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article imageNASA to start using freelance workers

By Dan Steiner     Sep 4, 2015 in Technology
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is breaking into an even newer frontier, the freelance marketplace, with the start of the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL).
As part of an ongoing project, NASA will host a series of contests to crowdsource solutions to some of the most complex problems faced by astronauts today. The contests feature cash prizes and offer challenges ranging from smartwatch app design to logo design. Freelancers can also design tools for Robonaut R2, the humanoid robot who takes on the most dangerous tasks on the International Space Station (ISS), to use.
The smartwatch app design challenge, with less than a week remaining, offers a prize of $1500 and has received 112 entries so far. According to the contest brief, freelancers will not have to create the actual smartwatch app. Instead, NASA expects a design in picture form (either PNG or JPEG) that highlights app features such as navigation, interaction, layout, look, and feel.
Astronauts will use the winning app on the ISS to receive caution and warnings, view crew timelines, detail communication status and set timers. NASA requests one smartwatch app with all available features, not separate apps. The guidelines give Samsung Gear S as a hardware reference for the design.
This decision to turn to freelancers from an organization as revered as NASA comes as a great vote of confidence for freelance work, which still receives skepticism despite increasing trends in project-based work, especially among younger generations.
Those who have been long-time proponents of freelance work praise NASA’s decision to test out competition based projects. Breanden Beneschott, COO of the freelancing network Toptal, says, “It’s been a fascinating idea that a private company or government organization can offer a competition-based project that combines crowdsourcing, location independence, and a freelance model. As Netflix saw with the Netflix Prize and organizations like TopCoder and XPRIZE see every day, proposing a project like this to the whole world can be a great way to get world-class results. No matter how many smart people there are at NASA, there will always be even more smart people who are not at NASA. The question is how to leverage that.”
NASA is using the initial opportunity to analyze the costs and benefits of using freelancing sites as a platform for completing necessary development tasks. Working with Freelancer.com alone provides the organization with a network of 16 million users from over 247 countries, regions and territories. Naturally, NASA has been careful with the information it requests from freelancers to avoid risks in security. Assuming all goes well, this could be just the start of NASA’s partnership with freelance workers.
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