Space hackers answer the NASA Space Apps Challenge

May 16 / 181

The NASA International Space Apps Challenge is a huge international hackathon, with over 200 locations competing worldwide. During this year’s event in April, Melbourne participated for the first time, thanks to Carlton Connect at the University of Melbourne.

More than a hundred participants descended on LAB-14 to tackle problems faced by planet earth, and space more broadly. Engineers, coders, makers, artists, storytellers, and business minds came together to bring creative solutions to mission-related challenges.

NASA’s challenges this year covered the themes of technology, aeronautics, the International Space Station, the solar system, the journey to Mars, and Our Earth. Each theme had a set of challenges from which participants could choose something to create or design. 

Carlton Connect’s ‘hacker-in-residence’ and event organiser Michelle Mannering explains that the hackathon is a competition run over a relatively short time frame, usually approximately 48 hours, where participants come together to solve problems.

“Teams at these events are generally expected to produce mock ups, websites, apps, or prototypes, and pitch their solution to the audience and panel of judges,” she says. “Hacking refers to coding, as these competitions typically involve software solutions, however the NASA hackathon wasn’t just about software: a range of alternative problem-solving designs were presented including hardware, origami models, and story boards.”

Many of the Melbourne teams developed highly innovative and creative ideas over the course of the weekend. Some of these solutions included a virtual-reality Mars game, a ‘danger’ sensor, drone apps, 3D printed prototypes of robots, a hologram, and even an app to predict the delay of any flight. Crowd favourites were a jet pack running on dry ice, an app to give real-time information on no-fly zones, and a 3D video game for space travel.

The Melbourne challengers faced an expert line-up of judges, including the Melbourne School of Engineering’s Dean, Professor Iven Mareels.

The overall winners of the competition, Oh-Ree-Ga-Mee, made a paper compacted storage unit for the International Space Station (ISS). 

“With the tag line ‘Ikea for Space’, the team impressed adjudicators with its simple and effective solution,” Ms Mannering explains. “And thanks to event sponsor Quberider – a Sydney-based startup working on STEM education programs for teenagers - Oh-Ree-Ga-Mee will be literally launched into space, as Quberider recently became the first Australian startup company to win Federal government approval to fly a mission to space.”

Find out more about the NASA Space Apps Hackathon here.


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