NASA Taps App Developers to Improve Access to Planetary Data System


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Even if you do happen to be NASA, sorting through 100 terabytes of data and images amassed over the past thirty years of planetary exploration is still a daunting task. NASA, however, had decided to make the best of the situation and announced an open competition for developers to build mobile and web-based apps that will increase the general public's access to the colossal amount of information archived in the Planetary Data System.

The NASA Tournament Lab is collaborating with the TopCoder community to host the competition, which is now entering its second phase of the PDS Challenge series. The goal of the collaboration is to hopefully build new and different types of apps with the non-technical users in mind, making it easier for children or instructors to access PDS's trove of data.

Competition registration is open now through 6:00PM EST Friday, April 20, at TopCoder's website. This stage of the PDS Challenge series is offering $13,000 in total cash awards, an invitation to visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, to experience the Mars Science Laboratory mission landing on site and an opportunity to meet members of the NASA astronaut-led judging panel.

"There is a huge untapped potential for the extraction of knowledge and insight from within the PDS archive which could be transformed by average people from different, non-scientific walks of life," said Jason Crusan, NASA Chief Technologist for Human Exploration and Operations. "These kinds of Challenges are being made to produce useful tools which will allow, for example, high school-level students to access, organize and make their own discoveries from this huge volume of digital data."

This task looks to be no slouch, either. Given that PDS has fourteen different search tools dedicated to just the search of data related to Mars, typically divided up into how the information was collected (e.g., images captured by the Viking Orbiter or the Mars Pathfinder), entrants into the competition will most definitely need to wear their developer Nikes.