Out of this world

Photo/Sage Leehey

Joe Chavez is the local organizer for the NASA Space Apps Challenge, a two-day technology development event in which people around the world try to solve current problems. His background is in computer science, and he currently runs a mobile software development company and started up Mambo Health, a crowdfunding campaign. The Space Apps Challenge will take place on April 12 and 13 in the DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library. The event will kickoff on April 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Reno Collective.

So what’s the Space Apps Challenge all about?

Reno is one city out of 93 around the world who are participating in an international hackathon put on by NASA. It’ll be a 48-hour period, and Reno will start at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and end at 6 p.m. on Sunday. It’s a hackathon-style event, and NASA has published 50 challenges that they would like the participants to work on, to select from.

That’s a lot of different challenges, but what does it all boil down to? What’s the goal?

NASA’s goal is to figure out if there are interesting solutions to problems that they have that they haven’t found yet. So they kinda categorize the challenges into five categories: human space flight, space technology, earth-based things, robotics, and some … not science, but farming and other types of things. The idea there is that I could work on a challenge with somebody from another city, or we can find a team here and work on challenges as a team.

For app-based solutions?

Yes, there’s a lot of words like app in there. There’s a lot of website stuff. Some of it’s data. Some of it’s actually making design hardware. Just tech-based.

How are you involved?

I used to work for NASA back in the last decade basically, and I heard about this through a friend. So I applied last year as the city of Reno, so we participated in the event last year, same time-frame. So this year came back around, and I said, let’s do it again.

Why is this important?

I think it’s important because, in terms of getting people interested in science and technology, I think this is a good way to do it because it kind of brings this big agency—NASA—out into the public. We also encourage students of high school age or older to participate, so there’s interest there. We’re doing a collaborative event with the university this year, so it’ll be in their science library. So I think it also brings a certain amount of visibility to Reno as a place to do business for technology and other things. Reno and Seattle are the only cities on the west coast doing this, so it kind of gives us a little status.

Cool. Talking about last year, what came out of it from Reno?

Last year it was a pretty small event. There were several reasons for that. It mostly had to do with marketing starting late because the government did a mini shutdown, sequester thing, and they weren’t sure if they were actually going to have the event until about 10 days before it happened. So it was a smaller scale thing. We had 17 people go in, and out of the 17, nine of us [collaborated] on a remote control system for an underwater rover basically. So we participated with a team from Australia, San Francisco, UC Berkeley and New York and came up with a proposed solution to that problem.

Are you planning on working on a challenge this year?

You know, I’d love to, but I think we’re going to be a lot bigger this year and I’ll probably be doing more organizational things. … We’re also partnering with Microsoft this year and they’re going to handle a lot of the logistical side, so that might give me some free time. But I have a feeling that it’s not going to turn out that way.