3 images side by side of Dr. Argyro Kavvada, Dr. Daniel O’Neil, and Dr. Shobhana Gupta
October 1st 2021 by Julie Chamberlain, Global Organizing Team (GO Team)

All of this year’s challenges were written by NASA experts who volunteer their time to support Space Apps. We call them “Challenge Creators.” They play a critical role in the Space Apps enterprise! They begin writing the challenges months in advance of Space Apps weekend (October 2-3) in order to have them specially ready for you.

Although our Challenge Creators have different areas of expertise, they all come to Space Apps with similar goals: to raise public awareness about their upcoming missions and initiatives, and to be inspired by the projects you create. Each of the Challenge Creators recruits additional Subject-Matter Experts (SMEs) from NASA and from our partner space agencies to support YOU on Space Apps weekend. When you see them in the chat forum, be sure to say hello! This can also be a great time to thank them for their dedication to Space Apps and for making these challenges possible.

Now, for the special behind-the-scenes look. We’ve invited three of our veteran Space Apps Challenge Creators to share their stories. Here’s why they participate in Space Apps and what they hope to achieve with their challenges this year.


Dr. Argyro Kavvada is the NASA Applied Sciences program manager for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) activities and the Executive Director for the international Earth Observations for Sustainable Development Goals (EO4SDG) Initiative. Dr. Kavvada is based at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and has been volunteering for Space Apps since 2018. She is the Challenge Creator for this year’s Drones and Satellites for Urban Development challenge.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and current projects and why you participate in Space Apps?

My background is in atmospheric science, climate dynamics, and Earth science applications. One of the current projects that I lead involves working with the United Nations and over 30 international organizations from government, academia and the private sector to develop local capacities and share guidance on Earth science data, tools and model outputs in support of sustainable cities and human settlements. To learn more, visit https://eo4sdg.org and https://eotoolkit.unhabitat.org. And follow us on Twitter: @EO4SDG!

I have been collaborating with Space Apps as a Challenge Creator and a SME since 2018, and it has been a very rewarding and engaging experience! Working with Space Apps has provided me with the opportunity to engage with people across regions and sectors that are interested in solving challenges relating to sustainable development monitoring and implementation through the use of Earth observations.

What is one of your favorite Space Apps “success stories”?

My favorite success story has been with the Aedes Project – a project submitted in response to our Space Apps 2019 challenge, “Smash your SDGs,” which received an award in the “Best Use of Data” Global Award. Aedes was one of the six Global Awardees for Space Apps 2019. The team leveraged digital, climate, and remote sensing data to determine dengue trends and detect mosquito habitats to help preempt cases of dengue in the Philippines. I was excited to meet again with the project team from CirroLytix Research Services the following year, when they were recognized by our 2020 GEO SDG Awards Program for their continuing efforts to leverage the Aedes tool to support COVID-19 response efforts with the public health sector and government efforts to meet SDG 3 (health and well-being) targets.

Can you tell us more about your challenge for Space Apps 2021?

This year, we collaborated with our colleagues at NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (Dr. Samantha Magill) to put together a challenge titled, Drones and Satellites for Urban Development. Our challenge invites participants to leverage spaceborne remote sensing and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)-sensing data to help cities around the world become more equitable, resilient, safe, and sustainable urban spaces (SDG 11). Examples of outputs may include: a city-specific tool (or app) for computing an SDG indicator, a digital story-telling product (e.g., story map, web portal), a short video tutorial sharing your step-by-step method, or a demonstration of the city-specific app or tool. We can’t wait to see what the incredible community of problem-solvers at Space Apps comes up with!


Dr. Daniel O’Neil is a strategic analyst in the Office of Strategic Analysis and Communications at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). Dr. O’Neil’s Ph.D. is in modeling and simulation. He researches a variety of technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, ontologies, virtual reality, network visualization, and web app development. Dr. O’Neil has supported Space Apps for six years. This year, Dr. O’Neil is supporting the following challenges: Ontologies and Interactive Network Visualizations, Planetary Lander Video Game, and Virtual Planetary Exploration V2.0.

You have been participating in Space Apps as a challenge creator and local mentor at MSFC for many years. Why do you keep coming back?

I’m looking forward to serving as a SME for the seventh time! My 35-year career (31 as a civil servant) has given me a wealth of experience in software development, systems engineering, team leadership, technology development, and project management. Space Apps provides me with an opportunity to share that experience by identifying resources, brainstorming with teams about technical solutions, and advising teams about how to produce a professional looking project page. I'm enthused by the creativity of the teams that participate in the challenges I support. Participants will gain valuable experiences that they can put on a resume; also, it's possible that the experience may influence curricula and career decisions.

What do you hope to achieve with the challenges you’re supporting this year?

Products from these challenges will serve as examples for new ways to solve problems and presenting solutions that I’ll show to colleagues and management. I wish the best of luck to all the participants. Don’t forget to join us in the chat rooms!


Dr. Shobhana Gupta is a physician-scientist with a background in microbiology, structure biology, and neurology. Dr. Gupta currently serves as the Open Innovation and Community Applications Manager with the Earth Science Division’s Applied Sciences Program at NASA Headquarters. She joined Space Apps in 2016 as the Earth Category lead and a Challenge Creator, and she served as the Space Apps Program Manager from 2016-2017. Her Space Apps 2021 challenge is titled, Space for Change.

Can you tell us more about your challenge this year, and what you hope to achieve with it?

Space for Change addresses environmental injustices faced by communities of people who have been or continue to be marginalized (e.g., those in lower socioeconomic classes and indigenous populations in many countries). We want participants to use NASA’s open data to help identify and find solutions for environmental hazards with disproportionate impacts, and barriers to resources and opportunities. These injustices are the result of complex social, political, geographical arrangements. But Space Apps solvers are creative, innovative, and so incredibly passionate to make a difference in this world – we know that their insights can bring us closer to impactful positive change.

You have written many challenges over the years. What ingredients make for a good challenge?

A good challenge should clearly state the problem or issue we are addressing, including any relevant limitations that may apply to solutions, such as product weight, cost of development, reliance on internet, etc. The challenge should not be too prescriptive regarding specific solutions – after all, we want to harness the creativity and multi-disciplinary knowledge of our participants. But most importantly, it should describe why this challenge matters and how the results will make a difference – our participants are now a part of our scientific community. With shared goals and passion, we can drive new discoveries and innovations together.

Lastly, what advice would you give to a participant trying to choose a challenge to tackle?

I would recommend you pick a challenge that means something to you or most inspires you to make a difference in the world. When you are in the middle or towards the end of the challenge, tired and running on fumes, it is your passion for the topic that will drive you to keep pushing forward to produce the best, most impactful solution possible!

These very experts, along with their colleagues from NASA and from our partner space agencies, will be available in the Space Apps chat rooms from October 1-3 to answer YOUR questions about the challenges and data. So, register now and meet us in the chat rooms!

Lastly, a very big THANK YOU to all of our Space Apps 2021 Challenge Creators and to the many SMEs who are supporting Space Apps 2021. We appreciate you.

Happy Hacking!

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