Keith's note: In the very near future NASA, Google, and computer manufacturer Lenovo are set to announce an interesting educational project. As I understand the gist of the effort from various sources, students will be asked to come up with ideas for experiments that can be performed on the ISS and submit a video via YouTube that describes their idea. Winners will be selected and the experiments described in the videos will actually be performed aboard the ISS. This is an interesting way to get novel ideas onboard the ISS - and possibly to spark careers. Moreover, it is a way to show that the ISS has utility beyond the experiments proposed by a small cadre of insiders.
The odd thing about this, however, is that the largest shareholder of Lenovo is an agency of the Chinese government. According to Wikipedia: "50.4% of Lenovo is owned by public shareholders, 42.3% by Legend Holdings Limited ... Because the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a Chinese government agency, owns 65% of Legend Holdings, effectively the Chinese government owns about 27% of Lenovo and is the largest shareholder." As such, this announcement is certain to gain attention from members of Congress (such as Rep. Frank Wolf) who are constantly putting NASA on the spot vis a vis any interactions with China - direct or by proxy. One would have thought that NASA would have found a way to work with a sponsor without such an overt link to the Chinese government.
Reader note: "I received an email invite to a Lenovo / YouTube webcast on the 10th about an "interesting" and "educational" project. I'm not sure why it's embargoed until Tuesday, but I'm guessing that it relates to this post. The email I received didn't mention NASA at all though."
Keith's 7 Oct update: Here is the Space Act Agreement between NASA and Space Adventures that outlines this competition. What is odd about this Space Act Agreement is that it has milestones for this project starting in June 2011 - yet the agreement was only signed a few weeks ago in September 2011. Also, "YouTube" appears in the title of this Space Act Agreement yet no one from YouTube (or Google who owns YouTube) signed this agreement. How can they be bound to this agreement if they are not a party to it? Also, the contest is supposed to be announced in October 2011 and students only have one month to come up with an experiment. And then "certified hardware [will be] provided to NASA for launch" in March 2012 with a launch to the ISS in May 2012. Wouldn't you want to give students more time so as to have more experiments submitted - and more thought put into the preparation of the proposals? These students also have their regular classwork to do. Also, since when does NASA have an expedited process whereby payloads can go from zero to flight in 6 months? Why isn't this capability more widely advertised?
Keith's 7 Oct update: NASA PAO just issued this press release: "NASA Performs Student Experiments For Whole World To See". In this release there is a link is provided to a YouTube site called "SpaceLab" where you will see a countdown clock that says "SpaceLab Launching with Lenovo" that reaches zero at noon on Monday. Why they picked a federal holiday to announce this is a little odd.
There is some disparity between the Space Act Agreement that formally enables this project and what this press release says. The press release says "Contest entrants may submit up to three experiments in either life sciences or physics. They must submit a two-minute video application by Dec. 7 via YouTube.com." However the Space Act Agreement says "entry deadline November 2011". The press release says "Six regional finalists will be selected in March 2012. Regional finalists will receive get a flight on a ZERO-G aircraft." but the Space Act Agreement says "finalists announced January 2012".
YouTube has started its viral prelaunch marketing by tweeting "T-minus 3 days and counting... What's a @YouTube Space Lab? #SpaceLab" today and tweeting this yesterday "There's going to be a BIG launch in four days time... Subscribe at http://goo.gl/5hWYC #spacelab". No mention on the Space Adventures, YouTube, Google, or Lenovo websites though.
Keith's 8 Oct update: According to a retweet by @LenovoEducation "RT @YouTube T-minus 3 days and counting... What's a @YouTube Space Lab? #SpaceLab". A tweet from @Lenovo_ANZ "There's going to be a BIG launch in a few days time @YouTube ... Subscribe at http://goo.gl/5hWYC #spacelab". Still nothing from @SpaceAdventures