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NASA WV EPSCoR hosts inaugural Hackweek to collaborate on issues of machine learning and artificial intelligence in spacecrafts

Anthony Russo, Lunet Yifru, Haris Alam

Mechanical engineering students Anthony Russo (left), Lunet Yifru (middle) and Haris Alam (right) pictured at the inaugural NASA EPSCoR HackWeek event. 

Professionals from institutions across the nation worked together at West Virginia University to understand and improve issues NASA is facing in creating autonomous systems using artificial intelligence on spacecraft systems. 

Story by Tara Heffernan, Multi-Media Specialist
Photos by Tara Heffernan


During the inaugural NASA EPSCoR HackWeek event on June 12-17, hosted by the  NASA West Virginia Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research located in the  Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, students, professors, data managers and other scientists worked together to detect and diagnose issues on spacecrafts without the need for ground communication. 

Participants were introduced to educational and training activities including the problem-space of fault diagnosis on-board spacecraft, while generating specific outcomes and novel solutions for the problem-space.

Evana Gizzi, tech lead at NASA, said the students learned how to code in Python, the basics of artificial intelligence, specifics on artificial intelligence projects at NASA and they built their own neuro network from scratch. 

Aside from learning these practical, professionally in-demand skills, Gizzi wanted to provide the students with opportunities and pathways to connect with NASA directly. Throughout the week, participants spent time together socially and shared ideas that were passed along directly to NASA. Gizzi says she wants the students she met throughout the week to know that obtaining a job at NASA is possible.

Whether they are entering newer roles such as data scientist and machine learning engineer or working in newly data-transformed roles in sales development, software development or customer success manager, today’s workers need data skills to compete and succeed, said James Harrington, NASA Computer Scientist/Project Manager and WVU’s point of contact with NASA for the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

“Data science is becoming central to the modern world,” said Harrington. “Data science has experienced 650% job growth since 2012 and recent job reports show that seven out of the 10 fastest growing careers are data centric. Engaging students in using data to address scientific questions has long been an integral aspect of science education, which is the key factor to manage NASA Mission research.”

Statler College graduate student of  mechanical engineering, Lunet Yifru, gained experience teaching 26 students from West Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia, on the research around this issue. 

“I’m very happy that other people are working on this research problem though because it’s a really hard problem,” Yifru said. “I’ve been working on it by myself all year and it’s really nice to have different standpoints, different ideas from different majors.” 

This viewpoint was echoed by many of the students and event organizers who participated in hackweek. 

College of New Jersey mechanical engineering student, Anthony Russo, enjoyed the learning that took place. His favorite part of the event was learning how to code artificial intelligence.

“I think that was really completely new, I went into this knowing basically nothing about artificial intelligence, nothing about any of that type of computer programming,” Russo said. "I came out being reasonably confident that I can now take what I learned and apply it to any project.” 

Another College of New Jersey mechanical engineering student, Haris Alam, said, “this week has really opened my eyes to what’s possible, and to what machine learning really is and what problems it can solve.” 

Event organizers hope to host this event again in the future. The workshop was made possible by NASA Grant #80NSSC21M0140.



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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Phone: 304-293-4135