Believe it or not, the Space Apps Challenge really did start as a drawing on a napkin, in the lobby of a hotel in San Francisco, California. We were discussing what it really means to innovate – and how you get from here to there.

Innovation at NASA often reveals itself as a single advancement in a specific technology. The challenge then lies in reliably repeating the act of this advancement. We believe that innovative practices are the key to creating and discovering state-of-the-art technology. The International Space Apps Challenge sought to bridge the gap between innovative technology and its practice.

In business and government, there currently exists a set of techniques for developing new products that has been carried over from the industrial age: a large team is pulled together, the budget is established, a business model or project plan is created, a detailed product roadmap is developed and rolled out to a user base in phases. This process has proven itself many times over and is especially important when building an expensive rocket – the tiniest error could yield catastrophic failure. Much technological advancement has been made through this process. However, these time-tested methods of management do not lend well to seasons of uncertainty. Innovation, on the other hand, thrives in those seasons.

Innovation is bottom-up, decentralized and unpredictable. True innovation necessitates failure. The more you experiment, the more you fail, the more you learn. Small technologies and initial development deserve innovative process and the opportunity for failure.

At the International Space Apps Challenge we open up challenges of space exploration and social need and empowered citizens around the world to solve those challenges. This is a bold risk. NASA is collaborating with organizations with whom we have often not previously worked. NASA is empowering local leaders and planners in cities around the world, with the vision for contributing to space exploration and social good. Passionate citizens are being asked to find and share their solutions to the challenges. In the process of planning and implementing the Challenge we have learned a lot and recognized the power released when we work together with others committed to changing the way the world works. Space Apps exemplifies a model for accelerating technology and we are capturing that story here to be built upon. We hope that business and government alike will help carry the story forward.