Space Apps NYC Next Gen: A High School Hackathon Out of This World

What real world scientific challenges can a diverse group of 130+ high school students solve at a NASA hackathon in 24 hours at LMHQ in NYC?

Kick-off of Day 1 at Space Apps NYC Next Gen at LMHQ

Welcome to the #SpaceAppsNextGen liveblog!

The event brings together and exposes 150+ students to the powerful fusion of data and programming with science, tapping their potential to solve the problems of tomorrow.

Keynote and Kick-Off

George Sivulka, Space Apps NYC Next Gen founder and lead organizer

Launching Space Apps NYC Next Gen was an introduction from George Sivulka, high school student, founder and lead organizer of the event. In the spring, George was an attendee of Space Apps NYC, part of NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge, the largest hackathon in the world. For a long time he had wanted to produce a hackathon but didn’t know what it could be, he just knew he wanted people to create cool things.

A lot of high schoolers have been winning collegiate hackathons and as an intern with NASA, he wanted to show off the talent of his peers. After Space Apps NYC, he knew a high school level space hackathon was what he wanted to do. “Data science, science, computer science and tech; the fusion of computer programming and space science inspired me and there wasn’t enough of that going on.” George explained.

This hackathon brings together diverse populations to learn, collaborate, and engage with publicly available data to solve real world scientific challenges.

NYC Leading Innovation

The room, filled with nearly 50% girls in attendance, listened attentively as she described one of the many characteristics that makes NYC a leader in innovation: NY is home to the most women founders in tech.

With a long personal history of helping people by building machines, at a very young age Minerva became a computer scientist and never looked back. She was a junior in college when she started her first company in artificial intelligence, trying to teach a computer how to speak and understand the english language.

Minerva Tantoco, New York City’s Chief Technology Officer and Head of the Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation

In 1985, no one knew what artificial intelligence was nor were they doing start-ups and she had to go her own way. Her parents let her leave college to start her company if she promised them she would go back. Eventually she finished, and then went back to her start-up where she sold the company five years later.

Despite resistance to cutting edge ideas, she persevered because she believed in the solution. “Don’t be discouraged if someone tells you it’s never been done before,” she coached the students. “The fact that something doesn’t exist shouldn’t be a barrier, but an opportunity. You may be the first one to do it.”

Continuing to inspire, she shared that the best thing about a career in tech is the incredible community of support and collaboration that’s being built in the room today. “Look around you, keep in touch, build those relationships, together all of you are going to build our future.”

Wow. What a great way to kick-off the hackathon. And as if that wasn’t enough, her closing statement and mission for the students this weekend:

“You have permission to dream big.” — Minerva Tantoco, New York City’s CTO and Head of the Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation

Hacking Challenges

For the hackathon NASA provided three challenge areas to focus on:

Data Treasure Hunting — create an app, data aggregator, or clever visualization of open NASA data in a meaningful way to educate and involve the public with the trends and information NASA has collected. Use open data to map clean water, changes in forest cover, global temperature averages, airburst threats, asteroid locations in our solar system, or any other interesting visualization one can develop with NASA’s extensive datasets. Be creative!

NASA Earth Observations Data

Sensor Yourself — Build something that can allow robots or astronauts to navigate through a potentially hazardous obstacle course relying solely on sensor data. Put together a stream of applicable sensor data of your choice to guide forward movement or gauge when to stop based on danger or impediments. Feel free to attach other sensors onto an autonomous robot or astronaut guide to collect data from environments like the International Space Station.

Robotic Sensors
Passive and Active Sensors
International Space Station SPHERES-Zero-Robotics Experiment

Create Your Own — Have an idea for an app or game that can educate and engage the public with NASA’s mission and promote civilian science? Are you interested in developing an interactive tool to leverage NASA audio files from space missions in new and innovative ways? Do you want to develop a new type of 3D printed space food? As long as it relates to space science or is an innovative solution to a problem your team can solve, create your own ‘Space App’!

Geosciences Node of NASA’s Planetary Data System (PDS)
NASA’s Audio Archives
NASA’s 3D Printing Repository

Additional tech goodies for use:
- Access to Wolfram API
- TreeHouse gave out free trial periods for computer science class
- And! There’s lots of hardware to play with and 3D printers are available

Guiding Light: Advisors and Mentors

Chris Metcalf, Director of Developer Experience at Socrata. Photo cred: Oliver Belanger

Chris Metcalf, Director of Developer Experience for Socrata introduced the first challenge of Data Treasure Hunting, offering help with where to find the data, and how to use Socrata to do it.

At Socrata, Chris shared, they believe if people have access to info about their communities they can make better decisions. And to that end, if anyone needs help this weekend, he’s here to give it!

Helpful links shared by Chris:
- Developer Portal:
- Sample App: (Not) Asteroids!
- IRC chat:
- Stack Overflow: soda or Socrata
(also found in his presentation on Socrata APIs here)

Cassidy Williams is in the house from Clarifai, providing a worldclass visual recognition system. She’ll be around to help kids leverage advance image recognition for their builds.

Then yours truly, that’s Jeanne Brooks, Director of Global Communities with DataKind and organizer from Space Apps NYC, set the stage for leveraging data for good by sharing a bit about what we do at DataKind, leveraging data science in the service of humanity. I stressed the importance of an inclusive environment in the technology space. One where everyone’s skills at the table are valued. This vision is critical to ensuring that no one gets left behind and that with diverse voices as part of the technology experience, we can be building better solutions with greater impact and efficiency.

Closing the intros was Justin Brezhnev from Hacker Fund where they partner with schools and community organizations to support hackathons.

Justin Brezhnev, a founder of Hacker Fund

They’ve been a HUGE support to Space Apps NYC Next Gen, helping them with mentors and organizing sponsors and supporters. “For those about to hack, we salute you!” cheered Justin.

And the hacking begins!

// | \\

Workshops: Learning Code, Data & APIs!

  • Intro to HTML & CSS Workshop by Cassidy Williams
  • Introduction to Web APIs by Camryn Williams
  • Intro to Working with Data APIs by Socrata’s Chris Metcalf
  • Intro to Data Analysis with Python by Charles Summers and Oliver Belanger
  • Sunday morning pitch session with Hacker Fund’s Justin Brezhnev

Dinner Time!!

Student hackers wait in line to be served dinner

Feeding hungry hackers. Students lined up for a warm, healthy meal to help fuel them through the night.


Jeanne Brooks leads an evening standing check-in with all of the teams. Photo cred: Chris Metcalf

After dinner the teams all came together for a stand-up at approximately the half-way point of the hackathon. The standing meeting was a rapid fire check-in where each team shares their team name if they had one yet, a brief description of their project and a call for help on anything that’s blocking them.

With construction happening in the area and internet outages and reductions across the entire city block, all day LMHQ had been suffering from limited internet bandwidth. While lack of internet was by far the biggest complaint, a few of the teams were also looking for help with various programming languages as well as the Google Maps and Google Earth APIs. “You can’t always get internet on Mars,” I quipped, “so we’ll have to build the best we can with the constraints we have.”

Here’s a quick list of the projects as they currently stand:

  • Carvest: iOS app carbon footprint calculator for different household appliances per year
  • BoomKing: Game using Google Cardboard to travel through space and dodge asteroids, you are on a planet when you die
  • Team West (yes, as in Kayne): imgur for space-related memes
  • The Hive: Drone that gathers information
  • French Toast Mafia: Show how your area has changed by celestial events
  • Team Esther: Identify the planet in a picture you’ve taken
  • Xx_Quickscopers_xX: Notifications of celestial events near you
  • Meme Team: Show radiation over time
  • Open Source: Trivia app on climate change
  • No Name: Heat maps for different forms of data
  • Team AFSE: Location-based discovery of NASA activity
  • Team Princesses: Website of interactive space games
  • No Name Too: Map to see where meteorites hit and notify you
  • Team Penguin: Map that displays ozone and aerosol data
  • Apricot, Broccoli, Carrot, Durian: Take data from maps to show changes of ozone, vegetation due to meteors
  • Odyssey: Operation Prometheus: compare earth to other planets
  • Team Asteria: Uses location to find nearby shooting stars
  • Martius: Education module to help users learn about Mars with maps and open weather data
  • Team SSB: Pebble app, text-based RPG
  • Sundecided: Take a picture of your skin to make recommendations about your burn and sun care instructions
  • Team Horsey: Chose your own adventure education game based on Apollo missions
  • Learn to Launch: Game where you pretend to be NASA and launch a rocket ship with limited funds and need to upgrade your ship to land on different planets
  • Flaming Pink Unicorns: An app that calculates how likely your home with be hit by a meteorite and top ten meteorite hotspots
  • Team YDU: Android game based on rocket launches achieving new heights and connected to earned funds

Goodnight, Moon

Sleeping student hackers. Photo cred: Chris Metcalf

But not everyone slept. A bunch of the students gathered at 2am for a Stackathon where each team gets a certain amount of cups that they have to stack within 2 mins, whoever gets the highest stack wins.

Stackathon victory! Photo cred: Chris Metcalf
The winner’s take down! Video cred: Chris Metcalf

And then deep into the night, around 4am a Rap Battle happened. Rap Battle, powered by Moxtra, picked 10 computer science related key words and each player had to pick 7 and fit them in a rap.

Space Apps NYC Next Gen Team and Supporters

The first Space Apps NYC Next Gen Team. (from left to right): Stephen Utley, Joseph Fulgieri, Grace Zhang, Max Maleno, Olivia Ross, George Sivulka, Edmon Berry, Drew Rosowicz, Rachel Friedman

The inaugural team credits:

  • George Sivulka, founder and lead organizer
  • Olivia Ross, co-organizer
  • Drew Rosowicz, outreach and sponsorships
  • Joseph Fulgieri, event logistics
  • Max Maleno, sponsorships and registration
  • Chariyu Jain, 3D printing director
  • Stephen Utley, peer mentorship and logistics
  • Edmon Berry, peer mentorship and general support
  • Sejal Jain, peer mentorship and general support
  • Rachel Friedman, general support
  • Grace Zhang, peer mentorship

Special thanks to the generous support and partnership from the following partners:

With the event hosted in partnership with the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation and Hacker Fund and Jeanne Brooks as advisor from the Space Apps NYC community.

Final Projects and Judging

Group photo of student hackers at Space Apps NYC Next Gen

All student projects had to be submitted to DevPost by noon and each group setup a science fair style station for the judges to review their work. Incredible thoughtfulness, creativity and problem solving went into each and every project. It’s exciting to see what the students were able to accomplish in less than 30 hours.

The judges went around to each station, reviewing all 25 projects that were created over the weekend. From there, it was narrowed down to the judges selections and a presentation in the auditorium.

The following were the judges for the Space Apps NYC Next Gen Hackathon:

  • Jillian Bellovardy, American Museum of Natural History
  • Danielle Gervalis, NASA
  • Aaron Jorbin, Wordpress & Conde Nast
  • Chris Metcalf, Socrata
  • Cassidy Williams, Clarifai

And now, drum roll please! It’s time for the top projects!

Honorable mentions:
- French Toast Mafia, a web app that makes NASA data more accessible starting by visualizing meteors and fireballs over the last 7 years
- Sundecided, a tool that gives you UV radiation exposure in your area and offers recommendations for sun protection based on your location and skin tone

Sensor Yourself:
Winner: Dodgebot
A car with obstable avoidance, where it sees the obstacle and maneuvers around it

Create Your Own:
Winner: Learn to Launch!
A game that sends a rocket to space, compares budget with your goal, your target distance, gravity and temperature resistance. This game is meant to help motivate people to learn something

Honorable mentions:
Flyby, a paradigm shifting space exploration VR experience on Google Cardboard

New Hackers Prize:
Winner: Team Open Source created CC Trvia,
A trivia game to teach everyone around the world about climate change and how it impacts all of us

Collage of the winning teams. Photo cred: Chris Metcalf

Congratulations to ALL of this weekend’s space hackers! Fantastic work to everyone involved. The future is bright with these fine hackers leading the way.

Founder and CEO, @viragofutures ✨conscious business consulting and leadership coaching

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