Ask any VFS Digital Design students or alumni what SLAM means to them. They will tell you it is the most challenging and grueling 2 days (or 12 hours, if you ask graduates of the 20th graduating class and before) of their life. It tests their creativity and problem solving, as well as team player skills, to the max. It is also one of the activities I miss the most after graduating from Digital Design back in Dec 2011. Which is why, when a few of my coworkers decided to compete in NASA‘s International Space Apps Challenge hackathon at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, I jumped at the opportunity.
We were given 25 challenges to choose from, which all required different skill sets: There were challenges that asked you to plan a cubeSat trajectory; Innovation on how to make Mars livable for human; Aurora localization; and many more. Since our strength lay in interactive media, it made sense for us to choose a challenge where we could showcase our skill. That’s why we chose Adopt a Spacecraft: Voyager 1.
The NASA International Space Apps Challenge hackathon started Friday, April 19th at 7pm, with an introduction of the challenges and team building for those who had yet to join one. We officially started with our challenge at 10pm.
Dividing of tasks, fortunately, was not a problem for us. Each of our five-team members has a distinctive skill set that complements the others’ skill set. When one of us was done with our task, it was an unspoken rule to then help the other member. What we did not anticipate was how much actual work we were going to do.
By Sunday morning 9am, we had almost completed our project. We hadn’t slept for 36 hours, there were still major bugs in the website, and the deadline was only five hours away. In our stupor, we almost decided to not submit our project and just give up. Feeling dejected, everyone went home.
This is where the support of our friends and family really showed its importance. They made us realize that if we did not make the best of the last hours, we had just wasted an entire weekend. And that is not what we wanted to do.
So, by 2pm, we managed to submit our website, and went to the event for the presentations of the solutions. It was amazing to see the results of everyone’s hard work. After the presentations, everyone was invited for a drink, and the winners were announced at Gaby’s, a small diner located just outside of the ROM. I remember my team sitting in a corner booth, quietly munching our food.
Our competitors consisted of scientists and hardcore programmers. This event is a hackathon for NASA! If we were going to win anything, our only hope was for the Best Data Visualization category. So when they called another team, we were sure we did not win anything. That is why it was very surprising when they called us up too! We were tied winners for Best Project for the Toronto NASA Space Apps Challenge 2013!!
We are of course very happy, but our journey has not ended. Now we go to the international part of the competition, representing Toronto against 160 other groups from 80 different cities around the word to be one of five winners chosen by the global judges. Very scary.
In fact, the People Choice’s Award has already started by way of Twitter voting. So if you guys are curious about our project — Museum of Intergalactic Species — and would like to learn more about it, and maybe give your support by voting for us, you can do so by going to our project page on the Space Challenge Website.