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Hacking the Universe

Hacking the Universe


by Dot CannonDoug Wheelock

“If you can fix the bathroom on a spaceship, you’re like King of the Universe,” said astronaut Douglas Wheelock.

Laughter rippled through the crowd gathered at Pasadena’s Cross Campus facility.  But Colonel Wheelock had even more compelling stories–of the ways he and his crew accomplished emergency repairs, during his time as commander of the International Space Station.

It was Friday morning, April 22nd, and NASA’s  second annual “Space Apps Women in Data Boot Camp” was in progress.   As an introduction to the 2016 NASA Space Apps Pasadena Challenge, the “Boot Camp” was designed to attract more women and girls to participate.  And the day was all about removing the “intimidating” factor, and bringing in the “fun” element of scientific data.

(NASA hosts its 2016 International Space Apps Challenge, one of the world’s largest international hackathons, during the weekend of April 23-24.)

Beth Beck


“I just want to show you what code is.  It’s not scary, it’s like a language,” explained NASA Open Innovation Program Manager Beth Beck.  “Today is really all about you asking the questions that you want, in a very safe environment.”

That safe environment included a morning of presentations, illustrating coding’s accessibility.

Kimberly Bryant

Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant explained that middle-school girls lose interest in science, in part, because some of them don’t even know that creating a webpage is possible.  “(In our workshops), the lightbulb moment is when they have that first webpage on their screen.  They say, ‘oh, this is easy, I can code,’” she said.

Participants in the Boot Camp would have the opportunity to get some hands-on experience, later that day.

In the afternoon, ten stations would be set up, and each table of participants had ten minutes to explore the offerings.  Then, a “countdown” announcement prompted the group to go on to the next station.sonic paper

Among the possibilities: the opportunity to code your initials in LED lights, create a paper circuit for wearables or experience how Dr. Kate Stone’s Novalia stickers incorporated sound into…paper.Dr Kate Stone1

From the ten exhibits, participants chose one on which to collaborate, for this weekend’s 2016 NASA International Space Apps Challenge, happening Saturday and Sunday.


An exciting feature of NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge?  Attendees, at this free collaboration event, come from all areas of interest.

The goal of the Space Apps Challenge: to collaborate on problem-solving, in innovative ways, with strangers, colleagues, friends and family.  Groups will use their imagination and skills to produce open-data designs for positive change.  (Past  innovations, according to Space Apps Challenge archives, have included emotion-monitoring space wearables and a “smart” chair.)

NASA’s 2016 International Space Apps Challenge happens Saturday and Sunday, April 23rd and 24th, and while the Pasadena event itself is waitlisted, a live stream is available from NASA.

challenge yourself

This reporter can’t wait to tell you about the results.

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