June 15, 2015 dennis.bonilla

This year the LAUNCH program and 23 small businesses, six individuals and two supporting programs are being recognized with a Tibbetts Award presented by the Small Business Administration (SBA). LAUNCH is receiving the Tibbetts Award for advancing the success of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs at SBA. Astronaut Catherine Coleman, a member of the LAUNCH team, will accept the SBA Tibbetts Award on behalf of the LAUNCH program on June 15. This is the first time supporting organizations and programs such as LAUNCH have been eligible for a Tibbetts Award. The path to the acceptance podium began over five years ago.

The LAUNCH program was created in 2010 by NASA, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. State Department and Nike to identify and foster innovative approaches to specific sustainability challenges faced by human spaceflight, as well as communities and nations on Earth. LAUNCH searches for people whose ideas, technologies or programs show promise for making tangible impacts to exploring beyond low-Earth orbit and on society.

LAUNCH’s most recent engagement began in March 2014, when a couple dozen sustainability industry experts and representatives from NASA, USAID, the State Department and Nike met at NASA Headquarters in Washington to discuss positive ways to impact the world. The goal of the meeting was to create a challenge to find innovations in green chemistry that may change the way all things are designed, manufactured, maintained, cleaned and reused.

Sustainability experts met at NASA Headquarters to discuss the 2014 LAUNCH Green Chemistry Challenge. Credits: NASA/Dennis Bonilla

Called the “Big Think” by the participants, this type of meeting comes at the commencement of a LAUNCH program cycle. Previous LAUNCH cycles have included challenges seeking innovations in waterhealthenergywaste and materials.

Notes were taken as participants discussed the types of innovations in Green Chemistry the LAUNCH Challenge should try to seek out. Credits: NASA/Dennis Bonilla

Following last year's Big Think, a challenge statement was produced and announced on June 18, 2014. The Systems Challenge: Green Chemistry challenge ran through summer 2014 and culminated in a forum held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 23-24. Ten innovators and a council of industry experts, scientists and engineers were chosen to attend the forum. Finalists for this challenge included people who figured out how to remove oil and contaminants from soil, materials scientists who created “programmable plastics” for making recyclable thermoset polymers and NASA scientists who are developing solvent-free precision cleaning processes that eliminate the possibility of harmful chemicals being released into the environment. The list of finalists is available on the LAUNCH.org website.

The finalists are currently completing the last stage in the LAUNCH cycle- the LAUNCH Accelerator. This is a 6-month post-forum program designed to strengthen innovator strategies, expand their networks and resources and amplify their potential for global impact. Through the successful scaling of these potentially high-impact LAUNCH innovators, meaningful transformation of the system can be achieved.

Attendees celebrated a successful 2015 LAUNCH Forum with a picture in front of a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. Credits: NASA/Dennis Bonilla

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This article originally appeared on NASA.gov and is republished with permission.