The concept of public contests to spur innovation has been gaining momentum, with successful results in both DARPA's Grand Challenge (unmanned vehicles) and the Ansari X-Prize (private space launch). Now NASA is getting into the game, launching a series of 13 challenges, with cash prizes to independent inventors in researchers, in areas such as self-assembled devices and, of course, space elevator technology. Given how much money has been spent on NASA, and the perception that much of it is wasteful, it's nice that they're exploring new ways of funding research. It could work very well in NASA's case as their enormous budget, compared to any other space-related enterprise, has a crowding out effect on the field -- sort of the way government issued bonds can draw money away from other investments. Some of the other benefits include distributing the costs among various institutions, avoiding groupthink, and getting the public excited about the area, all things that NASA could use right now. Besides, this is the age of user-generated content, why shouldn't it work for space travel?
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