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LAUNCHing Ideas for a Waste-less Tomorrow

As a participant of the first LAUNCH forum, LAUNCH: Water, and someone who recently returned from six months experiencing the orbital perspective of our planet from 240 miles above the Earth, I invite innovators from around the world to participate in LAUNCH: Beyond Waste.

LAUNCH, a social entrepreneurship forum, is in its third year of existence,and is taking public/private partnerships to new heights—literally and figuratively. A partnership among NASA, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, and NIKE, it has become a testbed for collaboration across non-traditional disciplines and organizations, bringing innovative solutions to difficult sustainability challenges around and above the world.

Specifically, LAUNCH draws parallels between resource challenges humans face onboard the International Space Station and those on Earth. Think about it: we have no natural resources in the hostile environment of space, which forces us to generate, collect, store, conserve, recycle, and manage our resources wisely — just like we must on Earth. LAUNCH offers NASA’s problem-solving expertise to crucial conversations on sustainability-related topics with innovative problem solvers from around the world. It enables NASA to promote emerging, transformative technology to sustain and enrich the quality of life on Earth. After all, the engineering approaches needed to solve many of the development challenges facing our planet have a lot in common with those needed to overcome the challenges of long-duration human missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

We’ve specifically selected the LAUNCH challenges to tell the space station sustainability story: the life support systems that sustain our astronauts aboard the station are the same as those that support inhabitants of the amazing spacecraft we are all riding on together through the universe: Earth. Previous LAUNCH forums investigated challenges to our planet relating to Water, Energy, and Health.

LAUNCH: Beyond Waste seeks ten game-changing innovations with the potential to transform current waste management systems and practices. This issue not only threatens our natural resources on Earth but also affects how we design spacecraft and missions to transport humans beyond Earth’s atmosphere. In fact, 40% of packaging for supplies we send up to the crew living onboard the space station is discarded as waste. We need to figure out a better way to use this material as feedstock, rather than excess. We need to design closed-loop systems with a goal of zero waste for long-duration space missions.

The LAUNCH: Beyond Waste challenge will accept proposals from April 1 to May 15, 2012. Ten LAUNCH innovators will be selected to present technology solutions at the LAUNCH forum and receive networking and mentoring opportunities from influential business and government leaders. Following the forum, each innovator receives individualized support in the LAUNCH Accelerator phase, led by USAID, to help apply recommendations from the forum.

The previous forums have demonstrated intriguing solutions that may find their way to space. LAUNCH: Water innovator Mark Tonkin of DTI-r developed an irrigation system that uses brackish, saline, and polluted water in irrigated agriculture. He’s growing trees in the Jordanian desert and conducting large-scale field trials in the United Arab Emirates, the U.K., and the United States We’re looking at an experimental deployment of his technology to recycle water onboard the space station. Tonkin credits LAUNCH: Water with driving him to overhaul his business model and focus on research and development and licensing opportunities.

To be part of the LAUNCH success, innovators should submit Beyond Waste challenge proposals on the LAUNCH website.

I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone at the forum. We are all in this together, and the only way we will overcome the challenges facing our planet is together. The clock is ticking for a better tomorrow!

Ron's post also appears on the White House website, and on open.NASA.