"We make our world significant by the courage of our questions, and by the depth of our answers." Carl Sagan
The questions are what drew me in to the first codeathon-type event that I ever attended. We started with a handful of short briefings that seemed to spin off more thoughts and questions by the minute. How can we get better information into the hands of people more quickly? How can we make government legislation more accessible to citizens? How can we better support small, local non-profits in their efforts to do good? How can data from space change the way we make decisions on Earth?
We talked about these issues constantly as we begin to sketch out solutions, and questions led to more questions. How do people really get their information? How can governments engage their citizens more effectively? What motivates people to give or to get involved? How can we mine huge amounts of data and make it tangible? What else should we be looking for, out there beyond the stars?
It was terrifically inspiring. I was surrounded by a diverse group of people who were there because they wanted to be there. They believed in what we were doing, which was each contributing our individual skills and experience to the greater good. We stayed up, we dug deeper, we kept after it.
As we continue to prepare for the International Space Apps Challenge, it’s the challenge development that continues to make me so excited. NASA and other agencies pull down a nearly incomprehensible amount of earth observation data every day. We have unbelievable lessons learned from more than fifty years of human spaceflight. Communities all over the world have specific technology and development needs – while others have technology and development resources and experiences. We all have dreams that we are not yet able to accomplish. What if those intersected? What could we do together?
The best challenges start as specific questions that get strengthened by background, data, and requirements - and create space for concrete solutions and applications. Some of the questions we will ask are very concrete, some are very open-ended. Most will offer opportunities to apply, expand, or make accessible specific datasets – and allow that dataset to inform a collaboration. An initial set of challenges has been posted, and we will continue to add more as the Apps Challenge approaches, but they should grow and expand as the community processes and shapes them – even before we ever come to the event and start to build.
On the first night of that first codeathon, I saw this quote from Herb Kelleher posted on the wall: “We have a strategic plan, it’s called DOING THINGS.” And that’s the key to what’s going to happen at the Apps Challenge: we’re in this to do things. We’re in this to make things. We’re in this because we believe that the questions that motivate us to explore space can change the way we live here on Earth and the way the next generation will continue to explore, and we’re ready to see where that takes us.
What are your ideas? Come and share them - the Challenge starts now. Read the posted challenges, put your fingerprints on them, and let that create more questions. Engage with others from different perspectives, and we’ll see what just might become possible.