It is the dream of many children to be an astronaut. Training for such a difficult task removes most of the population from being a part of NASA. Tests of physical strength and of course mental fitness are rigorous and very few are ever allowed to travel off the planet. A short history of astronautics and lack of practicality for the public has put many space programs on the back burner. The retirement of space shuttle Atlantis has lowered the chances of a star-gazer to be among the cosmos. Although hope may seem lost to many to assist in exploring the final frontier, NASA is now hiring coders to help with an astronomical problem, tracking near earth asteroids.
This is not charity work. NASA is offering $35,000 as a prize for those who help with what they call the Grand Challenge. The challenge itself is the writing of a program or code to find and track any and all dangerously close space rocks to protect lives and property of the blue planet. Only about one percent of space debris are properly tracked. The need for these programs was made obviously clear after the Chelyabinsk meteor impacted in Russia over a year ago injuring thousands.
The challenge is made much more difficult and useful by the parameters given forth by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The administration wants this code to be able to improve the number of 100 meter wide asteroids found and tracked near Earth as only about one percent of them are successfully spotted and tracked. That is the main reason NASA is now hiring. Also, given the limited functionality of current ground based telescopes, the program must be able to weed out as many false positives as possible. It should also be useable for multiple computer platforms.
NASA’s Grand Challenge is done in partnership with Planetary Resources, a private sector company backed by James Cameron as well as Larry Page and Eric Schmidt who are both Google executives. The main goal of Planetary Resources seems like something out of a video game. Asteroid based mining facilities would provide a whole new raw material origin as well as improve human understanding of the composition of our galaxy. The success of these projects could give more viability to the even more incredible plan of an asteroid based space ship. This process, proposed by New York City College of Technology physics professor Gregory Matioff, would be the best method of a colonization of Mars. Exploration of the planet by astronauts however, would not be viable as the trips to the planet would be dependent on an asteroid’s proximity to Earth as well as it’s intercept course to Mars. Return trips would face the same challenge.
NASA, even while losing a great deal of funding since its peak in the 1960’s, is still making progress on human knowledge of the final frontier. With opening doors and even if only temporarily hiring people outside of the organization, NASA is proving to be as versatile as they were when landing the first human on the moon. The Grand Challenge for programmers and coders is not only profitable for those who work on the project, but also to all of humanity.
By Andy Diaz