In 2015 the Open Innovation team at NASA wanted to build a project that would allow NASA Datanauts to host their own hacking/making events. A member of the founding Datanauts class Dr. Kate Stone came on board to turn dream-to-reality using her trademark materials—plain paper and conductive ink to create a musical instrument that incorporated NASA’s data. The project was named fittingly, “Starry Night.”

One year (and several iterations) later the Starry Night project has traveled the country and the world, from California to New York, Florida, and most recently, Lisbon, Portugal at a Datanauts community event that brought together guests from  more than 10 countries. The Starry Night project serves as the starting point from which Datanauts can collaborate, impart new skills and share their love for data science, technology and space exploration with diverse communities of all ages, backgrounds and interests. Datanauts community events are organized by the Datanauts themselves and are open to the public.

Datanaut, print maker and web developer Tina Lai reflects on her experience after her Datanauts community event held in the Bay Area earlier this year: 

“It was a great experience hosting and sharing technology with people who mostly are not in the field of technology. Everyone had a lot of fun. The moment that the app linked up with the keyboard was one of the best, people's eyes lit up. I like that I was able to share with my community that space/technology is not as scary nor far away as they thought.”


“We’ve got artists, environmental scientists, programmers, a graphic designer, a teacher, a fashion stylist, and a 6th grader joined us”

Datanaut, software developer and parent Tracey Birch showed participants in Florida how to navigate and find their own open data:


“Starry Night is a great tool for tech evangelism. We built 15 Starry Nights. I also did a quick show & tell with the NASA Open Data Portal, the meteorite dataset map and the Rosetta mission visualization, and they LOVED it. Several people asked when we'd be doing more NASA data exploration meetups!”

Datanaut, entrepreneur and venture strategist Cindy Chin held the 3rd community event of the year in Lisbon, Portugal alongside the Web Summit technology conference. 

For Ms. Chin, her event presented an opportunity to gather ideas for social impact venture building, asking how can we use NASA’s open data to build products and services that improve our world? Ms. Chin brought together creative entrepreneurs and business leaders from Germany, UK, United States, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Australia, Switzerland, Portugal, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg. Many of the guests came to the event because they had a passion for space, science and the potential of open data in their industries. But a down-to-business mindset didn’t stop people from having a little fun—the Starry Night project evoked a sense of playfulness, delight and possibilities. 

“I love when technology can do this…when it allows anyone to be creative!” said artist/entrepreneur and “piano hacker” Seda Röder upon opening her Starry Night kit.

As with any new technology, there can be a few bumps along the way to success. It took some tinkering and trying, but soon enough all the dinner guests were “playing” their Starry Night instruments in a beautiful cacophony of NASA sounds from real missions mixed with drum beats and other electronic tones. 

“Both the universe and our imagination are without limits," reflected Dr. Barbara Lippe, an entrepreneur who directs, writes and produces films in virtual reality. "Let's always keep that in mind when our vision is bigger than the status quo of technology. Let the status quo never stop our imagination!”

Digital mapmaker and space enthusiast Weibke Hurrelmann teaches herself new tools via free online courses. She came to learn about NASA Datanauts and how to access open data.  

Starry Night is one of five collaborative projects currently in development within NASA Datanauts. With each community event, Datanauts incorporate user feedback and collaborate to improve the experience for future Datanauts classes and civilians alike. Watch here as Dr. Stone (class of 2015) works with Ms. Chin (class of 2016) the day before her community event in a moment of real-time problem-solving, luckily caught on tape by the Datanauts community management team!

Learn more about the 2016 Datanauts by exploring the site. 
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About Elyssa

Elyssa Dole is the NASA Datanaut Community Manager, and Space Apps Data Bootcamp Coordinator