On the weekend of the 20th/21st of April Hackerspace Adelaide hosted the local site of the NASA SpaceApps Challenge. The idea of the weekend is to explore the data that NASA collect from their satellites, rovers and probes, and try and use it in a way that makes it easier for us to connect with.
Unsurprisingly, Hackerspace regulars were peppered through three teams that formed from the attendees. After being recently inspired by Mark‘s Project Horus balloon launches, our team (Steven Pickles, Jamie Mackenzie, Steven Clark & Simon Loffler) initially started work on a disposable emergency balloon that could be launched in times of fire, flood, plane crash or natural disaster and return image and position data to aid in search and recovery efforts.
Unfortunately, with the help of Jamie’s brain full of geometric equations, we quickly calculated that an affordable solution that delivered useful data in a timely fashion just wasn’t feasible.
A few despondent looks later, it was back to the challenge page for some more inspiration.
Having watched and rather enjoyed the livestream of the Curiosity Mars rover’s descent to the surface of the red planet, I floated the idea of using some of the rover’s temperature data in the Wish You Were Here challenge.
Looking into the actual readings I quite surprised to see that the temperatures ranged from around -70C to 7C. My colour/image oriented brain assumed that a red planet meant a hot planet, how wrong it was! The next question we asked was if there was anywhere on Earth that had a similar climate, and with that Mearth was born.
Pix jumped into action parsing the XML feeds from the rover (in the end we used another group’s JSON feed) and wrote a script to pick the closest matching city on Earth from a list of 500 possible candidates. I bootstrapped a Ruby on Rails app, pushed it to Github (for collaboration) and then onto Heroku (a cloud service for the app).
A few hours and pizza/beer/coffee later, and we had a prototype.
The last requirement of the challenge was to create a video describing our project.
At the end of the day, our group and one of the other Adelaide groups Moon Settler were selected as two of the four from Australia to go into the International round of voting.
As you can probably tell, we had an awesome time at the weekend and can highly recommend participating in it next year.
Special thanks go to the Adelaide organiser Sumen Rai for such a well managed weekend, and also Nicole Bromley for volunteering her time setting up / bringing us coffee and pizza and generally being lovely and smiley.
If you like the sound of this event, perhaps you should sign up to participate in the GovHack weekend coming up – a chance to mash government data into useful visualisations and web apps: uladl.com (don’t ask why it’s called unleashed).
Get your (free) ticket here: govhack2013.eventbrite.com.au
Some more photos from the day: