NASA's Centennial Challenges program awarded $350,000 this week to a pair of designers who developed concepts for more flexible space gloves that could make it easier for astronauts to perform tasks.
The 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge awarded a first place prize of $250,000 to Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor, Maine, and a second place prize of $100,000 to Ted Southern of Brooklyn, N.Y. The competition seeks innovative spacesuit glove design concepts to reduce the effort needed to do work during spacewalks. In this challenge, competitors demonstrated their glove design by performing a range of tasks with the glove in a pressurized chamber.
"It is remarkable that two designers working on their own could create gloves that meet the requirements for spaceflight -- a task that normally requires a large team of experts," said Kate Mitchell, an engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The competition was held at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Fla., on Nov. 19. It was managed for NASA by Volanz Aerospace, a non-profit space education organization based in Owings, Md. Secor Strategies LLC of Titusville was a commercial sponsor of the event. In order to qualify for a prize, the gloves had to meet all of the basic requirements of NASA's current spacesuit gloves and exceed their flexibility. The gloves also were tested to ensure they would not leak.
For the 2009 challenge, teams had to develop a complete glove, including the outer, thermal-micrometeoroid-protection layer and the inner, pressure-restraining layer. In a previous 2007 competition, only the pressure-restraining layer was required.
The two competitors were tied in several categories, but Peter Homer, who won $200,000 in the first Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2007, claimed first prize again this time by outscoring his rival in the joint-flexibility and pressure tests. Ted Southern, who captured second place, also competed in 2007. The designs presented in the competition were measured and evaluated by engineers from Johnson, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and NASA's spacesuit manufacturer, ILC Dover of Dover, Del.
The Astronaut Glove Challenge is one of six Centennial Challenges prize competitions managed by NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program, which provides the prize funds. This was the fourth consecutive Centennial Challenge event with prize winners. The program has awarded $3.65 million in 2009.
"Our challenges have been difficult, multi-year efforts and in many cases it has taken several years for competitors to perfect their designs," said Andrew Petro, the Centennial Challenges Program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We are now seeing the results of their perseverance."
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