Category Archives: technology

Unplugged: Screaming Silence

Yesterday, I drove to work, only to realize I left my iPhone and iPad charging on the kitchen table. Once I arrived at work, I entered the “unplugged” void — isolation from humanity.

Hubble image of supernova.

Hubble image of supernova.

I logged on to my loaner laptop — my temporary replacement for the fried hard drive on my original laptop. The computer tech guys were coming soon to download email and docs onto the temporary laptop, so I hastily jotted down all my meeting times, call in numbers, and pass codes. I knew I was in trouble without my iPhone to remind me when meetings start and how to call-in.

Crazy Busy Calendar

The tech guys showed up and worked on my loaner laptop while I was on a call. They determined the laptop needed a bit more love, and asked if they could take it with them. I gave them the thumbs up — assuming I would get it back relatively quickly. Oh, the dashed hopes of the optimistically-inclined. Turns out, my loaner laptop had more issues than they anticipated. Looks like I’ll get it back Monday. That’s ok. I’m off work today (and I have access to my iPhone and iPad).

But, yesterday I didn’t! What a day to leave them at home. :\

I was forced to go old-school. My hand-scribbled notepaper calendar saved my day. But I was still flying blind. We’re so wired with our communications, that we generally log into a web-ex-ish meetings with a virtually-shared screen, OR we’re working off a document shared with everyone that we view on our own devices. Not me. I just listened and imagined what everyone was seeing. That’s ok. I have a vivid imagination.

My biggest issue: colleagues started calling me about urgent email they sent to me that I hadn’t acknowledged or responded to.

We’re in the day and age of never-ending data pile-on. Email artillery shoots back and forth in rapid fire, and decisions are made based on who responds first. Not responding or engaging is taken as tacit agreement, or indifference to the topic.

The silence was screaming at me — WHERE ARE YOU….WHY AREN’T YOU RESPONDING…DID YOU SEE THIS…SAY SOMETHING, WE’RE WAITING ON YOU…IF WE DON’T HEAR FROM YOU, WE’LL GO FORWARD!!!!!

"The Scream" by expressionist artist Edvard Munch

“The Scream” by expressionist artist Edvard Munch

As bewildering as the Screaming Silence of being unplugged, the cacophony of voices in email can be just as disorienting. As much as I hated the unplugged isolation yesterday, I find myself longing for a day when the silence might actually bring peace and tranquility. Ah, maybe that’s what retirement is all about. Nope, not ready for it…yet. ;)

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LAUNCH Goes International: Nordic Innovation Challenge

Five years and five innovation challenges into our LAUNCH innovation experiment, and we’ve finally gone international. The LAUNCH Nordic innovation cycle kicked off February 2014 in Copenhagen with a Big Think, followed by a Summit this month.

LAUNCH Nordic Big Think

LAUNCH Nordic Big Think

We’ve been working on a LAUNCH Affiliate concept for the last two years. The Nike LAUNCH team led the effort to move this concept forward in the international context. Awesome!

Nike LAUNCH team at LAUNCH Nordic

US LAUNCH team at LAUNCH Nordic

LAUNCH Nordic: NASA's Diane Powell second from left

LAUNCH Nordic: NASA’s Diane Powell second from left

LAUNCH Nordic seeks to unite Nordic  industry leaders and regional innovators to identify and scale sustainable innovations in materials. We’re SO thrilled to see the LAUNCH model applied to other regions around the world. The Nordic region is only the first. We hope to see other cities, countries, and/or regions to step forward to apply this model.

LAUNCH Nordic Challenge

The Nordic Challenge is now open through June 1, 2014. The challenge is focusing on innovations within the following areas:

  1. Closed Loop Solutions and Design for Disassembly,
  2. Cleaner Manufacturing and Green Chemistry,
  3. Sustainability Investments and Procurement, and
  4. End-user Engagement.

You can apply for the challenge here.

This is our first time to have two challenges open in a concurrent process. Right now, the US LAUNCH team is in the process of moving forward the Green Chemistry Challenge. We held the Green Challenge Big Think in DC during the same week of the LAUNCH Nordic Summit.

LAUNCH Green Chemistry Big Think

LAUNCH Green Chemistry Big Think

As we move forward, I see a future where we have multiple LAUNCH Affiliate cycles around the world at the same time. Imagine what a difference we can make? You can apply to organize your own LAUNCH, or offer your time and talents to the LAUNCH Collective Genius to support the innovators selected through LAUNCH. Join us!

LAUNCH: Get involved!

LAUNCH: Get involved!

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Vote for LAUNCH Innovators!

We’re excited about the Top 20 finalists in our 2013 search for ten LAUNCH innovators. The materials challenge closed back in July. Now we’re in the middle of the selection process. For the first time, you can participate by casting your votes for your favorite innovations.

Vote for your favorite LAUNCH innovations

Vote for your favorite LAUNCH innovations

Based on the results from the public vote, the LAUNCH team will take the ten finalists with the highest vote counts and add points to their review scores.

Here’s how selection works:

  1. we bring in experts from the founding partner organizations (NASA, State Department, USAID and Nike), as well as external experts from other federal agencies and organizations, to review and rank all the applications  submitted by the challenge deadline;
  2. YOU weigh in on the top 20 (again, for the first time);
  3. our LAUNCH team conducts thorough interviews with each of the top 20 based on a standard set of questions, as well as specific questions generated during the review and ranking process;
  4. the team brings in experts for follow up interviews if we need a deeper dive; and
  5. the team collates the total scores of the review process (expert + public vote) along with the results of the innovator interviews, and conducts an in-depth assessment
  6. to arrive at consensus on the final ten who will be invited to present at the LAUNCH Forum.

The Top 20 finalists are highly curated by the end of the process, with the final ten rising to the top.

All of these finalists are amazing, and represent different system needs as reflected in the materials challenge. A few, though, really stand out to me. I’m SO jazzed about the possibilities. I wish I could highlight my favs…but I might influence your choices.

I’m curious which ones YOU pick as most promising.

Summaries of the Top 20

Algaeverde waste to fabrics
Algaeverde takes industrial, farm and municipal waste streams and converts them into Ethylene Glycol, the raw material used in the production of synthetic fabrics. This technology has multiple environmental benefits, beyond the redirection of toxic waste, such as bio-fuel as an output of the conversion application.
Algaeverde is still at prototype stage. They are looking for help taking their exciting innovation out of the lab and into the world.  STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

Ambercycle plastic bottles to polyester
Ambercycle is a remarkable new technology that harnesses engineered enzymes to degrade plastic bottles, such as PET soda bottles, and transform them into PTA. PTA is the raw material in polyester, which is used in multiple products, from cars to clothing. Ambercycle is an innovation looking to become a business. They are at the stage of building a go-to-market team. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

Artificial silk
This innovation, bio-synthetic silk, is produced by fermentation of honeybee cocoon silk within genetically engineered bacteria. The process allows industrial volumes of silk to be produced at room temperature without any negative environmental effects. The silk produced is highly flexible and suitable for knitting and weaving and can be formed into sponges and transparent films. Developed by researchers at Australia’s national science agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), this breakthrough technology has been published in peer-reviewed literature. They are now seeking to identify market opportunities. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

BARKTEX bark cloth
BARKTEX is a contemporary take on traditional bark cloth, which is produced in a sustainable way from the Ugandan Figus tree. Once the bark is stripped form the tree, new bark grows in its place – a truly sustainable product. BARKTEX can be treated with bright colors to create a unique material reminiscent of leather. The team is employing an innovative micro-enterprise model in Uganda that empowers women and provides food security for local farmers. They are looking to develop their business to reach new customers. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Growth and scale.

Benign by Design
Benign by Design helps individuals and organizations better evaluate the impact of materials they use. The team has developed data collection and analysis protocols to understand the impact of textiles through their entire lifecycle – potentially an invaluable resource for all product manufacturers. The Benign by Design team are looking to shape their solution into a marketable offer. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Concept.

Biocouture microbial fashion
Biocouture creates sustainable material from microbes and transforms it into beautiful haute couture. Their unique low-impact fermentation process creates a biodegradable material that can be used to create a wide variety of home-ware and fashion accessories. The Biocouture team have already received recognition for their innovation, including TED, and are now ready to take their concept to the next stage.
STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

Blue Flower Initiative
The core purpose of the Blue Flower Initiative is to reframe the existing textile value chain as an eco-industrial co-operative, while supporting and empowering women at risk.The initiative – backed by Eileen Fisher, the American clothing designer and retailer –  is an innovative game changing business model. In addition, the initiative aims to identify new low-impact bio-fibers and manufacturing approaches. The Blue Flower Initiative are looking to prototype their ‘value chain of the future’ in the Bronx in New York and are looking for partners. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Concept.

CRAiLAR Flax Fibers
Flax is a natural fiber that has long shown promise as a base material for sustainable textiles. CRAiLAR has made advances in chemistry and manufacturing that now make flax competitive on cost and comfort with cotton. What’s more, flax can be grown with far less water and pesticides. CRAiLAR is a mature business that is looking to make the leap to compete with the cotton industry and accelerate adoption globally. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Commercial market/Deployment.

Eco-leather alternative
Eco-leather is a sustainable alternative to leather that avoids the large volumes of water and toxic chromium required to produce animal based leather. Unlike PVC (‘fake leather’), this breakthrough material, manufactured from plant oils and natural fibers, is breathable and friendly to the environment, as well as being waterproof and durable. The team behind Eco-leather have strong academic credentials and are looking to take their sustainable leather out of the lab and into the marketplace. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

Ecovative Mushroom Materials
Ecovative is a completely biodegradable replacement for polystyrene, packing material or insulation. Remarkably, it can withstand heat, stress and exposure to water, yet be composted in your back garden. This is a fascinating biotechnology derived from mushrooms that can potentially replace numerous products that produce CO2. The team behind Ecovative are well on their way, but require access to private sector customers and help scaling their manufacturing process. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Commercial market/Deployment.

Fabdesigns spacesuit
Fabdesigns have developed breakthrough protective space-wear that provides radiation protection for astronauts with a high-degree of flexibility and additional fire-resistance. The dangerous levels of radiation that astronauts are exposed to beyond Earth orbit remains a significant health challenge for deeper exploration of the Solar System. Fabdesigns is looking for help to perfect their designs for use in space, as well as Earthly applications. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Concept.

Geckskin adhesives
Geckskin is a revolutionary take on adhesives, inspired by the footpads of the Gecko lizard.   Unlike glue-based adhesives, Geckskin creates dry and easily reversible adhesion without leaving any residue – while maintaining an impressive stickability. Geckskin can be used to mount a 42-inch Television on a wall without any loss in adhesion. Geckskin is a product of Felsuma LLC. The team are in start-up mode with a solid plan. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

Hologenix Far-infrared
Hologenix is a unique functional fabric that has the ability to absorb and modify far-infrared light and change it into a form that can be more easily absorbed by human skin. Clinical evidence is beginning to show that far-infrared light has multiple heath benefits, such as improving blood flow – which can help accelerate healing. The team is looking to make this novel technology more widespread. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Growth and scale.

Materials Sustainability Index Online Sustainability Guide
The Materials Sustainability Index, originally developed by Nike, enables manufacturers to make better choices when designing products. This innovation, developed independently from Nike, builds on the data and capabilities of the MSI by creating a web portal designed to help shoppers meet their personal goals for sustainably manufactured apparel. Though this innovation is currently in the pilot stage, the web portal creative team is looking for partners to mature this capability. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Pilot.

QMilk milk fiber
QMilk takes surplus milk that is unfit for human consumption and produces a bio-textile replacement for cotton. The product is non-allergenic with potential applications in healthcare. QMilk takes a highly innovative approach to repurposing a waste stream that is seen in every country in the world. The QMilk team is now looking to find partners to help take their innovation to the next stage. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

REvolve: new textiles from old
REvolve tackles the growing problem of textile waste and proposes a way of collecting, sorting, and reprocessing it into new textile materials. The REvolve team is an ambitious start-up looking to pilot their ideas and create a truly ‘closed-loop’ system for the textile industry. This vision will require innovations and partnerships all along the supply-chain. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Pilot.

SLIPS stain resistant fabric
SLIPS is a breakthrough coating technology which makes natural fabrics stain resistant. It works by infusing a fluorinated oil lubricant into the structure of the fabric to make it water and oil repellant, or ‘omniphobic’. The resulting textiles that are more wear resistant, demonstrate better pressure performance and highly resilient to dirt. This technology has been scientifically validated and has won an R&D award. The team is now looking to commercialize their technology. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Commercial market/Deployment.

Solar Fiber
Solar Fiber is a functional fabric technology that weaves photovoltaic yarn into products that can generate their own power from sunlight. This innovative technology has many potential uses from outdoor equipment on Earth and in space, all the way to fashion and furnishings.The Solar Fibre team is looking for partners to help them scale their technology to industrial volumes. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

The Great Recovery
The Great Recovery is a manifesto for ‘closed-loop’ design. In other words, products that have negligible impact on the environment or are even beneficial. The Great Recovery team has developed a comprehensive re-thinking of every stage of the product development cycle: initial design, recovery, disassembly, recyclability and re-use. The goal of the Great Recovery is to pilot hands-on education to take these innovative approaches mainstream. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Prototype.

Waterbourne solvent free leather
Waterbourne is an artificial leather that is almost impossible to distinguish from real leather and is manufactured in a way that doesn’t require toxic solvents. Prior to the Waterbourne process, artificial leathers required foul smelling dimethylformamide (DMF) which is both energy intensive and highly polluting. Moreover residual amounts of solvent often remain on the material. Waterbourne has been developed by Bayer Material Sciences and is currently moving into pilot stage. STAGE OF INNOVATION: Pilot.

NOTE: Some of you may wonder what most of these innovations have to do with NASA. Any collaborative venture, if successful, will reflect the interests of all the participants.  Our NASA reviewers were thrilled with some of the unexpected and unconventional solutions that bubbled up with the challenge. Know that we have a longer term vision for success than our partners. Going to scale for NASA, means that we can improve the lives of six Earthings living onboard the International Space Station…or future human crews traveling to Mars. For USAID, scale means improvement for millions of lives in developing countries. The key to collaboration is finding the common passion that we can rally around — such as game changing sustainability solutions, in the case of LAUNCH: Collective Genius for a Better World.

Take a look at the Top 20 innovations, and cast your vote for your favorites.

Deadline: August 20th.

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LAUNCH: Innovation Super Bowl

“Your heart, not your knowledge or skill, is your qualification for leadership.”

A guest pastor at DC Metro church last weekend made this statement above. As I listen to the LAUNCH: Beyond Waste innovators share their passion for making the world a better place, I keep thinking the heart is what draws us together for the common goal of solving the intransigent problems facing humanity — like water, health, energy, and now waste.

After our first day of prep session with the innovators, I’m renewed with hope for what we can do collectively, if we join together with single purpose. Each of us on the LAUNCH team speaks the same passion language for a sustainable existence (both on and OFF this planet).

The LAUNCH forum is our Innovation Super Bowl.

We work for months to source and gather the right mix of expertise, experience, and influence for the LAUNCH Council and a balanced set of innovations to tackle complex issues. Once we get to this point in the process, we recharge off the collective genius of the minds gathered together for the forum.

Here are a few snapshots from Pasadena so far.

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LAUNCH: Collective Genius for Better World!

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Stay tuned for LAUNCH: Beyond Waste

It’s finally here — LAUNCH: Beyond Waste! We’ve been working for the last six months to get to this point. We head out to Pasadena, California this week to hear from nine innovators with creative ways to create value from discarded products  — plastic bottles, human and plant waste, unused fabric, and more.

LAUNCH, for those of you who haven’t heard me talk about it before, is a social entrepreneurship enterprise that breaks new ground in public/private partnerships. We created the LAUNCH program three years ago to address large, sustainability-related challenges that no single government or commercial entity can solve alone. Our talented LAUNCH team searches for transformative innovations, which we connect with a collaborative group of thought leaders and experts which we call LAUNCH Council. LAUNCH Innovators are uniquely poised to accelerate their innovations for greater impact and scale by leveraging the advice, networks, and resources of the LAUNCH Council members and the global stage LAUNCH provides.

The ultimate goal of LAUNCH is a sustainable future for planet Earth and her citizens.

The LAUNCH: Beyond Waste forum is the fourth in a series of challenges, following Water, Health, and Energy. The LAUNCH team focused on waste as a challenge topic in order to address increasing strain on the planet’s limited resources. Global citizens, as well as explorers who leave Earth’s protection, share the need for creative solutions to the issue of waste — from designing for zero waste to revaluing existing waste from inefficient production and processes. LAUNCH: Beyond Waste addresses this global challenge.

I love the tagline from Anshu Gupta of Goonj, one of our innovators from India, who wants to transform the cash society into a trash society — meaning trash = revenue stream. Our western version: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Here are the cool movie posters our team (Trish and Lilly) created to represent each innovation we’ll feature at the forum.

Attero: Attero is India’s first low cost, efficient metal extraction technology for e-waste. With an integrated recycling and refurbishing facility and proprietary metallurgical processes (patent pending), Attero is the only end-to-end e-waste recycling company in India.

Goonj: Using urban waste streams as a powerful development resource in rural India, Goonj is dedicated to saving lives, empowering people, and ensuring dignity for the underserved poor in rural India. Through its activities, Goonj helps to create a parallel economy that is not ‘cash based’, but ‘trash based.’

Kiverdi: Kiverdi offers a proprietary bioprocess that recycles waste carbon from a number of waste streams, including syngas (from forestry residue and landfills), stranded natural gas or agricultural residue, to produce drop-in fuels, oils and custom chemicals. Kiverdi’s industrial scale bioreactor allows the company to transform biomass into high value industrial products.

Pylantis: Pylantis is a bioplastics company with a proprietary process that combines organic fillers (waste) with plant plastic resins to create high waste content injection molded products capable of withstanding temperatures up to 140C. Pylantis produces a wide variety of products that provide a commercially viable alternative to environmentally unsustainable traditional petroleum-based plastic products.

re:char: re:char’s technology allows farmers worldwide to convert their waste into biochar, a carbon-negative soil amendment to grow more food and fight climate change.

RecycleMatch: RecycleMatch is the first global on-line marketplace for recycling that connects waste generators, recyclers, and manufacturers. The RecycleMatch platform finds the ‘highest and best use’ for recyclables and ‘waste’ byproducts in the market.

Sanergy: Sanergy provides quality sanitation facilities, efficient and effective waste collection services, and proper waste treatment in the slums of Kenya.

SEaB Energy: SEaB provides companies a turn-key waste to energy product which uses micro anaerobic digestion to convert organic waste into energy on-site at the source of the waste generation where the energy can be utilized continuously.

SIRUM: SIRUM disrupts the pharmaceutical supply chain by redistributing unused, unexpired medicine that would otherwise be destroyed.

You can follow along during the forum at the NASA MindMapr page. Learn more about the forum on the NASA website.

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LAUNCH:Energy Super-Charged!

Sparks fly when innovative thinkers join together to address critical issues — like solving the world’s sustainability problems. LAUNCH gives us a unique opportunity to expand the Fellowship of Innovation with  ten new LAUNCH innovators, several dozen new LAUNCH Council Members, and new members of the LAUNCH team. What a privilege to recharge my creative batteries in this unique creative power source.

LAUNCH: Energy view of Vehicle Assembly Building

LAUNCH: Energy. Space Shuttle Endeavour waits for us over at the VAB.

It was only one week ago when NASA hosted LAUNCH: Energy at the Kennedy Space Center. Quick summary: ten innovators presented TED-like presentations to thought leaders in their various disciplines. Presentations are followed by high impact round table discussions with each innovator to probe, question, and evaluate the potential of each innovation.

LAUNCH: Energy is our third sustainability forum, following LAUNCH: Water and LAUNCH: Health. This was our first without a Space Shuttle launch to plan around. We’ve never hosted an event at the Kennedy Space Center during a holiday weekend. A government facility on a long weekend feels like a ghost town — eerily deserted. On the flip side, we had the place to ourselves. We FINally snagged the Mission Management Team meeting room, which was always our first choice. Planning events during Space Shuttle launches means prime real estate is already spoken for, and rightly so.

Press site

The press site looks so empty without a Space Shuttle launch.

We were fortunate to tour the Vehicle Assembly Building where post-retirement Space Shuttle Endeavour takes shelter. I have to admit, seeing her without her eyes, nose, and engines made me heartsick. How strange to stare in the face of history.

Space Shuttle Endeavour in her twilight years.

Space Shuttle Endeavour in her twilight years.

Many ask us: Why LAUNCH?

LAUNCH is our opportunity to problem-solve for an entire weekend with a group of innovative thinkers who care deeply about saving the world — social entrepreneurship at its best. As a bonus, we hopefully infect participants with our “Yes We Can” space virus that they, in turn, spread to their colleagues, friends and families.

Personally, LAUNCH is an intellectual treat. Brain candy!

LAUNCH is all about three things for NASA:

  1. sharing the sustainability story of how life off this planet mirrors Earth — we have no natural resources in space which forces us to generate, collect, store, conserve, recycle, and manage our resources wisely — just like Earth but more extreme;
  2. offering our problem-solving expertise and convening power of the NASA brand to host a crucial conversation with innovative problem solvers from around the world, and
  3. promoting the emergence of transformative technology to solve problems that we share as global citizens of this planet, which may also address issues of long-duration life in the extremes of space.
Inspirational setting for LAUNCH:Energy

Can you think of a more "problem-solving" setting?

Fellowship of Innovation

The ten innovators, who are now part of our innovation fellowship (and FAMILY) offer a variety of solutions to address energy sustainability challenges. The innovations include an economical fuel cell that can be recharged in a cooking fire, a thin flexible electrochromic film that can be applied to windows or surfaces to manage energy use, a low temperature heat activated fluid motion pump, a hydrokinetic turbine, a 96% efficient wood combustion cookstove process, a thermal energy battery for economical refrigeration in remote locations, a next generation fast-charging, long-lasting ultracapacitor battery, an integrated smart microgrid, a lightweight energy management system, and a solar-powered lantern/charger.

Solantern light, charging station, and solar charger.

Solantern light, charging station, and solar charger.

Social Entrepreneurship

At its essence, LAUNCH is an enterprise grounded in social entrepreneurship — the effort to target large-scale transformational outcomes to make life better for a segment of the underserved populations on our planet.

Side Note: Social entrepreneurship is near and dear to my heart and the topic of my PhD research. Thanks to two separate bus rides from Kennedy Space Center back to our hotel in Orlando, I refined my research proposal — which was due immediately following LAUNCH: Energy. Council members Carrie Freeman of Intel and James Parr, formerly of IDEO and founder of Imaginals, introduced me to new concepts and potential research paths. I came home and rewrote my proposal.

LAUNCH is the innovation soup we create by pulling together just the right ingredients and turning up the heat — like a long bus ride at the end of a long day.

Hatching new ideas on ride to and from Kennedy Space Center

Hatching new ideas on ride to and from Kennedy Space Center.

Accelerator

And now, the real work begins. The Accelerator process, the next phase, is the critical follow-through leg of the LAUNCH journey, where our LAUNCH team 1) walks the Innovators through recommendations and insights shared by the Council, 2) refines and crafts a forward strategy, and 3) helps make connections necessary to solidify future support for each innovation. This process can last from four-six months, depending on the wishes of the innovator and the maturity of the innovation.

Thanks to all the LAUNCH team for all the long hours in planning, preparation, and execution. Thanks to all the Council Members for giving so generously of your time. Thanks especially to all our LAUNCH Innovators for caring enough about the future of our human race to create transformative solutions. You guys ROCKet!!

To borrow from Innovator Frank Wang, “Let’s get super-charged. BOOM!”

LAUNCH Innovator Frank Wang, "Boom! Super-charged!!"

LAUNCH Innovator Frank Wang, "Boom! Super-charged!!"

Resources:

LAUNCH:Energy Flickr photos by LAUNCH team member Dennis Bonilla.

LAUNCH:Energy photos by LAUNCH Council Member Michael Catalano.

Forum Concludes with LAUNCH of New Ideas to Generage, Store and Distribute Energy by LAUNCH Council and team member Rebecca Taylor

LAUNCH: Energy Forum — An Update from Mission Control  by Department of State team member Vy Manthripragada.

LAUNCH: Energy Forum — Fueling Ideas, Propelling Innovation by Department of State team member Vy Manthripragada.

LAUNCHing an Energized Future by LAUNCH team member Lena Delchad.

Collective Genius for a Better World by NASA’s Open Gov team member Ali Llewellyn.

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LAUNCH: Energy

LAUNCH: Energy

This week, we celebrate ten disruptive innovations with groundbreaking ideas for provision and access to sustainable energy for both the developed and developing world populations. LAUNCH: Energy is a challenge of particular interest to NASA. Issues of sustainable energy are part of every human and robotic mission off of the planet. We have NO natural energy sources off the planet, so the creation, storage, conservation and replenishing of energy is one of our challenges in exploring the unknowns of space.

LAUNCH Video

View the LAUNCH video.

LAUNCH is a unique initiative formed with founding partners are NASA, USAID, Department of State, and NIKE to identify solutions to the world’s most urgent sustainability challenges. For the sustainability forums, we identify innovations poised to create transformational change in critical sustainability issues, and connect innovators to thought leaders and advisors. After the forum, we work with the innovators to take recommendations compiled during the 2+ days at the Forum, and work with the innovators to sift through and implement the recommendations to help propel the innovations toward success.

Here are the innovators:

1. Gram Power: Yashraj Khaitan – A micro/mini-grid solution for underserved communities that utilizes modular battery storage technology, energy management intelligence, and a pre-payment model.

2. Hydrovolts: Burt Hamner – An affordable “Flipwing” turbine that enables reliable hydroelectricity generation from canals and other managed-flow water courses. @Hydrovolts

3. Turbococinas: Rene Nunez Suarez – A revolutionary clean and efficient wood combustion cookstove.

4. Point Source Power: Craig Jacobsen – An economical fuel cell for emerging markets that allows battery charging in cooking pits or fires.

5. The Solanterns Initiative: Nina Marsalek, Renewable Energy Ventures – An initiative dedicated to replacing 1 million of Kenya’s kerosene lanterns with solar powered lights. @Solanterns

6. Powerzoa: Jamie Simon – A smart system that allows enterprise-level energy managers to automate control of energy down to the appliance level, stopping power waste. @powerzoa

7. Promethean Power Systems: Sorin Grama – A rural refrigeration system for commercial cold-storage applications in off-grid and partially electrified areas of developing countries. @PrometheanPower

8. NIFTE Pump: Mark Bryan, Thermofluidics – A pumping device that uses low-temperature heat to generate fluid motion with very few moving parts.

9. Flexible Electrochromic Film: Ashu Misra, ITN Energy Systems – A revolutionary flexible electrochromic film that allows active control of transmitted light and solar heating.

10. NanoTune Technologies: Frank Wang – An electrode innovation that produces ultracapacitors with five to seven times greater story capacity as conventional capacitors. @carbonmind

You can join us virtually at LAUNCH: Energy Forum on November 11-13 through U-stream link that will be posted on the LAUNCH website. You can also log on to MindMapr, which will have a twitter stream of the ongoing conversations between the LAUNCH Council and the ten innovators.

Crosspost on GovLoop.

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Moon Shadows

Now that I’ve started the PhD program at Virginia Tech, I drive to the Blacksburg campus one day a week for classes. In order to get to my 9:00 a.m. class, I leave my house at 4:00 a.m. Needless to say, much of the drive is illuminated by artificial light — street lights and headlights from my car. Once I get into the hills and mountains outside the Washington, D.C. area, street lights disappear, as well as the light pollution from the metroplex. An amazingly bright moon (and BBC news on XM radio) kept me company.

Moon from Space

Moon from Space

As I drove, I thought about the disparity between people who live without power around the world — even today — and the hi-tech culture that sends humans to space. Technology enables me to look at photos of moonrises from space in near realtime. Some cultures may never see those pictures.

Lost in thought, I noticed something odd. Light kept flashing on and off the road in front of me and bounced off the hood of my car — like a pulsating flood light from a helicopter, but engulfing too great a distance to be manmade. I looked up through my sunroof to see the source.

The trees on top on the mountain cutaway created a filter pattern, blocking and revealing the moon, strobe-light fashion, as I drove through. It dawned on me:

Moon Shadows!

I’d never seen them before, that I can recall. What a cool experience in the black of night to have the heavenly light-dance in front of and all around me. A song from my distant past flooded into my memory: Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow.

“Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow

Moonshadow, moonshadow

Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow

Moonshadow, moonshadow…”

In my case, I was embraced by a moon shadow.

What is the significance of any of this? I’m not sure. I just felt the need to share the wonder and awe I felt driving through moon shadows, even just for a few minutes. I felt connected, in some strange way, to humans who walked on the surface of that huge reflecting orb in the sky. I felt sad for Astronaut Ron Garan who leaves behind, probably forever, the magnificent view he has of the moon and stars from Space Station.

Moon Rise over Earth. Photo by @Astro_Ron

Moon Rise over Earth. Photo by @Astro_Ron

Thank you, Moon, for inviting me to your shadow-dance performance. You made my day!

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Think UNthinkable Thoughts

“To achieve the impossible, it is PRECISELY the UNthinkable that MUST be thought.” Tim Robbins

How many times have you shared an idea, only to be told it would never work? While you’re busy counting, I can tell you I lost count several lifetimes ago.

Visionaries “envision” the end product in their heads. Realizing that vision, now that’s the heart of the adventure. The barriers to success are built upon layers of “no way” or “you’re crazy” or “not on my watch.”

Think about the dreamers who designed the magnificent reusable space vehicle we know as the Space Shuttle. Though they believed winged flight from space back to Earth was possible, could they ever have imagined 30 years of reliable service? Yes, we’ve experienced two tragedies, but we’ve also witnessed 20,952 orbits around Earth by the fleet — prior to next week’s final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Time in space for 134 flights: 1,320 days, one hour, 32 minutes, 44 seconds.

Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling out to the launch pad for her final flight. NASA/Bill Ingalls

Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling out to the launch pad for her final flight. NASA/Bill Ingalls

Prior to the final mission, STS-135, the five Orbiters traveled 537,114,016 miles.

  • Columbia was the first to fly into orbit carrying John Young and Bob Crippen on April 12, 1981. She flew 27 complete missions for 121,696,993 miles and 300 days in space. The vehicle and crew were lost at the end of the STS-107, her 28th mission. (My personal story: I worked at NASA Headquarters in DC, but was in Texas with my daughter Steph for a college visit at The University of Texas. My sister lived north of Dallas. One of her friends from JSC called to ask us to go outside and look for the Orbiter in the sky. They had lost contact. Horror of horror. We only saw contrails.)
  • Challenger‘s maiden flight was STS-6 on April 4, 1983. She flew nine complete missions for 995 miles and 62 days in space, before exploding at lift off on her 10th mission, STS-51L, carrying Christa McAuliffe, our first Teacher in Space. (My story: I was on maternity leave from the Johnson Space Center after the birth of baby daughter Steph. I saw the story on the news. I attended the Memorial Service with President Reagan. I came back from maternity leave to the accident investigation.) 
  • Discovery flew her maiden voyage in August 1984 with STS-41D. She served as the Return to Flight missions after both accidents. She flew 148,221,675 miles, 39 flights, and 365 days (ONE FULL YEAR) in space. As the most seasoned Orbiter, Discovery retired first following the STS-133 mission.
  • Endeavour is the baby of the fleet. She was the last built, ordered to replace Challenger. She flew her first mission, STS-49, in May, 1992. She retired second after flying 122,883,151 miles and 25 missions and 299 days in space through her final mission, STS-134.
  • Atlantis flew first on October 3, 1985 during the STS-51J mission. She is the last operational vehicle in the Space Shuttle fleet. Prior to this final mission, she’s completed 32 flights and 120,650,907 miles and 293 days in space.

Over the last 30 years, the five Orbiters carried human cargo to space and back: 848 before this final flight of Atlantis, which carries a crew of four: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Wilheim. At the end of the Space Shuttle program, 852 humans can boast about riding a rocket to space and glider back to planet Earth. Think about the stories they’ll tell their grandchildren and great grandchildren — about a time when humans allowed themselves to think unthinkable thoughts. And when they did, they created something amazingly awesome: a reusable winged space plane.

STS-135 Space Shuttle Atlantis on launch pad. Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

STS-135 Space Shuttle Atlantis on launch pad. Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

If we keep thinking unthinkable thoughts, we can do unimaginable things and go unforeseenable [yes, I know this is not a word, but I like it] places. 

But it takes work:

  • Parents, believe your kids can do more than seems possible. Give them a leg up: support them even if it means sacrifice on your part.
  • Teachers, open your students’ eyes to the wonder of the universe. One of them may be the first to build a personal spacecraft or step on Mars without the need for a bulky spacesuit.
  • Bosses, give your employees an opportunity to create new products and processes. Allow them the flexibility to think outside the box without fear of retribution.

Even as we close out the Space Shuttle program, tomorrow holds great promise if we dare to dream it. So, let’s get to it!

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Life: Where’s my Debris Shield?

I haven’t posted an update in two months. I know. I know. I feel the guilt weighing heavily on me. My last post was during the STS-134 Tweetup. I never even downloaded the hundreds of iPhone pics I took of all the tweeps. Sorry guys. And here we are on the heels of our last Space Shuttle mission tweetup: STS-135 Atlantis. NEXT week!!

STS-135 crew portrait

STS-135 crew: Rex Walheim, Pilot Doug Hurley, Commander Chris Ferguson, Sandy Magnus

So here’s my list of excuses:

  • I returned from the last launch to a house consumed by voracious weeds,
  • my Mother returned from Zambia,
  • my daughter, Carol, bought/moved into her first home,
  • a project at work required 24/7 attention,
  • I rediscovered my bicycle, and
  • my brain was fried.

In two days, my daughter Steph returns from her South African adventure. I’m thrilled beyond words to have her back home while she pursues her PhD. Skype is great, but face to face is much better. We’ve been busy trying to rearrange the house to make sure Steph has a place to spread out and study.

Which brings me to why I have time to post this. I’m on sick leave. I experienced an unpleasant encounter with falling debris (ceramic vase) which I unsuccessfully avoided.

If only I had Mission Control to monitor threatening debris and maneuver me out of the way — like they did for the crew of Space Station only this morning.

Unlike me, the crew received warning in time to take cover in the Soyuz spacecraft docked to Station. The debris passed without incident, and they returned to their stations to get on with their daily schedules. I, on the other hand, experienced a direct hit.

Really, you’ll never want me on a long-distance mission. I attract calamity. Yes, I’m the accident-queen. Only two weeks ago, I engaged in battle with angry ground wasps in my garden. Two days ago, I attracted a vase from the top of the refrigeration — which had held those very flowers from my garden that the wasps tried to protect.

@FlatSamantha "Next time wear your space suit @bethbeck - it'll keep those wasps from stinging you and help beat the heat!"

Right now, I’m awaiting word on whether or not my ankle is broken. Either way, the doctor has me off my feet with the offending leg elevated. Which, I must say, severely cramps my lifestyle. Sigh.

In perspective, though, I think my calamities are God’s way to get me to slow down.

I tend to live a “shot-from-a-cannon” life. I’m always in the middle of multiple projects at home, as any homeowner will understand. At work…well, we won’t even talk about that.

Now that I’m forced to slow down — ok, grind to a halt — I can take a moment to reflect. The yard looks amazing. Steph boards a plane tomorrow to come home. We’re about to celebrate our last Shuttle mission — which, though sad, is still an amazing accomplishment. And the coolest thing about getting hurt: a CALL from SPACE wishing me well — thanks to Expedition 27/28 crewmember Ron Garan, Mr. Fragile Oasis!

If you haven’t had a chance to browse Ron’s brainchild, Fragile Oasis, take a moment to join the community. Submit your own Earth-based project and if you get all your friends/colleagues/family to vote for it, you can get a picture from space.

In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying views of Earth (my backyard) as I ice my ankle and keep it propped up on pillows. Maybe someday I’ll get my own PDS…otherwise known as Personal Debris Shield.

Planters in my yard

Container gardening adds color in barren corners.

Planters in my yard

Cluster of planters in my yard.

Tricycle Planter in my yard

Tricycle Planter in my yard

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