Caption: With NASA’s Chief Technology Officer for IT Deborah Diaz at the launch of the OSIRIS-REx mission
There was a collective sense of anticipation and excitement at Cape Canaveral in Florida last evening as we witnessed the launch of the OSIRIS-REx just after 7pm. Together with hundreds of others on bleachers just outside Kennedy Space Center, NASA made history again.
— Katey Metzroth (@KateyMargaret) September 8, 2016
Our group, an eclectic combination of Space Apps Global Winners, hosts and our favorite folks from the NASA team, came together from around the world for the launch and to celebrate a pretty darn successful 2016 Space Apps program. Looking up into a clear blue sky, the sun approaching setting time, we counted down to blast off together and watched in awe as the rocket disappeared into the atmosphere in a little over two minutes. It’s hard to imagine that this massive piece of metal was in front of us and then gone, knowing its journey will span the next seven years.
OSIRIS-REx has been the labor of many at NASA for the past 12 years. She is headed to the asteroid Bennu and expected to arrive in 2018 for a two-year exploration before coming home. She is expected to return in 2023 with the first-ever asteroid matter to be transported back to earth! What she gathers may answer some big questions about where we’ve come from and the solar system. As one NASA blog puts it, asteroids are like time capsules frozen in time with the potential to reveal details from a 4+ billion year past.
To say the timeline and dedication to this mission is impressive is an understatement. OSIRIS-REx reminded me that innovation and understanding is a process which involves the collaboration of hundreds of actors over time and a continual balancing between immediate challenges and the bigger longer term impact possible. The team at NASA worked all those years (and will continue to work) on very specific aspects of this mission with a sense that it ties to a bigger purpose of understanding the solar system, our history and our future.
Together, we witnessed an important moment in history that was part of something much bigger. We sat side-by-side with Space Apps community members who came together virtually in April (nearly 15,000 of them) to hack NASA data for good and here we sat in person watching history before our eyes. Some of our group have been there with Space Apps since it started in 25 cities five years ago. Some have gone from hacker to winner to host in some order. Others, such as the team from Pasadena, used the hackathon to reunite with old friends and now find themselves pursuing new careers as they turn their hacks into their startups.
Out of the tens of thousands of “Space Appers” over the years, many have gone on to create businesses, programs and accelerators as a result of their Space Apps experiences. The community has grown organically. It now wraps the entire globe in a warm fuzzy embrace and continues to reach new cities and people each year. We all arrived at Space Apps for our own reasons and with our own intentions for what we hoped to get out of the experience, but much like the team behind OSIRIS-REx, I can’t help but think that Space Apps and the community behind it is part of something incredible and bigger than we may realize.
I’m looking forward to following the journeys of both OSIRIS-REx and the Space Apps community in the many years to come, feeling excited to have been a part of both.
Learn more about the OSIRIS-REx mission here.
Learn more about Space Apps 2016 here.