By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
When you step into a crowded elevator and can’t reach the buttons, someone usually asks, “What floor?” Well, imagine if your answer could be, “Outer space level, please.” Yes, space elevators are just one of many next-generation technologies that NASA believes will help humanity really take space exploration to the next level.
Every year since 2010, NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program awards major funding to the very best concepts in the space business. Its 2013 selections are split into Phase I studies, which receive about $100,000 for a year, and Phase II studies, which receive approximately $500,000 for two years.
One of the Phase I study winners designed a deep sleep state (torpor) chamber to help humans travel long distances in space. Keeping the body in “stasis” – unchanging balance – would help it survive incredibly long journeys with minimal nutritional needs. Ever seen those sci-fi movies with people waking up from pods after a long journey, like in Avatar? While that kind of “cryo-preservation and restoration” – “cryo” meaning freezing – is still a long ways off, the torpor transfer habitat from SpaceWorks Engineering is a step in the right direction. They plan on creating the tech to assist with a human exploration mission to Mars!
3D printing, of course, is on the menu, with the NASA Ames Research Center developing biomaterials tech for organic (living matter) and inorganic (non-living matter) creations. Repairing the human body, the spacesuit, or other tech is incredibly useful. There’s already a plan to send a 3D printer to the International Space Station, and this unique technology is likely to become increasingly popular for outer space missions. After all, it’s not easy sending new tools and supplies into space, so being able to create them right there on the spot is huge!
Next up, are the Super Ball Bot robots that can land on planets to explore them! These little guys are light-weight, small, and perfect for low-cost missions. Dozens… even hundreds of the small, collapsible robots can be packed up and then hurled onto a planet to split up. Rather than needing a fancy parachute like all the usual fragile exploration bots (I’m looking at you Mars Rover!), these guys can be dropped, absorb the impact, and roll out.
These are but a few of the dozens of awesome designs being funded by NASA. How cool is the future of space exploration?!
Images and video courtesy of NASA.