NASA, IBM Team For Worldwide Space App Hackathon

What happens when NASA gets together with IBM’s Bluemix cloud services and sponsors a worldwide hackathon? They hope to challenge participants to build apps that help solve issues around space exploration and earthly problems too.

The ambitious event, called The Space App Challenge, is taking place this weekend simultaneously in 162 countries involving 136 cities and 10,000 participants, who will be attacking a range of problems in categories such as ‘Print Your Own Space Food’, ‘Robots, Robots, Robots’ and ‘Clean Water Mapping.’

Main themes include Outer Space, Earth, Humans and Robotics and participants could include developers, scientists, students, entrepreneurs and educators.

NASA space challenge hackathon themes.

IBM is joining NASA to offer participants access to a set of cloud services in its Bluemix Platform as a Service portfolio, says Sandy Carter, who is general manager for cloud ecoystem and developers at IBM.

While participants are free to use any cloud platform they wish, IBM plans to sweeten the pot by offering access to some of its most elite experts onsite in 26 cities.

In another 36 cities, participants get access to virtual support online or by phone.

In many ways, the contest is about taking advantage of sensors (the Internet of Things) and the data they produce. Participants will have access to 200 NASA data sources. The idea is to use analytics tools on Bluemix to provide them with tools to take advantage of this data.

“A lot of people look at sensors, but the real value lies with data,” Carter said.

Two projects from each city will advance to global judging. IBM will offer 30 awards for the most innovative use of Bluemix. NASA wants to use this event to incubate innovative ideas and IBM hopes to get developers interested in its Bluemix cloud development tools.

The purpose of the contest is to not only come up with some creative solutions to real problems, but also to simply encourage creative and entrepreneurial thinking and the joys of programming. There will be events around the hackathon, such as a Women of Data event in New York City this Friday, where two women astronauts, the CTO of NASA, Deborah Diaz and Carter will speak.

She said the event hopes encourage women and girls to get involved with STEM fields and she plans to bring her own daughters along.

This is not IBM’s first involvement with hackathons. It was part of recent events at Howard University and Citibank’s financial technology hackathon. At the Citibank event one team came up with a tool for splitting the bill among Citibank credit card holders and computing their Citibank rewards on the fly.

One team from the university hackathon came up with a creative idea for an alarm clock that adjusts your wake-up time automatically based on weather and traffic data. So if there were snow or ice forecast or an event that was causing traffic, the alarm would wake you up earlier to account for that.

Carter hopes that the teams at the NASA event will come up with similarly creative ideas for solving more difficult problems involving data and space travel. For IBM, it’s also really an attempt to lure more developers to its cloud development tools.

The NASA-IBM link goes back years to the Apollo space program when the two companies worked together to helped land a man on the moon, Carter explained.

NASA was not available to comment for this article.