My Space Apps 2021 Hackathon Experience

November 06, 2021

My October started with bang, a virtual explosion that is. I took the courage to join a virtual hackathon called Space Apps Challenge, organized by NASA. Thanks to my friend Mai, because through her, this event came under my radar. Upon registering for the event, I found out that I actually signed up for last year's event, but I didn't push through. Well this time around, I'm more determined to participate.

To take the description of the event straight from the website:

The NASA International Space Apps Challenge (Space Apps) is an international hackathon for coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, technologists, and others in cities around the world, where teams engage the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) free and open data to address real-world problems on Earth and in space.

For one weekend each October, participants from around the world come together over a 48-hour period to solve challenges submitted by NASA personnel. After the hackathon, project submissions are judged by space agency experts and winners are selected for one of 10 Global Awards.

Space Apps introduces problem-solvers worldwide to NASA’s free and open data. By using NASA data to solve each year’s challenges, Space Apps teams learn about NASA’s data, and share in the creation and application of the knowledge that results.

Space Apps also inspires collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Our mission is to leverage this interest to encourage the growth and diversity of the next generation of scientists, technologists, designers, storytellers, and engineers.

Over the course of two days over the weekend, teams all over the world worked on coming up with a solution from the list of challenges presented by the Space Apps team. The best part of this was: anyone can join! And since it's all done virtually this year, it's even easier to participate.

My Team 🀼
I didn't have anyone in my circle of friends who I knew were interested to join, but I still went for it. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to meet new people who are interested in astronomy, too! πŸ”­ The Space Apps team in Manila held a Zoom meeting to gather participants and team them up with others who still needed additional members in their team (six is the maximum size of a team). Through the Zoom meeting and the chat website, I met my teammates. 

For the first time (in a while), I became the leader of that team. My teammates were junior high students! It was all new to me because I don't interact with this age group that often. These kids were so exceptional. They are very tech savvy (we had Discord as our medium for our chat) and very well versed with our chosen challenge (more of that below). My role in the team was like a project manager. Thanks to my past experiences with hackathons, a full-working prototype is most of the time not possible in a two-day hackathon. It's more about conceptualizing, not actual coding. We worked more on the architecture of our solution and on gauging the feasibility of implementing our solution in the real world. As much as my teammates looked up to me for expertise since I already have years of experience in the IT industry, I also relied on them for the low-level technicalities of our solution.

Our Challenge πŸš€
The challenge that we chose to solve was -- THE TRAIL TO MARS: CAN YOU KEEP YOUR CREW ALIVE. It was the easiest for me to grasp, honestly. As much as I was interested in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, I felt like I would be able to contribute most on this one, and it matched well with the qualifications of the team.

Our Solution πŸ’‘
I am proud with what we have come up with during the hackathon. I think we have explained well what we wanted to achieve through the game that we have come up with as a solution for the challenge.

My Takeaways πŸ₯‡
It's all about the journey, not the destination. Literally, this was the focus of our challenge: figuring out how humans will survive the space travel to Mars. But with the course of the hackathon, the same principle applied. I really enjoyed my interaction with these brilliant students, from our brainstorming sessions to the actual execution of each of our tasks. I appreciated the teamwork that we had even though we all interacted remotely. Up to the last hour of the hackathon, wherein we were cramming to complete the requirements to be submitted, I felt that oh-so-familiar adrenaline rush in chasing the goal at hand. Yes, it was a stressful period, but I would choose to experience it all over again because all the learnings gained are all worth it. It's a little bit sad on the part that I wasn't able to meet these students in real life, but I know for sure that this was also an exceptional experience for them.

my virtual souvenir from the event

My interest in astronomy was reignited because of this event. Now I'm consuming more NASA content than before. πŸ€“ You know what, I hope that I would still be alive when the human race finally sets foot on the red planet. I would then reminisce back to this time that we conceptualized a game to strategize their trip there. I cannot wait for that time to come.

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