Space buffs unite globally to solve NASA’s biggest challenges

Space agencies around the world are gearing up for this upcoming Saturday’s International Space Apps Challenge, a two-day code-a-thon-style event. For the third year in a row, NASA is looking to the public to address some of its most-pressing obstacles.

2014_04_Screen-Shot-2014-04-10-at-3.38.32-PM Screenshot from the International Space Apps Challenge site.

The 48-hour event will focus on five themes: technology in space, human space flight, asteroids, earth watch and robotics. New challenges are being presented, but the event will also include 25 solutions from 2013. It is NASA’s hope that including those will provide an opportunity for them to be built upon and further improved.


This challenge is expected to give NASA a hand in opening up and making sense of its massive amounts of data. Following the open data executive order from May 2013, agencies are required to make their data not only available but also usable and transparent.

“Our hope is to create a community of solvers that we can continue to feed, and ignite innovation in the ‘solver-sphere,’” Beth Beck, NASA’s Open Innovation Program manager, told FedScoop. “We want it to be more than playing with NASA data for two days; we want to keep feeding them new challenges and new data and see it grow.”

This is Beck’s first year being involved in the Space Apps Challenge. The event was nurtured into success by former NASA employees Ali Llewellyn and Nick Skytland, who Beck credits with laying down a great foundation.

“The challenge we’re facing now is not just to have a successful event; it’s keeping the community engaged after the event is over,” Beck said.

The event will be held in nearly 100 locations spanning six continents, and will use more than 200 data sources that have been made available.


The event last year was hailed as a major success; there were more than 400 partners, organizations, institutions and space agencies internationally, with events in 83 cities, 9,000 participating volunteers, and 770 technology solutions created.

Optimism for this year’s event is high, and Beck said a lot of attention was paid to the quality of the experience for users.

“We really care about this event,” Beck said. “It’s not just throwing our data out there; we want to personally engage and share our data and interact with people.”

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