Martian goal is not one pressured by geopolitical considerations. Rather, it represents a jubilant step (or, perhaps a “giant leap”) forward in the common-denominating spirit of exploration and progress. It’s in that same spirit, then, that NASA is opening their doors and asking the public to not only help put people on Mars, but to keep them there, as well.
The “Journey to Mars Challenge” is the space administration’s just-announced competition to crowdsource the best and brightest ideas for establishing a practical, sustained presence on the Martian surface. As a NASA release explains:
NASA is embarking on an ambitious journey to Mars and Tuesday announced a challenge inviting the public to write down their ideas, in detail, for developing the elements of space pioneering necessary to establish a continuous human presence on the Red Planet. This could include shelter, food, water, breathable air, communication, exercise, social interactions and medicine, but participants are encouraged to consider innovative and creative elements beyond these examples.
Participants with winning submissions will receive award money from a $15,000 pot, which NASA expects to divide into three shares of $5,000. With cash (and, presumably, an eventual shot at a Martian application) on the line, it’s clear that NASA isn’t interested in half-baked ideas scribbled on cocktail napkins. Instead, they’re looking for “technical submissions” complete with “the assumptions, analysis, and data that justify their value.”