Dr. Lowrey presents her Deployable Greenhouse

What do you do when you’re one of under 85 cities worldwide selected to participate in a NASA-led weekend-long event that has to take place on the weekend of Thunder Over Louisville?

Well, you expect a smaller turnout and hope that those who do show up will do you proud.

At least that’s what Dr. Valerie Wheat of Jefferson Community and Technical College, the Louisville organizer for the local SpaceApps challenge, had to go on.

And luckily, while only a total of ten people attended the three-day-hackathon, it did turn out that those who did show up were go-getters.

This year was the second annual Space Apps Challenge, which is an international mass-collaboration focused on space exploration. The event embraces collaborative problem solving with a goal of producing relevant open-source solutions to problems using open-source data supplied by NASA and other international and national agencies. These solutions are meant to improve quality of life or address problems on earth and in space. Space Apps levied 58 challenges to participants who were encouraged to work locally and to collaborate nationally and internationally to create answers to these challenges.

On an international scale, the event was a huge success. From the Space Apps Challenge blog:

This weekend, more then 9,000 people and 484 organizations from around the world came together in 83 cities across 44 countries, as well as online, to engage directly with NASA at the largest hackathon ever held. In just 83 total hours, we collectively tackled the 58 challenges by developing awe-inspiring software, buiding jaw-dropping hardware, and creating stunning data visualizations that together resulted in one giant leap towards improving life on Earth and life in space. After the dust settled, an impressive 750+ solutions were submitted.

The Louisville event fielded two solutions, both of which will be submitted to NASA for further consideration for prizes and grants. While neither team took their product all the way to beta, both teams intend to keep working on their project and to create a functioning prototype.

The NASA Falling Star Finder team included Dan Bowen, Mark Barczak and Bethany Morse. They designed an app that would allow citizen scientists (or just ordinary people) to capture photos of the night sky, find falling stars in those photos, align those photos with star maps and then upload that data. That data will then be matched with other uploaded data from the same area at the same time to give scientists an exact location and trajectory of the meteor.

The second team used the basic structure of the Mars Curiosity Rover and used those blueprints to create a Deployable Greenhouse for the moon (or for Mars). According to Professor Kathy Lowrey, biology professor at Jefferson Community and Technical College, one of the biggest obstacles to launching manned missions to Mars (or the moon) is the problem of consumables. Science fiction books and movies suggest that the answer is to terraform planets, which is just not practical, she says, on the grand scale. But a Deployable Greenhouse that could be sent to the planet as many as 5 years in advance of humanity could create a fairly sizable terraformed plot of land that could possible sustain agriculture, clean the air and recirculate water.

The event took place at the JCTC Health Sciences Auditorium on Chestnut St. between First and Second. Dr. Wheat was the event coordinator and Richard Meadows of Louisville Tech Tutor assisted.

At the kick-off on Friday, the participants heard from Dr. Tony Newberry, the President of JCTC, and from Grechen Huebner from Kodable.

Huebner and I served as “honorary judges” for the Sunday evening presentations.

Insider Louisville will be sure to keep you posted if either solution moves into prototype or advances in the NASA competition. Plans are already in the works for the third annual International Space Apps competition. Wheat and Meadows say they’re happy to host again, but will probably pass if the event falls on Thunder– or worse, Derby– weekend 2014.