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Did you know that the International Space Apps Challenge has a Global Mainstage – kind of like a mission control for intergalactic space collaborations? Last year we were based in San Francisco, and this year we are excited to announce that the 2013 Global Mainstage will be in Philadelphia! 

We invited Philadelphia local lead Andrew Thompson, Community Evangelist from Azavea, to share about why he and his team got involved in Space Apps and their plans to lead the global event.

When I told a friend of mine that my organization was going to work with NASA to host the Global MainStage event in Philadelphia of NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge, he got really excited. “I would take a 50% pay cut to work for NASA,” my friend said. I share his enthusiasm. There is just something fundamentally amazing and compelling about space science and exploration. The challenges, tools and data with which folks at NASA grapple are the raw material of dreams and aspirations for everyone from kids to backyard astronomers to developers and technology nerds like us.

But the Space Apps Challenge is about more than just cool NASA tech. It is also concerned with a fundamental transformation of how we interact with technology at a cultural and social level. It aims to both cultivate and contribute to the growth of open government, open data and civic hacking. The community of developers and technologists that are using their skills for social benefit – and have fun doing it – is an awe-inspiring and awe-some community with which to engage. In particular, Philadelphia has a very robust community of civic-minded software hackers, makers and social entrepreneurs. As folks like Tim O’Reilly have pointed out, open government and civic hacking represent an alternative approach to the tax, vote, and complain pattern of engaging as a citizen in a democratic society. Global collaboration efforts like Space Apps build communities, create friendships, exercise social capital, and show us that with some imagination and effort we can solve problems in our society (and beyond our planet) together. As I read over what happened in the 2012 International Space Apps Challenge, I see that NASA “gets it” with respect to this community. That’s exciting to see from a US government agency.

Other than the fact that the main stage event will be in our home town, Philadelphia, why would a small company like ours get involved? There are a number of reasons. As a software firm focused on geographic data analysis, our core business relies on much of the earth science and space-borne sensors that NASA launches and supports. Further, open source software, data visualization, and citizen science are part of our DNA. In addition to our work with civic applications related to water and trees, our open source GeoTrellis framework was created to address some of the big data and high performance computing challenges presented by the array of sensors NASA operates to observe our planet. Finally, we feel that Philadelphia is an ideal place for this year’s Space Apps Challenge. The event will be part of PhillyTechWeek 2013 and the Philadelphia Science Festival in late April, and hosting Space Apps is our way of contributing to our local science and technology community. So save April 20th and 21st on your calendar, and come join us in Philadelphia or any one of the over 25 other Space Apps cities worldwide!

If you are anywhere near Philly, we hope you’ll join us there for Space Apps and help us make this site out of this world!

Banner image credit to PMillerA4 under Creative Commons.

About Ali

Community Advocate

NASA Headquarters

alicia.llewellyn-1@nasa.gov