Nasa Space Apps Challenge — TEENS Taking on the Challenges of Space

Acorn Aspirations
5 min readOct 21, 2018

Last weekend we partnered with Microsoft and Space Apps Challenge to host the 2018 NASA International Space Apps Challenge @MSFTreactor, the only location in the world which is hosting the hackathon for teenagers.

The Space Apps Challenge is an international event that occurs over 48 hours in cities around the globe. Coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, technologists and space enthusiasts come together to address challenges we face on Earth and in space. This was the first ever event open to teens.

Almost 70 teens aged 10 to 18 had a chance to mentored by specialists in AI, Machine Learning, Data Science, Marketing and Design Thinking, and be competing against other space tech enthusiasts across the globe.

The theme of this year’s challenge is Earth and Space, and the six challenge categories are:

  • Can You Build a…? The challenge in this category will ask contestants to use NASA data to show how to create a variety of things from buildings, to robotic helpers, to tools for citizen science.
  • Help Others Discover the Earth. Participants will use NASA data to craft a story, game, video or other solution that helps people discover how Earth works.
  • Volcanoes, Icebergs and Asteroids. Contestants in this category will be challenged to analyze NASA data to help anticipate, monitor and recover from natural surprises or disasters, such as damaging floods.
  • What the World Needs Now Is… Members in this category will tackle problems affecting some aspect of life on Earth and on other planets.
  • An Icy Glare. This challenge category will ask participants to use NASA data to better understand, monitor and interpret Earth’s cryosphere (sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets and frozen ground).
  • A Universe of Beauty and Wonder. Contestants in this category are invited to think about space science and exploration.

Day one began with an introduction by Elena, who has just returned from our #girlsinaiSF hackathon in San Francisco. She talked about the importance of empowering young people into solving real problems from an early age as it is the young people who will be shaping the world of tomorrow.

“The time is right to engage young people into doing innovation in space technology using Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, and we are delighted to be working with NASA Space Apps Challenge to fulfil this mission. It is really important to ignite young people’s imagination, to further innovative solutions in response to current problems using data provided by NASA.”

The morning continued with Raju Sonawane, Head of Distribution Transformation, Innovation and Initiation at M&G Investments. He took the teams through a design thinking workshop where they first picked the challenge they want to tackle which varied from ‘making sense out of Mars’ to ‘spot that fire!’. They then worked on their solutions and ended the workshop by each team pitching their solution in 1 minute.

Mandy Sanghera, Human rights activist, motivational speaker, and government advisor, joined us to speak about UN Sustainable Goals and the importance of young people getting involved, trying to solve the world’s problems with technology.

We then had an API workshop led by Arman (15) and Sebastian (14). They introduced the basics of APIs including what they are and how they can be applied. This enabled the teams to use them in their projects and understand how NASA data sets can be applied to solve the challenges chosen by the teams.

We finished the day with Daniil Sourianos, Winner of NASA Space Apps Challenge 2017 who spoke about his experience and how him and his team won the challenge last year with NestFold the winner of People’s Choice award for #SpaceApps2017

The following products were developed by teens in 2 days:

  • Prepear — An app to help people prepare for natural disasters
  • Pyrot — an app to help people to escape wildfires as fast as possible.
  • Bouncy Hubble — 2d game that involves using images from the Hubble Space Telescope for entertainment and learning
  • Happy-Air- a quiet multi-functional machine that cleans your air, but also clears it of all potential triggers for an allergy attack.
  • SpotAFire — an AI-powered application that enables users to incorporate crowdsourcing technology to inform others about wildfires in their area, without requiring wifi.
  • Mission to the moon- A base on the moon
  • IntuSpace — a mobile app that allows people with an interest in space and rocket launches, to plan trips to see a rocket launch take place in person.
  • Volant — Space Free-flyer
  • Green Launches — A website that tracks rocket launches and shows their effect on the Ozone layer.
  • MartianHealth (MHS) — Martian Health is a wearable device that contains sensors to measure radiation levels, oxygen levels, blood pressure, temperature. It will alert user of dangerous levels and send coordinates of user to nearest shelter/ station in Mars.
  • Wild Fire Insights — A crowd sourcing tool to get early warnings of wildfires

Can a group of teens make finalists?

Elena Sinel, Founder of Acorn Aspirations who has run 18 similar events for teens in the past, is confident that with help of workshops and the knowledge of expert mentors available at hand, they will have a good chance of doing so.

The winning teams SpotAFire and Otter Space have been nominated for Global Judging, whilst other teams received NOVA DIY AI Robots, Lunch & Tour of Microsoft HQ, London, one month in residence at the Microsoft for Startups Accelerator, tech mentoring sessions and lunch at Twitter.

This event is took place at the Microsoft Reactor in London, teens submissions can be viewed on Space Apps Challenges site:

London judges include​:

Galiya Warrier, Data Solution Architect, Microsoft; Kate Rosenshine, Data and AI, Microsoft; Gen Ashley, Director of Women Who Code, Peter Bloomfield, AI and Machine Learning Policy and Engagement Manager at Digital Catapult, Eleanor Harding, Product Designer, Twitter.

Originally published at Acorn Aspirations.



Acorn Aspirations

Powering the Next Generation of Thought Leaders, Innovators and Technologists in #AI @teensinai #TeensInAI #GirlsinAI #MCStartup2016 Founder @elenasinel