Well, probably not you, the person reading this—unless you know how to code—but the point is that NASA is increasingly asking for help from (ordinary) people outside of its organization. I have posted previously about the commercialization of the space industry, and competitions such as the one NASA has just started are one aspect of this. Similar in motive to the X Prize Foundation (which includes the Google Lunar XPRIZE that some Penn State students are taking part in), NASA is relying on monetary incentive and competition as a way to produce results. In opening their contest to anyone, furthermore, NASA is increasing the brainpower contributing to this issue.
NASA is launching an Asteroid Data Hunting contest series that will take place over the next six months, with prizes totaling $35,000. In this case, they are looking for a better code to identify asteroids that might crash into Earth. (There are more specifics on what exactly they’re looking for in a code; feel free to do more research if you’re interested.) Come up with such an algorithm, and you will be rewarded.
This contest series is only the first of several to come in NASA “Asteroid Grand Challenge,” so expect more challenges (and prizes) to be made public soon.
A BBC article about NASA’s contest mentions a site called Zooniverse, which is a leading online platform for “citizen scientists.” Virtually anybody can go online and help out with different projects. I checked out the website, and it’s actually really cool. The projects are diverse, and range from sorting sunspots to analyzing cancer cells (which is what I did—give it a try!). The nice thing is that there’s not a minimum time commitment. You can go on and work through 5 minutes of data and be done, or you can be much more involved if you want. A member of Zooniverse, Robert Simpson, made some pretty good points about this topic. He explains, “Computers don’t have curiosity. People often find things in the data that computers can’t.” Furthermore, because “We are creating these huge data sets but we don’t have enough scientists to analyse them,” creating forums and competitions for everyday citizens who are passionate about science is beneficial to everyone.
Looking back on the more extreme competitions (rather than an online platform like Zooniverse), what are your thoughts? Are they worthwhile for the companies sponsoring them? How about for the participants? (Keep in mind the input to output ratio. The amount of money the winning team of the Lunar XPRIZE will spend, for example, will definitely be more than the amount of money they win—and that’s only looking at the winning team.)
In other news, the three members of Expedition 37/38 safely landed in Kazakhstan on March 10th after spending six months aboard the International Space Station. Welcome home!
— NASA (@NASA) March 11, 2014