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7 Tips to Help You Win NASA's Space Apps Challenge

As you start preparing for your college academics and future career in science, boosting your profile by participating in competitions can help you stand out. These competitions will not just challenge your academic and practical knowledge, but also demonstrate your commitment and drive to prospective colleges. If you’re interested in space exploration and research, then we recommend you consider the NASA Space Apps Challenge. Space Apps is a fun and competitive hackathon-style event that tests your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and focuses on innovation, creativity, and teamwork. An international event like this is a great event to test your skills against your peers — placing in such a competition would enrich your college profile and even ensure that NASA notices you!

What is the NASA Space Apps Challenge?

Running since 2012, the NASA Space Apps Challenge is an annual hackathon-style competition that takes place around the world. It’s fairly prestigious and quite competitive — it is the largest annual hackathon in the world and has seen participation from 185+ countries in its 12-year history. The program sees 50,000+ participants and over 5,000 teams annually and selects 10 global winners, making it highly competitive.

Challenges in this competition typically cover topics in space science, technology, arts and humanities. NASA scientists and experts design challenges that include software development, astrophysics, design, storytelling, and more. Participants tackle challenges using data available from NASA’s Open Data Portal, which holds publicly available code, datasets, and APIs. Participants are usually required to develop innovative solutions to challenges both on Earth and in space.

Anyone can participate in the NASA Space Apps — people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels can apply! The challenge has no age criteria, though a parent/guardian must register participants under 18. You can register either individually or as a team on the Space Apps website. Registration is free!

Registration opens in July, and by August, NASA will publish the Challenge Statements for this year’s event that you or your team must complete. The event will take place on October 5-6, 2024. You must submit your individual/team project on these dates. During the event days, NASA experts, industry leaders, and other professionals will be available to help you navigate NASA data and answer any questions you may have. Submissions will be judged through October-December 2024, and NASA will announce the winners in January 2025. Traditionally, NASA invites the top 10 winners to visit its facilities in the U.S. 

Challenges for the 2023 edition included creating an app that lets geologists use NASA’s earth observation data to do research, shooting a video that demonstrated how the Artemis II launch affects your community, and using NASA’s imaging spectrometer data to map biodiversity hotspots.

NASA’s prize categories include local impact, global connection, best mission concept, galactic impact, best use of science, art & technology, best use of technology, most inspirational, best use of data, and best use of storytelling. You can see the 2023 winning projects here.

Now that you know how to participate, let’s get into some tips on how to ace this challenge:

  1. Plan in advance, and start working on the challenges early NASA typically publishes the challenges for the year’s competition in August. Start assembling your team early — look for peers in your school or local community who you think you would work well with and invite them to participate. Here are some tips for doing so!

  2. You can never have too much practice Refer to previous years’ challenges to familiarize yourself with the kind of questions that can be asked. Also check out the projects submitted by previous Space Apps Challenge winners to better understand what makes a winning entry. NASA also offers a virtual hackathon bootcamp that guides you to familiarize yourself with the competition. 

  3. Learn how NASA’s Open Data Portal works You need to know how to navigate the many datasets available to find what you are looking for. NASA has a presentation guide here to guide you through this process.

  4. Assemble a diverse team NASA values both STEM and humanities in this competition — make sure your team includes people with great storytelling and design capabilities to give yourselves a better shot at winning.

  5. Make the most of expert advice NASA scientists and even personnel from your national space agency will be available during the competition days to guide you and help you solve problems that may arise. Connect with them, make the most of their knowledge to gain an upper hand in the competition! 

  6. Ensure you’re using all available resources Apart from the virtual bootcamp, NASA has a Space Apps Connect Forum, which is a collaborative space for anyone in the Space Apps Challenge community to connect, share ideas, and learn from one another. Engage with peers on the forum to get ideas on the best ways to brainstorm and present your ideas. You can also consider participating in a lower stakes hackathon to get some practice! If it is your first time participating in a hackathon, explore some resources to acquaint yourself with the general format and expectations. Plenty of websites on the Internet may offer this, but the Space Apps Challenge also offers a PDF outlining this called “Navigating the Hackathon.”

  7. Preparation is key Learn how to create a Project Demo (a video presentation). One judging criteria is the participants’ ability to present a high-level summary and demo of their project, so it is important to master the skill of oral presentations early!Take some time to read up on each of the categories of the challenge, and their definitions. This way you can ensure you’re as prepared as possible for the event. Check this page, which the NASA Space Apps GO Team updates often.  Don’t forget to dedicate time to understanding the judging criteria across each phase of the competition. The official hackathon website provides a comprehensive overview into each of these on this page! 

Our Review:

In conclusion, if you are interested in science, space, innovation, and data, participating in NASA’s Space Apps Challenge is an opportunity worth considering. This competition is global, free to participate in, and an excellent way to connect with other students passionate about these subjects across the world. Given its status as the largest annual hackathon in the world, participating in (and placing in) the Space Apps Challenge will bolster your college applications and ensure admissions officers take note. There are a variety of challenges to participate in and many types of awards one could be eligible to win! Be sure to be on the lookout for information on the 2024 Challenge.

If you are passionate about conducting research in STEM, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Aisha is a student at Princeton University, studying Anthropology and Global Health. On campus, she is involved with student groups centered around health equity and cultural affinity. In her free time, she enjoys podcasting, learning languages, and trying new recipes. 

Image Source: NASA logo



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