NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge: Find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them

NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge:
Find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them

by Cat Ellen, contributing writer

Are you competitive? Do you work in design, development, or data science? Would you consider yourself a Top Coder?

The NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) has announced the Asteroid Grand Challenge Series will launch on March 17, 2014. Through a number of Challenges, competitiors can be involved with discovery and planning for any asteroid threats to human populations. Both traditional and innovative collaboration can help accelerate the efforts of public and private partnerships.

NASA’s Asteroid Data Hunter challenge series offers $35,000 in awards, available over the next six months to participants who develop specific algorithms that improve asteroid detection. Specifically, ground-based telescopes capture images. The competitive and improved algorithms better identify asteroids in these images. Solutions need to increase sensitivity for detection, reduce false positives, recognize and learn to ignore data imperfections, and of course, run effectively on various computers.

“Protecting the planet from the threat of asteroid impact means first knowing where they are,” said Jenn Gustetic, Prizes and Challenges Program executive. “By opening up the search for asteroids, we are harnessing the potential of innovators and makers and citizen scientists everywhere to help solve this global challenge.”

Prior to launch on March 17, participants can create their competition account, study the rules, and prepare for the different phases of the contest series.

“For the past three years, NASA has been learning and advancing the ability to leverage distributed algorithm and coding skills through the NASA Tournament Lab to solve tough problems,” said Jason Crusan, NASA Tournament Lab director. “We are now applying our experience with algorithm contests to helping protect the planet from asteroid threats through image analysis.”

Jenn Gustetic and Jason Kessler, executives of the Grand Challenge program, discussed “Are We Smarter than Dinosaurs?” on Monday, March 10 at SXSW in Austin, Texas, introducing NASA’s Grand Challenge. They focused on how to meaningfully engage the larger tech community to support space exploration research and solve global problems.

NearEarth Objects (NEOs) could either pose a threat (such as impact damage) or an opportunity (mining resources and extended ability to explore). NASA has not only led the search for NEOs since 1998, but has been pioneering efforts to effectively harness crowdsourcing in scientific advances.

“Current asteroid detection initiatives are only tracking one percent of the estimated objects that orbit the Sun. We are excited to partner with NASA in this contest to help increase the quantity and knowledge about asteroids that are potential threats, human destinations, or resource rich,” said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc. “Applying distributed algorithm and coding skills to the extensive NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey data set will yield important insights into the state of the art in detecting asteroids.”

NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI) manages the algorithm contests in the Grand Challenge. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy requested the establishment of CoECI to advance innovation and extend the expertise throughout federal agencies. Advanced algorithmic and software development contests are managed at the NASA Tournament Lab. In association with Harvard’s Institute of Quantitative Social Science and through a contract with Harvard Business School, NTL uses the topcoder platform to engage with a community of more than 600,000 data scientists, developers, and designers. Through these collaborations, NASA seeks to create the most innovative, efficient and optimized solutions for specific, real-world challenges.

Additional Resources

  • Asteroid Grand Challenge on Twitter: @asteroidgc
  • Asteroid Grand Challenge on Google+: +AsteroidGC
  • NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge on YouTube
  • Register to be notified when the Challenge opens
  • NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation
  • Planetary Resources, Inc.
  • NASA’s asteroid initiative