NASA is working to make science fiction a reality as it chose 12 advanced technologies to study, including a deep space submarine and the tech to capture a passing asteroid.
The proposals, selected as part of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program, will receive about $100,000 in funding under Phase 1 of the project for a 9-month study. If the studies go well, the scientists behind them can apply for Phase II awards, which could offer as much as $500,000 for another two years of research.
The projects, submitted by scientists, engineers, and citizen inventors across the country, include concepts ranging from building a submarine to explore the methane lakes of Saturn's largest moon Titan, to a way to safely capture an asteroid or large space debris. The proposals also include advanced life support, space robotic systems and space-based observatory systems.
Other proposals focus on space propulsion, human habitation and scientific instruments.
"The latest ... selections include a number of exciting concepts for planetary exploration," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a statement. "We are working with innovators around the nation to transform the future of aerospace, while also focusing our investments on concepts to address challenges of current interests both in space and here on Earth."
NASA has said that it's looking to expand exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, into deep space and to Mars.
The Phase 1 winners were chosen based on their potential to enable either entirely new space missions or to drive breakthroughs in aerospace technology that could accelerate NASA's goals.
NASA's proposed $17.5 billion proposed fiscal 2015 budget, released in March, sets aside money to send humans to Mars by the 2030s, to study near-Earth asteroids and to send astronauts to the International Space Station.
NASA has been looking to launch a plan to capture a near-Earth asteroid and engineers expect it could happen as early as 2021. At this point, the mission would seek an asteroid that is 7-10 meters in diameter and weighs about 500 tons.
The plan got extra attention last year because of an asteroid that entered Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 15, 2013, creating a fireball that streaked across the sky and showering an area around Chelyabinsk.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.