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Diverse Skills, Backgrounds Converge for Space Apps Challenge
2013 Space Apps Challenge winners

Image above: From left, are Mike King, Jamie Szafran, Jessica King and Pat Starace, the winners of the 2013 International Space Apps Challenge for their Deployable Independent Greenhouse System concept. Photo credit: NASA/Charisse Nahser
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2013 Space Apps Challenge participants

Image above: 2013 International Space Apps Challenge participants spent more than 24 hours brainstorming and developing their challenge concepts at Kennedy Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Charisse Nahser
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Astronauts traveling to an asteroid near the moon, to Mars or other near-Earth locations may have a stop off point to gather fresh fruits and vegetables to sustain them during their space voyage.

A design concept for a space-based greenhouse called the Deployable Independent Greenhouse System, or DIGS, which could be stationed near the moon, was selected as the top winner of the 2013 International Space Apps Challenge (ISAC) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It also received "People's Choice" recognition. The event was part of the worldwide ISAC on April 20 and 21.

The event, held at the Center for Space Education at Kennedy's visitor complex, brought NASA engineers and scientists together with 21 professionals and students from a variety of non-NASA backgrounds to solve challenges relevant to improving life on Earth and in space. Kennedy was the first-ever NASA center to host the challenge.

Worldwide, more than 9,000 people and 484 organizations came together in 83 cities across 44 countries, as well as online, to participate. When the event came to an end on Sunday afternoon, there were more than 750 solutions submitted for 58 challenges.

Kennedy's winning presentation in the Deployable Greenhouse challenge came from a group of people with different backgrounds and interests in space exploration: Jamie Szafran, a developer in Launch Control Systems Project in the Ground Systems Development and Operation Program; Jessica King, an employee from Valencia College; Pat Starace, an animator and mobile application developer from Orlando; and Mike King, an audiovisual design engineer from Orlando, brainstormed and collaborated with others online and a Kennedy subject-matter expert on the greenhouse design. They also analyzed how it would be deployed into space before presenting their concept to a panel of three judges.

The first-place winners at Kennedy will have the opportunity to return to the center to view a launch.

"We designed a greenhouse for astronauts traveling to the moon, Mars or near-Earth objects to collect fresh produce," Szafran said. "We were under quite a bit of time constraint with about 23 hours to do the work, so it was exciting. It feels great to win."

Caley Burke, an engineer in the Launch Services Program and coordinator of Kennedy's event, said the Space Apps Challenge brings participants with diverse skills and backgrounds together, across the world, to develop new ways of solving challenges that NASA faces today.

"People from all walks of life with a passion for space were given the opportunity to 'work for NASA' for the weekend, whether they were in Nairobi, Kenya, on their couch at home, or next to an operational rocket launch center," Burke said. "Their solutions may revolutionize how NASA approaches a challenge."

Three other teams at Kennedy worked on other challenges, including Kennedy Space Center Spaceport 2040, Seven Minutes of Science, and Moonville – Lunar Industry Game.

The Seven Minutes of Science challenge team was named the runner-up. Kennedy's winner and runner-up entries will go on to the Global competition, where the Best in Class will be announced on May 22.

Dr. Phil Metzger, a physicist at Kennedy's Swampworks, and Tracy Gill, of the Research and Technology office of Kennedy's Center Planning and Development Directorate, were among five subject-matter experts who met with Kennedy participants and answered questions that helped guide them in their selected challenge topics. They also communicated with participants virtually around the world.

"It was exciting to be a part of this event," Metzger said. "I'm a strong believer in crowd sourcing because we've benefitted from the Lunabotics Mining Competition, which is another crowd-sourcing competition."

Gill said he likes meeting and talking with people from outside NASA.

Brandon Morel, a private citizen from Orlando, and Samantha Messer, a private citizen from Jacksonville, worked on the Kennedy Space Center Spaceport 2040 challenge. They traveled to Kennedy to participate in the challenge because of their interest in the future of space travel.

"When will I ever again have this unique opportunity to share my ideas about the space center of the future?" Morel said.

"This topic is relevant to us as residents of Florida," Messer commented.

The judges panel included Luke Roberson from Kennedy's Engineering Directorate; Robert Hubbard, business development manager in Kennedy's Center Planning and Development Directorate; and Sean Mondesire, from A Little Evil Technology in Orlando.

Hubbard said he was very impressed with the challenge and the professionalism of all of the participants.

A summary of all projects for Kennedy challenges will be reviewed by teams from the center and ideas from the projects will be shared with Kennedy management to consider as potential center and project improvements. The management team will review the concepts and evaluate them to determine if implementation is possible.

For more information about the Space Apps Challenge held at Kennedy, visit http://spaceappsksc.tumblr.com.

For more information at the International Space Apps Challenge, visit http://spaceappschallenge.org.

Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center