Posted on May 4, 2018 at 2:40 PM
On Sunday, April 29, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) announced that it closed its public choice voting for its OPSPARC (Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge) competition a day early due to an orchestrated attack on its voting system.
The attack, said to be led by members of an internet forum known as 4chan, specifically targeted the all-female team from Washington, D.C.’s Benjamin A. Banneker Academic High School. NASA recognized this attack as a racially motivated attempt to alter the results in which African-American team members Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell were leading the vote.
NASA utilizes its OPSPARC competition a means of drawing students into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). In this competition, students are called upon to find creative ways to put NASA technology to work in their everyday lives. Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell from Benjamin A. Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C., inspired by the possibility of the drinking fountains in their own school being contaminated by lead, set out to create a water purification system based on NASA’s pool purifying technology.
They were buoyed in the public vote by the help of a leader from the Women’s March who pointed out that women are underrepresented in the sciences and encouraged the public to support this all-girl team in their efforts. This team was further supported by the Inclusive Innovation Incubator community in Washington, D.C. where the girls volunteer.
The positive attention Sharrieff, Skinner, and Snell garnered online, however, allegedly was not looked upon favorably by members of 4chan. According to the Washington Post, they soon took to their own forum to pass along information on computer programs that could be used to hack NASA’s system. 4chan members are said to have specifically utilized posts on President Donald Trump to drum up more attention and support.
While NASA has yet to discuss the details of the attack and its detection, NASA did clarify that they would only be officially counting pre-attack votes. While a panel of NASA Goddard judges ultimately determine the winners of the challenge, the public vote is one factor they consider when selecting the winners. NASA sees the use of social media to promote voting as a means of drawing younger people to STEM subjects and encouraging them to “reach for the stars.”
NASA will announce the winners of this competition early this month. Champions will be awarded a trip to Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland where they will spend two days (June 13-14) working with astronauts and scientists at the center. The prize includes a $4000 stipend to cover expenses.