Archive

Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

A disheartening Space Apps hackathon

April 11th, 2015 No comments

Every hackathon has its share of crazies, fortunately they rarely achieve sufficient critical mass to bother anybody else, generally wandering harmlessly around the venue. Hackathons involving outer space attracts crazies in droves and much of the first day is spent with everybody floating around in zero gravity.

This morning I stopped by the NASA SpaceApp hackathon in London to pick up my pass, say hi to a few people I knew were going and let them know I would be back later. A computational semantics hackathon was happening a few miles away, but finishing for the day at five (I know, academic hackathons). My plan was do interesting language analysis stuff, giving the crazies plenty of time to save the world (and then leave), before I returned to spend the rest of the weekend hacking on something space’ish.

The computational semantics hack was as interesting as it promised to be and I’m returning to it tomorrow (not the original plan).

I returned to the SpaceApp hack to find that while most of the crazies had gone, a lot of developers had also left. Had the crazies caused those with a firmer grip on reality to flee to the hills? The lack of coffee (yes, I did check several times that there were no plans to supply any coffee for the duration) and the wifi not being able to support everybody could not have helped. The few developers left (a fare few engineers, designers and ‘ideas’ people were still there) seemed to have been reduced to nibbling away at uninteresting bits (to me at least) of big problems. I left disheartened.

I think that part of the reason that non-crazies have trouble connecting with NASA’s proposed plans is that it is hard to tell the difference between NASA and the crazies. NASA’s mission has always been about politics first and science second. First as a means of boosting the US image around the world (the moon landing years) and then as a means of pork-barrel funding for favored politicians. To keep serious funding rolling in NASA has to ignite the public imagination. Fortunately for them the public is not very good at working out the economics of the proposed ventures (e.g., Google search on economics of asteroid mining to find plenty of articles exposing the economics flaws of this proposal).

While I am happy for the US taxpayer to funding NASA to do interesting space stuff and share it with the rest of the world, I do wish they could do it in a way that made technical and economic sense (I have no problem with them feeding the crazies, who have as much right to enjoy hackathons as the rest of us).