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Involving the Public In Developing Apps for the Public To Use

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
June 6, 2011
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NASA Announcement of Partnership Opportunity for Notification Tool for International Space Station Sightings, NASA SOMD
“Currently, NASA has several ways the public can learn about ISS sighting opportunities, including NASA SkyWatch. However, NASA’s websites do not disseminate this information to the public- the public must seek it out proactively instead. NASA seeks to increase public awareness of the ISS, its visibility, and mission by making ISS sighting information, including personalized notifications, readily available to the general public in an easily accessible and understandable way. To that end, NASA seeks to collaborate with a domestic entity, on an unfunded basis, to support an ISS sighting notification tool.”
Keith’s note: This is really a great idea. I certainly agree that this information could be more user friendly since “the public must seek [ISS sighting opportunites] out proactively instead.” So, keeping that admission on NASA’s part in mind, how does SOMD try to reach the public to ask for help? A NASA Procurement Notice. FAIL. How many people other than procurement wonks (and me) ever read these notices?
Why limit this to “a domestic entity” i.e. a single source? Why not engage with lots of them? Why not seek input from individual citizens as well as “domestic entities”? One would hope that someone within the agency sees that this great idea and that press releases and other means are used such that a wide variety of possible contributors to this project can be involved. And even if NASA does not select them all, it is certain that a group of people who never thought they’d have a chance to do this will now be thinking about NASA. One look at this weekend’s NASA-sponsored Random Hacks of Kindness will show you what a group of motivated people out in the real world can do in a matter of hours.
If I can teach a Sherpa how to spot satellites in remote Nepalese villages such that he could then teach others, then NASA can certainly spur development of an app that also does that.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.