NASA's $100K Contest Seeks Safer Air for Astronauts

A new NASA competition, the Earth and Space Air Prize, will reward the best aerosol-sensor design, intended to help protect astronauts on the International Space Station.

Aerosols are tiny particles suspended in the air. They constantly surround us in everyday life, but they can become a health hazard at high concentrations, according to a new NASA video about the competition.

The crew and experiments aboard the space station constantly release tiny particles into the air. Fortunately, the space station's robust filter system keeps these aerosol levels low. But NASA wants to know more about the air the astronauts breathe, and the agency is looking for help from the public. That's why NASA sponsored its new Earth and Space Air Prize.

"We cannot put a full-sized aerosol instrument on the space station," NASA engineer Marit Meyer said in the video, so the agency is seeking compact new designs.

NASA has partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a health-focused philanthropy organization, to launch a $100,000 prize to "promote development of robust, durable, inexpensive, efficient, lightweight and easy-to-use aerosol sensors for space and Earth environments", according to the video's description. NASA and the RWJF said they hope the innovations spurred by the competition will find uses in the space station and aboard future deep-space missions, as well as down on Earth.

Registration for the competition closes on Dec. 13, and designs are due by Jan. 31. Three finalists will be awarded $50,000 each to build a prototype sensor based on their proposals and compete for the $100,000 grand prize. Visit the competition website for more information.

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Harrison Tasoff
Former Contributing Writer

Harrison Tasoff is a science journalist originally from Los Angeles. He graduated from NYU’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program after earning his B.A. in mathematics at Swarthmore College. Harrison covers an array of subjects, but often finds himself drawn to physics, ecology, and earth science stories. In his spare time, he enjoys tidepooling, mineral collecting, and tending native plants.