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Happening this week: JSC’s Hack-a-thon

September 10, 2018

For the third consecutive year, a NASA Johnson Space Center team is planning a whirlwind day where more than 60 people will filter into a room, learn about five challenges facing the center and set out, in teams, to solve them. This kind of gathering is called a “hack-a-thon”—or, at least, this is Johnson’s version of the event. A traditional hack-a-thon involves computer programmers “hacking” away for up to 48 hours, devouring pizza and energy drinks and catching an occasional nap in a sleeping bag.

The JSC Hack-a-thon is nothing like that (we promise!). It’s still a sprint to the finish line for the attendees during the course of eight hours. At the end of the day, teams will present to a panel of judges from inside NASA and beyond.

Participants will have the chance to solve one of five challenges:
  1. Space Policy Directive 1: Plan how to get to the Moon per direction from the president in Space Policy Directive 1.
  2. Cleaning Clothing in Zero-g: Identify the technique and the development path for a water-free or water-lean system for cleaning clothing in zero-g.
  3. Commercialization of the JSC Vacuum Chamber Facilities: Can the JSC vacuum chamber facilities, which offer unique capabilities not found anywhere else, be better utilized by NASA, its foreign partners, academia and industry?
  4. Orion Configuration Management Tracking: For NASA's future human exploration missions to be successful, integration is key. Develop, design and implement a workflow to manage the configuration change request process for the Orion Program.
  5. Integrated Flight Scheduling Application: Create a process or system to manage the Aircraft Operation Division’s resources and flight assets, which can be anywhere on the globe at a given time.
One particularly unique aspect of the JSC Hack-a-thon is its reliance on non-programmer attendees. While certain challenges will need team members with programming skills, all challenges need team members with multidisciplinary knowledge and experience to present a thorough solution. Any JSC team member can help push these challenges forward.

While contractor partners have served as judges for the JSC Hack-a-thon in years past, the planning team took yet another leap for 2018—adding in two very unique and accomplished judges from outside the gates entirely. One is Nolan Melson, a senior consultant with Capgemini. Melson graduated from West Point, where he received a Bachelor of Science in systems engineering. He served in the Army Air Defense Artillery before moving to the private sector with Capgemini.

Another judge is Gaby Rowe, the newly appointed CEO of Station Houston. Station Houston is a hub for technology innovation and entrepreneurship, with more than 180 startups, 350 members and the goal of making Houston a key community for startups.

At the end of the event, the judges will evaluate proposed solutions from each of the teams based on viability, creativity, impact and more. Three teams will be chosen for first, second and third place. Winning solutions will be considered by the challenge owners and center leadership for implementation at JSC.
This is the first year that the hack-a-thon will take place over the course of a full day. In the past two events, the team received ample feedback from attendees that the allotted time of four hours was just too short, and they needed a full day to present a complete solution and business case to support implementation.

Civil servants and contractors are welcome to register for the event on Sept. 13, which will be held at Space Center Houston’s new event center, at this SATERN link.

For NASA to continue leading in the space industry, we must hold innovation as a core value. The JSC hack-a-thon is here to further foster creativity and set aside time for employees to pursue innovation, join in and be a part of pushing the center forward.

Images from JSC Hack-a-thons in years past
Images from JSC Hack-a-thons in years past
Images from JSC Hack-a-thons in years past
Images from JSC Hack-a-thons in years past
Images from JSC Hack-a-thons in years past
Images from JSC Hack-a-thons in years past showcase the collaborative nature of the intensive brainstorming session, which seeks to find solutions to challenges found on-site and within the course of human spaceflight. Image Credits: NASA