NASA Space Apps Challenge

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On October 2019, I decided to join NASA Space Apps together with Matías and Candelaria (coworkers but also really good friends 😊)

We only had 24 hours to pick a challenge, find the best solution to it and present it to the judges.

The Challenge

NASA is developing unmanned aerial system (UAS) for off-world planetary exploration, which flight pattern will be controlled autonomously. But what if something goes wrong during mid-flight?

The challenge consisted in creating an app to pilot an unmanned aerial system (UAS), such as a NASA space drone, utilizing the 6-axis gyro sensor within a smartphone or tablet.

None of us had a technical background in science or space related things, so this made us decide to approach this challenge by having the potential users and their experience as our main focus.

We strongly believe that empathizing with users is key for building a good product.


After spending almost half of our day researching, we found an extremely useful research* made by NASA on UAS pilots and their experiences.

*Gale, J., Karasinski, J., & Hillenius, S. (2018, July). Playbook for UAS: UX of Goal-Oriented Planning and Execution. In International Conference on Engineering Psychology and Cognitive Ergonomics (pp. 545-557). Springer, Cham.

Based on this study, we created a persona who had specific characteristics and needed specific on-screen information, like:

Time to next waypoint
Geospatial and Stream View
Wind Data.


An unexpected problem

This study was made on pilots who were flying on Earth. It is not the same to fly an UAS on Earth than flying on the Moon or in a different planet.

With help of César Bertucci, scientist who worked on NASA's Cassini–Huygens space-research mission, we figured out that exoplanet Titan had similarities with Earth.

But this had a big downside: communications between Earth-Titan take around 80 minutes.

So we realized that...

The challenge had a flaw

Piloting drones for off-world planetary exploration such as Titan or even the Moon will always have delayed communications, so using an app to pilot a drone in real time would not be possible.

Thank you!