Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: NASA and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Three new NASA Centennial challenges were announced today. NASA is seeking citizen scientists and independent groups to create a small satellite that can be launched into earth orbit twice in one week, a solar powered night rover that can operate in darkness and a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples without human control.

The prizes being offered total 5 million dollars. The robot and rover prizes are both 1.5 million dollars and the satellite challenge has a a 2 million dollar prize.


I love the idea of independent thinkers in labs and workshops across the land hurrying to build the next great scientific tool. This is a perfect example of how creativity and science are so very important and are deeply intertwined and it is fantastic to see the playing field opened up to anyone who can prove themselves.

The next great discovery in robot technology could be yours!

Would you rather work on the satellite project, the rover or the robot? If you won one of the challenges what would you do with 1.5 million dollars?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. The rover. No question. Much more interesting software challenges on that one. The rover will live and die by the cleverness of the coding.

    What would I do with $1.5 million? I’d like to have a clever, unusual, or inspirational idea, but the odds are very good I’d stick it into inflation-protected government securities.

  2. I would want to be on the robot team but the rover sounds awesome too. It’s kinda a tie in my mind. With 1.5 million dollars, I would have a lot of fun.

    And yes, I just answered my own AI.

  3. @Zapski: You’ve got a one track mind today, huh? :)

    I’d work on the robot. It sounds like a lot of fun. Plus, you could make a mock-up version of it that breakdances. Nothing is better than a breakdancing robot.
    With the money, I’d open a collectively run art space that focuses on the promotion of science thru art.
    Actually, even without the money, that’s what I want to do. *sigh*

  4. Even though I’m a software developer by trade I’d want to work on the satellites. Launching something I made into orbit sounds just too awesome for words. And you get to do it twice!

    Personally I think the rover thing is a non-starter. The problem is that the task really boils down to storing the solar energy generated. Energy storage is one of those research fields that has had billions of dollars of funding poured into it over the years without a significant breakthrough.

    If the task is to build a rover that can survive on the Moon’s surface over the 14 day lunar night then you’ll need a serious amount of energy just to keep the electronics ‘warm’ enough to keep them from disintegrating in the cold.

    What would I do with the money if I won? I’d finally get to go to TAM and maybe even Skepchickcon.

  5. Hi there!

    Gah! Easy question. Robot team all the way. If I were on the NASA robot team, I would have to be some kind of super awesomely badass robotics expert. In real life, I know absolutely nothing about robotics. I don’t speak maths, and I’m not very competent technologically. Hell, I couldn’t even get my goddamn FURBY to learn English-as-a-Second-Language.

    But if I had even the slightest chance of being on the NASA robotics team, that would mean that I’d be one of the world’s top … roboticists. I’d be a robotics genius! And I do so wish I was a robotics genius.

    Because then … oh yes, then … I might stand a chance of getting on the Mythbusters build team. Maybe even Grant Imihara would need a stand-in. I’d certainly get an employee badge into M5.

    Then I could meet Kari Byron in person. Mmmmm … sweet Kari Byron …

    [blinks] … oh, I guess the $1.5 million would be pretty cool, too. [blush] But that’s just a side benefit.

  6. Oooh, I’d like to work on the robot. I’m not an engineering sort at all, but love all things related to geology and would have fun figuring out how to make it collect and classify samples.

    As for the money? After paying off my car and student loan, I’d be all about going on a two year self-funded sabbatical to churn out a book skeptical geeks would want to read in the bathtub.

  7. With 1.5 million dollars, there would be no more worries for college. I think I just depressed myself a little. :( Then with the rest of them, I would spend it on a lifetime supply of chocolates. ;)

    Anyways, if I could work on one thing, it would be the rover. I like what the Mars rovers did, and if this project could make rovers better and last longer, I am all for it.

  8. I’d build the satellite. The rover and robot are great, but they won’t do us much good if we can’t get them where they need to be. A reusable small-payload launch system would greatly reduce the cost of getting equipment to orbit and thence to the rest of the system.

    I’d use the $2M as startup capital for my reusable small-payload launch system company.

  9. I’d just like to say that it’s great that NASA are offering these prizes. There has been a growing number of economists who believe that this is a highly efficient way of encouraging innovation, and good on NASA for trying it out.

  10. It all sounds awesome but nothing beats a robot – except possibly a monkey but I don’t think there’s a monkey project.
    I’d spend the money on making more robots. Or maybe on breeding a race of mutant monkeys.

  11. I would work on the robot. Seems very interesting to program those things.

    With the money? The same thing i’d do if i won the lottery, i’d build an astronomical observatory for the physics university in my country, as they don’t have one and it is higly unlikely that they will in the near future.

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