Four Full Sail students from the Web Design & Development program have won the People’s Choice Award at the NASA Space Apps Challenge in addition to coming in second place overall. Steve Drees, Jonathan Ortiz, Victor Cabieles, and Chris Lynch will advance to the global round of the competition this summer. The challenge includes teams from all over the world tasked with solving real problems encountered by NASA scientists. Over 25 individual problems are presented in four areas of study: Earth, Outer Space, Humans, and Robotics.
Taking on one of the Outer Space challenges, the Full Sail team decided to create Project Unknown, an interactive web application that visualizes data pertaining to certain asteroids, minor planets, and other natural satellites. Since scientists are constantly learning new things about asteroids, this content management system enables users to easily modify the data as new information becomes available. The system could help scientists better determine which asteroids contain valuable natural resources— and which ones pose a threat to earth.
Steve, Jonathan, Victor, and Chris had just 48 hours to create and submit the app to NASA. During that time, they encountered several roadblocks on the way to success.
“The problem we had with the data is that NASA uses a different file format. When you input that into a web browser it doesn’t work because of its styling, its formatting, and the way that it’s processed within the form. So we had to rewrite all 670,000 records and convert them into adjacent files,” says Victor.
Once the files were rewritten, the team set to work entering them into the database. They were immediately met with an error message saying the file type was incorrect.
“We had to redo the whole thing,” says Victor. “Later, we found out it wasn’t an incorrect file type after all. It was that the files were too big.”
Luckily, this isn’t the first time Steve, Chris, Jonathan, and Victor have worked as a team. The group has completed several other challenge type competitions during their time in the program. As a result, they’ve built up a natural camaraderie that allows them to handle stressful situations.
“We lay it out and brainstorm for a little bit, and divide the initial work. And then it comes down to trouble shooting. When you’re tired, you can say, ‘Hey, I need to step away for a minute.’ Or you can ask someone else to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. I think communication is what’s helped us the most on the challenges,” says Steve.
Heading into the next round, Chris says one of the biggest takeaways from each challenge is the experience they gain from being able to work with live data from large companies and public organizations. “It allows us get real practice and real understanding of how this data works and how we can manage it. And that’s one of the coolest things, being able to take live data and re-upload it.”
“It’s a huge confidence booster,” adds Victor. There were a lot of NASA employees actually participating in the challenge. So winning second place and then overall People’s Choice, I wasn’t expecting that at all.”