The Buzz

Red Planet

OK, so NASA isn't the first federal agency to brave the venture capital frontier, but it's one of the few to do so. The space agency envisions its new Red Planet Capital as "an investment vehicle used to support innovative, dual-use technologies which will help NASA achieve its mission, but will also help better position these technologies for future commercial use," according to the request for information issued Feb. 6 (Solicitation NNH0622806L, Goddard Space Flight Center).

If that sounds familiar, it's because the CIA's In-Q-Tel has a similar mission, as does an Army venture fund called OnPoint. Red Planet hopes to pair its investments with those of private sector corporate and financial venture funds. It will generate deals, review business plans, conduct analysis and develop investment cases, perform due diligence, put together co-investment teams to set up and finance investments, and work with a NASA interface center, which is modeled on the CIA's In-Q-Tel Interface Center, known as the QIC.

The interface centers are the main communications conduits between agencies and their venture funds. The CIA's center helps guide In-Q-Tel's funding priorities, assess technologies and, if it likes them, eases the way for new products to be used inside the agency. NASA's center will focus on human enhancements for exploration; water recycling, reuse and reduction; in situ fabrication of replacement parts; environmental monitoring, control and revitalization; communications and data systems; and biomedical support for exploration missions.

For fiscal 2006, Red Planet will have about $11 million to spend, but that will grow to approximately $20 million a year. Proceeds from investments will be re-invested in Red Planet. So, if you're a stargazer who needs some cash to bring to market a terrific new product that just happens to help astronauts recycle water on Mars, head for Red Planet.

Meals, Ready-to-Sell

Apparently, military grub didn't go over well with some survivors of Hurricane Katrina last fall. MREs, or Meals, Ready-to-Eat, sent as emergency rations to the Gulf Coast ended up on eBay, according to the Government Accountability Office. Other MREs being sold on the site were stolen from stores for military service members mobilized to aid Katrina relief, auditors found.

Military MREs contain a full meal packed in a flexible bag. In 2002, the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia disbursed MREs and then discovered they were being sold on eBay. DSCP wrote to the sellers requesting they stop selling the rations because they are government property; MREs never are considered surplus, so it's illegal to resell them. Sales dropped off for a time, but MREs now are back on eBay.

In October, GAO investigated eight MRE sellers on eBay (GAO-06-410R). Two were disaster victims and might have gotten their MREs legitimately. Four couldn't corroborate their claims about the source of their stocks. One lied and another admitted to taking MREs from his base.

The two Katrina survivors picked up their MREs at Louisiana distribution centers after the hurricane and said they sold them-one of them sold six or seven cases for $40 apiece-because they were unemployed and needed money. A Georgia National Guardsman said he received permission to take leftover MREs supplied to his unit during its Katrina deployment. The seller, a sergeant, took 26 cases and sold some for $45 each on eBay on Oct. 1, 2005. He refused to identify the person who gave him permission to take the MREs.

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