Photo Credit: NASA
This weekend will see the kickoff of the 3rd annual NASA’s Space Apps Challenge, a global hackathon pioneered by NASA and fostered from its humble beginnings by the StartupBus community across the world – especially by StartupBus NYC, which this year is hosting NASA’s global mainstage for the entire event at Space Apps New York City in partnership with the NY Tech Council.
On the History of Space Apps and StartupBus
The Space Apps Challenge was literally a napkin idea between folks working at NASA in open government and technology and innovation that actually became reality. They realized that people around the world were willing to collaborate and locally organize events to solve problems for NASA, and piloted the program in 2012 on a next-to-nothing shoestring budget.
The Space Apps Challenge was literally a napkin idea
StartupBus became involved with Space Apps right from the beginning. It started just after the StartupBus North America 2012 event; our New York Buspreneurs had come back from Texas and a good number of them wanted to keep hacking together on projects, so they asked me to find another hackathon that we could all participate in. I asked if anyone in the entire StartupBus organization could connect me to NASA or the Space Apps organizers – and it turned out that Buspreneur Sara-Jayne Terp (née Farmer) could, so she connected me to Aaron Huslage and he helped me get on a phone call that was happening between the NY Tech Council and NASA to rapidly organize the first Space Apps NYC site. This is where I also met our co-organizer Alice Ng (who later became a member of StartupBus herself).
The event was so successful that they brought it back for another year and more than tripled the size of it, again spending barely $70,000 on the entire thing but getting back approximately the value of 33 years of output from a single NASA employee, literally millions of dollars of work.
On similarities and differences between StartupBus and Space Apps
StartupBus is a race and a competition; teams compete with each other on their bus, then the best teams from all the buses compete against each other… and the focus on teams and projects is nearly always commercial to some degree, creating a new product or addressing the needs of some market. Space Apps is about collaboration – thousands of people all over the world will work together, share resources, and deliver real solutions to real problems; it’s not about making the next hot new mobile app, it’s about creating tools for protecting people from landslides and educating people about why we need to explore space.
But Space Apps and StartupBus have a lot in common as well – even though Space Apps is focused on solving the world’s problems and StartupBus is very focused on startups and business, both events can lead to creating new companies and industries, and both of these organizations are ultimately about creating communities. And they both have a mission of changing the world, disrupting the status quo, and improving life for everyone.
On Why StartupBus Alumni Are Attracted to Space Apps
Buspreneurs are a unique bunch. They are doers and dreamers, and they want to make the world a better place. Startup culture can often be a bit oppressive, navel-gazing, and elitist – it’s good to get away from that sphere of influence as often as possible. And people in that realm may talk big about changing the world, but what are they *really* doing about it? Most of the time they’re really just talking about making money with a new kind of photo sharing service. Space Apps is an actual opportunity to truly change the world, and Buspreneurs want to make positive change happen for real.
On the Success of Space Apps
A number of things make Space Apps successful – NASA, of course, is the keystone. NASA is providing all of its output for free to the public; data, imagery, software, all of it. They’re giving away all of these resources and they’re saying: “Make something with this. Help us solve the world’s problems.” The NASA brand is solid gold – everyone loves NASA, and for good reason. When was the last time you threw an SUV to Mars and landed it gently on its surface with a rocket crane?? Who doesn’t love the idea of working with NASA, meeting astronauts, building robots and rocketing them into space to explore the universe? Well, go ahead and do it. Everyone can get involved and actually do these things through the Space Apps Challenge.
everyone loves NASA, and for good reason. When was the last time you threw an SUV to Mars and landed it gently on its surface with a rocket crane??
That’s the real driving force, that passion and romance for space. Look at what all the billionaires of the world are pursuing – nearly all of them are doing some kind of work to get into space. Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson… the list of people pursuing commercial activity in space goes on and on. So there’s another reason, there’s great economic opportunity involved as well – NASA’s technological advancements have almost always led to great leaps forward in the tech sector, and this is just another way to incubate innovation, just in a grassroots fashion.
How to Get Involved with Space Apps
Anyone can get involved at any time – sign up at http://spaceappschallenge.org
to participate at a local site or virtually online this weekend. And the site itself is more and more becoming a resource center – previous challenges and their solutions can be seen on the archived 2012 and 2013 sites. Everything produced at the Space Apps Challenge is made completely open source and free to the world, so there are now numerous Github repositories containing the work of thousands of people – and NASA has open sourced massive amounts of its own code through various programs too.Anyone can apply from anywhere in the world to locally organize their own Space Apps site next year. Projects have continued past the hackathons, companies have been formed to continue tackling NASA’s challenges. There are a ton of opportunities to get involved, you just have to step up and take part! Follow @SpaceApps on Twitter, like their page on Facebook, and register today at the http://spaceappschallenge.org
website to get news and announcements fro NASA in the future.