CitizenCAN is a concept for a citizen science project platform created during the NASA Space Apps hackathon in April 2017. Over the course of a weekend, my teammate Tanya and I created the concept that responded to a challenge set forth by the Canadian Space Agency to help decode data collected on images from satellites in the 1960s .
Tanya and I tackled the challenge laterally - rather than focusing on a technological solution to decoding the rolls of printed film collected by the satellites, we decided to find a way that would engage the public in the CSA's activities. This direction was born out of a conversation during the hackathon's first night when the CSA's representatives as well as Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen told us the CSA is making a big push to increase public interest and engagement, to open up to the public much like NASA does. This led us to think of opening up the decoding project to ordinary space enthusiasts, to make it a public activity that would increase engagement with the space agency and increase awareness of its role in space history and space future.
Broadening scope of solution
Based on Tanya's familiarity with citizen science projects on platforms like Zooniverse, we decided to start by setting up our first public project on the platform. We named the project "Agent Alouette" based on the name of Canada's first satellite and framed it in a playful retro detective tone. The satellite images would be uploaded with a set of specific instructions on how to read them, and anyone interested could participate and contribute to solving the challenge.
However, while setting the project up, we felt that there was much more to this concept that could be expanded into a much broader solution that would benefit the CSA's goal of increasing public engagement. This is when CitizenCAN was born. CitizenCAN is a platform that would host these individual citizen science projects. The projects would vary in nature, stay up to date with science discoveries and news and could be tailored to either teach the public about space, to inform them about Canada's role in space history, or to gather actual useful data from ordinary citizens.
What's more, a platform like CitizenCAN could become a repository of information, resources and open source data for the public to consult. It could be an opportunity for Canadian Space Agency to open their data up to Canadians and the world in a fun and interactive way that lets participants contribute to real scientific projects.
Presentation and future work
We presented the concept on the last day of the hackathon and were honoured to win the Toronto-level Space Apps challenge and receive an honourable mention award from the Canadian Space Agency (which includes a visit to the CSA headquarters that we are so excited to take!)
Our end result was a concept full of possibility, where contributors could learn about the science and data that they analyze, and the Canadian Space Agency would benefit by increasing awareness and using crowdsourcing efforts that would save them time, money, and resources. We continue to develop the concept into an actual working prototype.