Participating in the NASA Space Apps Challenge

My first ever Hackathon experience!

Panagiotis Papanastasiou
4 min readOct 26, 2021

What is the NASA Space Apps Challenge?

“The NASA International Space Apps Challenge (Space Apps) is an international hackathon for coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, technologists, and others in cities around the world, where teams engage the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) free and open data to address real-world problems on Earth and in space.” It takes place every year during a weekend in October, where participants have just 48hours to solve challenges submitted by NASA personnel. The submissions are judged by space agency experts and winners get a chance to view a spacecraft launch at a NASA facility.

How It All Started…

Once I saw the hackathon show up in the opportunities channel on the TKS Slack (TKS is a human accelerator program for ambitious teens wanting to change the world, I started attending in September), I immediately jumped on the idea and texted a couple of friends I had made during the first weeks of the program. A team was quickly assembled and thanks to the incredible Braindates [1-on-1 meeting between TKS students] we had done, most of us already knew each other and were hyped about the idea of getting to work together on something real for the first time. Our team spans from Canada all the way to India and Greece.

Our work started on Wednesday night (29/09) when some of us met to choose the challenge we were going to participate in. Due to the time zone differences, we never had the chance to meet all together, so communication was really challenging. We started two challenges, one of which we dropped and finally focused on “Have Seeds Will Travel”.

What We Actually Worked On

After we finally decided on the challenge we were going to address, it took long hours of research and brainstorming from Friday night to designing our solution all the way till Saturday morning. Once that was completed, a 30-second video presenting our work was created and submitted.

The challenge “Have Seeds Will Travel” called upon us to design a deployable crop production system capable of supporting the nutritional requirements of a crew of 4–6 on a transit mission to Mars and back to Earth.

Our solution, named the Pull-able Hexagonal Prism Growing Chamber System, consisted of a compact production system, capable of supplementing the meal for at least 4 astronauts. It has a contraption of various components like light and O2 sensor, RGB, water, and oxygen pipe and will be embedded with the present NASA tech made for the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH). The system is semi-automatic since gardening has great psychological benefits. The issue we were addressing is the lack of fresh and nutrient-dense food in deep space travel, so we concluded that microgreens would be the perfect solution since they are nutrient-packed and are easy to produce. What makes our system different is that we use a honeycomb design that maximizes space efficiency and is lightweight.

Decision-Making Lesson

The first two days were extremely adrenaline-filled but also unproductive since we could not decide. A huge lesson that I learned from this stage was the power of quick decision-making and how frameworks help you do just that. This topic was also discussed in our 6th TKS Session, where we talked about one and two-way doors while trying to train the mindset of Bias Towards Action.

The framework goes like this:

There are two types of decisions. Reversible or Irreversible ones (Two-Way Doors and One-Way Doors). Decisions which you can go back and change should be very quick to make and you shouldn’t spend too much time making them, because it negatively harms your Bias Towards Action and output. Decisions that can’t be undone, need to be thought of more carefully, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is to take action. Nothing comes from nothing, so if you take the first step you are much closer to either getting where you want to be or crucial lessons to be learned.


Despite the long hours of work, and the increased difficulty of combining the hackathon with school work, I had lots of fun and enjoyed working and building my relationship with my teammates. As a team, we did a lot of things wrong, like inefficient decision-making, lack of a central project management system, and not utilizing the fact that every member was in different time zones to our advantage. However, I also learned so many technical things (materials used in space, how we will grow food in space, what food is best to grow in a zero-gravity environment, etc.), and used my CAD skills to design a working prototype. Most importantly, this hackathon served as a mental booster and momentum builder since I realized truly how unstoppable the Bias Towards Action is and that if combined with proper teamwork and synergy it can truly change the world.

I would like to say a huge thank you to my teammates Apoorva Tumu, Elena Mishina, Rodin Shakravi, and our TKS Assistant Director Jennah Dohms for her crucial advice and for ensuring that we maximize our learning from this experience.

EDIT: With great pleasure, I would like to announce that my team was selected as a global nominee for the NASA Space Apps Challenge and we are now “in the fight” for the Global Finalists positions. Out of the 2,300 projects sent, only 365 were selected!



Panagiotis Papanastasiou

Ambitious teen, interested in emerging tech, entrepreneurship, space, education and sustainability. I am a petrol-head and unicorn person under construction!