In the Center of the Lagoon Nebula. Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA – Processing & Licence: Judy Schmidt
Last fall, while I was out visiting Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, I took my Friday night and went to see Interstellar by myself (I’m hip like that). I came away both newly inspired in humanity’s potential to strike beyond the planet we were born upon, and reinvigorated to advance our technology and our behavior to keep this planet inhabitable.
If civic tech is the application of newly emergent opportunities to address shared challenges, then this weekend’s Space Apps Challenge fits the bill. NASA, NOAA, their international peers, and an increasingly exciting constellation of private tech startups working in outer space confront challenges that affect us not as individuals, or even as nations, but as an entire species. There’s anthropogenic climate change, solar flares, and a solar system full of asteroids to avoid. Not to mention those pesky questions of “How’d we get here?” and “Are we alone?” This weekend in NYC, we’ll look outward, towards improving our understanding of the universe and our long-term chances of survival. We’ll also look back upon ourselves to help us navigate the challenges of the present.
The festival and hackathon challenge will take place in Microsoft’s beautiful Times Square offices, thanks to our colleagues there and partners like the New York Tech Council and StartupBus NYC. The Space Apps Challenge is also, appropriately, a global event, involving teams of technologists, scientists, designers, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, developers, students, and anyone else interested in space exploration in over 130 countries across the world. Thanks to Skype, we’ll stream the NYC flagship event here, so you can join us wherever you are on this pale, blue dot. You can also register for local events all over the planet.
The Space Apps NYC team has recruited an incredible speaker lineup that includes several NASA representatives and astronauts. Among them is our guest, Victor Luo, of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who most recently helped launch one of the first holographic augmented reality apps, OnSight, for Microsoft’s HoloLens. The app allows scientists and HoloLens wearers to work virtually on Mars from wherever they stand, and is, in my humble opinion, incredibly cool:
We’re fortunate to have more brains taking atmospheric and intergalactic challenges from a wider variety of backgrounds than we did in previous decades. This Friday, before the weekend kicks off, our friends at Civic Hall will host a pre-event Space Apps Data Boot Camp:
[A]n opportunity for individuals interested in participating in hackathons to get their feet wet using skills and resources that will help them to engage productively as project team members at a hackathon, as well as to gain a better understanding of how the existing skills and perspectives they bring to the table can be an asset to their project teams. In keeping with NASA’s focus on Women in Data for the 2015 Space Apps Challenge, the Space Apps Data Bootcamp will be led by many exceptional women making an impact on the world through their engagement with data. [Register here]
It’s not always obvious, but much of NASA’s mission, and the work of the space sector, broadly, concerns satellite technology trained back on us (like an array of extremely powerful mirrors). That includes atmospheric monitoring, surveillance, locational positioning systems like GPS, and real-time imagery useful for planning and also disaster response. At our disposal are the most cameras, accessible ranges of visible and invisible light, and sheer data that humanity’s ever had available. That’s a lot of material to work with this weekend. To infinity, and beyond!