Karin AndersAs NASA prepares to land humans on the Moon in 2024, the agency is keeping a keen eye on technologies needed for Mars missions that follow. NASA’s prize competitions and challenges engage the public in fostering innovative ideas.

NASA awarded a total of $250,000 to five teams in the initial phase of the CO2 Conversion Challenge. The purpose of the challenge is to convert carbon dioxide into glucose in order to eventually create sugar-based fuel, food, medicines, adhesives and other products. While sugar-based biomaterials are created on Earth by plants, this is not practical for space missions because of limited resources such as energy, water and crew time. This capability would let future Martian explorers manufacture products using carbon dioxide in the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

For this phase of the competition, teams across the country submitted system designs, provided information on how the conversion would occur and explained how the system would work in space. Submissions also provided fabrication and testing plans.

The top five teams were selected and will each receive $50,000. The Phase 1 winning teams are:

“A solution to this challenge could provide sustainable infrastructure for human exploration missions,” said Monsi Roman, manager of Centennial Challenges, the NASA program that conducted the competition. “Designing a system that can make this transformation is a big step, and we are excited to see teams build out these concepts.”

NASA is currently examining the possibility of opening Phase 2 of the competition, which would require system construction and demonstration and carry a prize purse estimated at $750,000.

Centennial Challenges, part of the Prizes and Challenges portfolio in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, bridges the innovation gap between NASA and the nation by stimulating research and technology solutions inside and outside of the traditional aerospace community. The competitions offer incentive prizes to generate revolutionary solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation, and to enable exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond. Centennial Challenges is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For information about the CO2 Conversion Challenge, visit:


For information about Centennial Challenges, visit:


Jena Rowe
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
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