Microsoft Azure Space and NASA complete maiden mission

Alice Chambers
Alice Chambers
By Alice Chambers on 13 May 2022
Microsoft Azure Space and NASA complete maiden mission
Microsoft

Students and mentors from the NASA and Azure Space hackathon met at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Microsoft has completed its first ‘mission’ with NASA after concluding its STEM Educational Project: AI looking for new Earths.

The project involved students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the Reston, Virginia, and Washington DC areas of the USA, and used methodology developed by The Microsoft Garage, which has been running hackathons for many years.

Students were invited to develop new technologies and deploy a code to the International Space Station with help from volunteer mentors on Microsoft’s Azure Space and data and artificial intelligence teams, as well as NASA experts.  The event was hosted at dozens of Garage locations at Microsoft campuses around the world, with each team of mentors providing a replica ‘mission control’ centre

During the mission, five students were selected as ‘crew members’ for the hackathon to prove that they could deploy their own code to a space station.

“One of the goals of the Azure Space team is really to democratise space and make it easier for people to get there,” said Getaante Yilma, who was selected as ‘crew’. “And to me, there’s a big check box there of a student getting code to space – that is an example of how we’re making it easier and pushing the ‘art of the possible.’ Not only do we think it’s possible, but it didn’t take 16 PhDs to do it. It took five students that are about to graduate.”

Microsoft’s partnership with NASA aims to foster the future Science, Technology, Education and Maths (STEM) workforce by exposing university students to science, tools and expertise through the intersection of Microsoft’s Space + Cloud initiative.

“This hackathon amplifies the cultural priorities closest to our hearts here at Microsoft and at The Garage because it allows us to continue fulfilling our stated commitments to making a difference, seeking diversity and being inclusive in our work, bringing multiple teams together as ‘One Microsoft’ while collaborating with federal and academic partners, and doing all of this with a growth mindset,” said Piali Ghose, director of The Garage in Reston/DC and host of the event.

NASA has been operating the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) since 2018 to look for earth-sized planets that are orbiting bright stars outside the solar system. The Azure Space team uses NASA data and subject matter experts to also search for exoplanets, and uses available opportunities to include talented students when possible.

“Microsoft is in Reston to increase our ability to support government and commercial customers in the region,” said Dr Steve Scallen, director of university engagement at The Garage. “The Garage Reston/DC programming creates opportunities for Reston employees to leverage their creativity and encourage collaboration with government customers, local communities, the broader DC tech industry, civic organisations, and education groups and institutions like HBCUs.”

Reflecting on the event, NASA specialist Dr Aprille Ericsson said: “I love TESS because it’s a terrestrial planet finder – what cool stuff, right? I think the students got excited about this data and how it fits into the NASA themes. They really are learning a lot more than just a programming application – they’re learning about the larger goals of our organisations.”

Read more about Microsoft and NASA’s hackathon event.

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