How NASA is Turning to Crowdsourcing to Solve the Asteroid Big Data Puzzle

March 17, 2014 Appirio


The dinosaurs no longer rule this planet.

They meandered along in their own individual way hoping the worst would never happen. Until it did. When disaster struck it was swift and merciless.

NASA wants to ensure that the human species does not suffer the same fate.

Working with the [topcoder]™ crowdsourcing platform, NASA has just announced a brand new Asteroid Data Hunter contest series. This series will offer $35,000 in awards over the next six months to citizen scientists who develop improved algorithms that can be used to identify asteroids within big data sets.

This contest series is being conducted in partnership with Planetary Resources Inc. of Bellevue, Wash. The first contest in the series will kick off today March 17. Competitors can create an account on the contest series website and learn more about the rules and different phases of the contest series by going to:

It’s a safe assumption that NASA has direct internal access to some of the smartest people in the world. Yet this organization of geniuses does not hesitate to tap into a global community of technical expertise to solve their toughest problems.

The dinosaurs didn’t innovate, didn’t work together, and relied on the status quo. We’ve seen what happens to dinosaurs again and again – in nature and in business. As software eats the world and the pace of innovation steadily increases, relying on internal expertise and outdated processes may not be enough to keep any of us from going extinct.

The Topcoder platform is fundamentally an innovation platform. Our mission with Topcoder is to provide enterprises with efficient access to the world’s best technical talent, and to help reward the world’s best designers, developers, and data scientists for honing and proving their skills. Organizations like Amazon, Box, Facebook, Google, Harvard, Humana, NASA,, and Yelp tap into the Topcoder platform to drive innovation from the smartest community on the planet.

In Topcoder’s unique marketplace you pay only for results. Experts are rewarded based on the value they create, not how long it takes to do something. Multiple individuals compete to solve problems, and the best solutions are rewarded. Due to Topcoder’s innate efficiency, organizations like NASA are free to widen the innovation funnel. It’s no longer a luck game – innovation can be predictably achieved through a better process.

“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. We are now applying our experience with algorithm contests to helping protect the planet from asteroid threats through image analysis.”

— Jason Crusan
NASA Tournament Lab director

“Protecting the planet from the threat of asteroid impact means first knowing where they are. 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.”

— Jenn Gustetic
NASA Prizes and Challenges Program executive


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