NASA's +International Space Apps Challenge is a global hackathon that brings talented minds together across the planet for 48-72 hours to help solve space related challenges designed by space industry professionals (2016 URL). During the past two years I have been able to create two challenges on Space Florida's behalf, "Fit as a MOoSE: Metabolic Observations of Space Explorers" in 2015 and "Book it to the Moon" in 2016.
Inspired by the upcoming birth of my son (I came up with the idea during the 2015 Space Apps event) and my passion for lunar exploration from my PhD work, I created "Book it to the Moon" and it was competitively selected as one of the twenty-five 2016 challenges. The challenge was to:
Develop an interactive app for children that uses smart phone and tablet sensory to locate the Moon (any time of the day, even below horizon), which unlocks current lunar data (phase, distance, etc), and then presents the user options for reading a "Moon" related story, view space agency photos and videos, and/or fun facts about the Moon. The goal of this challenge is edutainment and raising awareness about lunar missions around the world.
In 2016 (stats vary from sources) there were approximately 15,409 participants registered in 161 locations in 61 countries and also in virtual teams. 1300 projects were submitted from the 25 challenges including 101 solutions in 63 locations, the largest except for the open category (bring your own solution), for Book it to the Moon! One of the six 2016 Global Winners, Kid On The Moon, was inspired by the Book it to the Moon challenge and won the Most Inspirational award (see video below). It is an interactive app with a self-guided exploration of the Moon to inspire passion for space travel in children 4-8 years old and their families. It is serendipitous and a coincidence that they are from my hometown Toronto.
Space Florida financially sponsored three locations across the state including Orlando, Tampa, and Sarasota (check out the global map). The sponsorship was critical to help the locations pay for items such as venue fees. I was able to attend the Orlando event at the The Melrose Center and also connect via Skype to Tampa as a Subject Matter Expert (and challenge author). Both locations had some very talented teams that were laser focused on their projects. At the Orlando event they had Red Bull being pumped into their veins and lines of codes flashing by on their screens. There wasn't much input I could provide them during their working time, so next time I will have to visit during their design review stages to offer feedback. The Skype session with Tampa was fully interactive as teams looked relived to take a break from their computers to video chat on a big screen at the Tampa Hackerspace with Q&A.
|Laser focused in silence and I waved my camera around. Next time I will approach with a Red Bull offering. I did provide some free stickers.|
|The Red Bull approach does indeed work and even generates some thankful smiles. We joked that we had Ph.D.'s and decades of space industry experience to share, but our most useful contribution was getting the teams Red Bull|
|My son Rafael Neil Kobrick, the inspiration for creating Book it to the Moon and a daily re-lighter of my creativity.|
The final local Space Apps event was the 2nd Annual KSC Intern Space Apps Challenge including 145 students. As a judge I was subjected to a rapid fire succession of 60-second presentations with a mix of hardware solutions with small mockups, to interactive apps, games and even a spoof video of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opening. The "Space Apples" team (solving the Growing Food for the Martian Table challenge) rose to the top as the People's Choice for their wood printed greenhouse and spoof video, winning lunch with KSC Center Director Bob Cabana. A personal favorite was the AGRI^3 (agri-cubed) team that designed modular greenhouses that could snap together in an overall growing architecture. I could see this project being tested in the ISS and used in many destinations including Mars.
|AGRI^3 demonstrates their modular greenhouse concept.|
|Winner of the People's Choice. Their greenhouse design was wood cut/printed that morning and they had an amazing spoof video of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opening video. "So another delay... HOW LONG!? ... well... this is going to be fun to tell my boss."|
Some additional sources to check out from the 2016 events:
- Kennedy Space Center Tumblr story
- YouTube playlists of videos from Central Florida teams
- Central Florida pictures and videos on Storify
Open NASA posts:
A special shout out to my friend and colleague from +NASA's Kennedy Space Center, +Caley Burke, who was a driving force behind inspiring the Central Florida events and organizing the five KSC authored challenges as well as the special KSC award (for participants who specifically worked on those challenges) and the Internship challenge. You can follow her adventures on Twitter: @RocketCaley.