Designing Apps for Astronauts and Chicken Farmers

NASA announces the winners of its International Space Apps Challenge.

In April, NASA hosted a weekend hackathon with an interesting mission. The International Space Apps Challenge, in its second year, asked over 9,000 participants to address one of over 50 "challenges" developed by NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other agencies around the world.

From these ideas, which ranged from visualizing space station location data to designing a greenhouse, NASA selected six winners.

There are prizes, although that isn't the thrust of the project. "We really see a big difference between collaboration and competition," says Nicholas Skytland, Program Manager for NASA's Open Innovation Program. "That's why we don't have a $10,000 purse for winning the event."

Instead, each winning team will receive tickets to the Mars mission launch slated for November, and can send one member to flight training at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center in Pennsylvania.

Here are the six winners (not all are available yet on app stores):

Sol from Kansas City, Missouri won "Best Use of Data." The iPhone app, available here, toggles between the weather on earth and weather on Mars.

Screenshots from the Sol app on the iPhone.

ISS Base Station from Philadelphia tracks the location of the International Space Station via a web and iOS app (the mobile version has the added bonus of augmented reality icon), as well as a physical robotic arrow that points to the station as it moves across the sky, built using the building toys K'NEX. It uses data from NASA's Spot the Station website.

T-10 from London won "Most Inspiring" for its app that tracks the location of astronauts on the space station, and sends them alerts when they are near a location on earth they want to photograph. The app also tracks the station from earth, alerting those back home when it is passing overhead, while telling astronauts how many people on earth are "waiting to wave" (the app's lingo for those waiting to see the space station from the ground).

NASA Greener Cities Project, created by a team from Gothenburg, Sweden, crowdsources data from soil and air quality sensors, with a goal to strengthen urban gardening. The project won "Galactic Impact." Their challenge involved exploring and visualizing data from existing sensor data, inspired by the United Kingdom Birmingham Urban Climate Lab's sensor network.

Popeye on Mars won "Best Mission Concept" for their design of a greenhouse, complete with solar panels, to grow spinach on Mars. 

ChicksBook from Sofia, Bulgaria won "People's Choice," a category voted on via Twitter. The app (web version here), addressing a challenge from the USDA, features training lessons for raising backyard chickens, as well as tools to guide your own farm, such as when to feed your chickens or collect the eggs.

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