First Winner of Astronaut Glove Challenge Triumphs Again

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NEW YORK — An aerospace engineer from Maine, the reigning champion of NASA’s Astronaut Glove Challenge, held onto his title Nov. 10 to win first prize in a competition to build a better space glove than those worn by astronauts today.

The winner, Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor, Maine, took home the $250,000 top prize at the competition held at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Fla., near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It was the second win for Homer, who took home first place, and $200,000, in the first Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2007.

Second prize this year went to artist Ted Southern, another former competitor from New York. Southern was awarded $100,000.

“It was a close decision. Both met all requirements,” said Andy Petro, manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, which oversees the competition.

The contest was held to encourage private innovators to attack the issue of astronaut gloves, which are difficult to engineer because they must be strong enough to protect spaceflyers’ hands from the vacuum of space, but also dexterous enough to allow complex movements without fatiguing hands.

“We wanted to see if there were any really creative solutions that hadn’t come up before by opening it up to a broader field of competitors,” Petro said in an interview. “Anyone from anywhere can get into it. You’re likely to get a fresh look at the problem.”

During the competition, teams were required to use their gloves in a box that simulates the vacuum of space, and also fill the gloves with water to increase the pressure inside them until they burst, testing the gloves’ strength. The gloves had to have both an inner pressurizing layer and an outer thermal protection layer to shield against extreme temperatures and micrometeoroids or other small space junk.

NASA has held a number of Centennial Challenges events this year, including a space elevator contest and a lunar lander competition in which NASA awarded $3.3 million in prizes in total. In October, competitors vied to use robots to dig fake Moon dirt. The winners received a total $750,000 in prize money.

“We have six ongoing multiyear competitions and several ended this year with all the prize money being won,” Petro said. “We hope to announce at least one new one this year, and if we get additional funding we’d like to announce several new ones.”