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GCN : November 2013
At least two apps from last year's hackathon are currently in use at the agency. One converts the image file format VICAR --- used by many NASA employees --- to PNG format, and the other is a software platform for NASA's under- water robotic submarines. While the technology yield was high, so was the project's regard for progressive open data policies. The space agency went all out to en- able teams to use existing open data tools when collaborating on app development, including Twitter, Facebook and Google+. For teams that could not tap an existing plat- form, NASA created an open-source Django ap- plication offering centralized registration. The site also offered collaboration pages around each challenge that were designed for govern- ment regulations related to paperwork reduc- tion and personal privacy. Code was not hosted natively but linked from GitHub, a Web-based hosting service for software development projects, or other reposi- tories. NASA said it is currently open sourcing the code to the platform for the benefit of other agencies that might want to use the platform for their own hackathons or collaborations. Incredibly, NASA said a team of only four people envisioned, planned and implemented the project in six months, earning NASA a re- turn on investment estimated at more than $15 million. The final outcome was a win-win for government, NASA said. "Mass collaborations have not only encour- aged citizens to get involved in government, but incentivized agencies to get challenges out to the people and then receive valuable input back from them quickly, inviting them to direct- ly engage the mission in new ways never before considered," the agency said. • BY PAUL McCLOSKEY NASA has a mission that requires making sure the public understands the value of its experi- mental technology and exotic space outings. In April, NASA set a new standard for public involvement when it staged what it called the largest hackathon ever attempted, and the first of its kind to focus on the needs of government. The global innovation potluck drew 9,147 people -- 2,200 in virtual settings -- and pro- duced 770 proposals. Participants in the Inter- national Space Apps Challenge crowdsourcing event developed software, hardware, data vi- sualizations and mobile or Web applications in one of 58 different categories. "Our space program, more than ever, re- quires the active engagement of the public to co-create our future," said Nick Skytland, pro- gram manager for NASA's Open Innovation Program. The space agency said many of the submitted solutions "had direct tangible ben- efits" to existing NASA programs, including 40 apps for NASA's Asteroid program and 37 for its Spot the ISS Station challenge. A wide cross section of sites from around the world were logged into the challenge, includ- ing a site from Chile that was the largest in the event; a New York site boasting 50 percent fe- male hackers; and a contingent of high-school- ers from Haiti who were hacking a sustainable- living technology application. Participants designed mini-satellites (Cube- Sats) for NASA's Mars mission, data visualiza- tions for the national air traffic control system and the "first interplanetary weather app," us- ing Mars science data. Other highlights included an underwater planetary rover using lights, thrusters and vid- eo cams and a proposal to steer the craft using Skype and a keyboard. Space Apps makes history NASA holds a hackathon and more than 9,000 people contribute in a win for open development PROJECT AT A GLANCE PROJECT: International Space Apps Challenge OFFICE: NASA Open Innovation Program TECHNOLOGY USED: Django open source Web application development platform, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Skype, GitHub code management and collaboration platform. TIME TO IMPLEMENTATION: One month IMPACT: 9, 147 participants (2,200 of them virtual) designed 770 applications over a 48 hour period (April 20-21, 2013). Teams collaborated with 476 partner organizations, 6 other civilian government agencies, 6 international space agencies and 11 U.S. embassies. 32 GCN NOVEMBER 2013 • GCN.COM