PGH Space Apps

Richard Behana had always dreamed of being an astronaut growing up.

Instead, the former Thrill Mill entrepreneur is reimagining his dream through a STEM challenge for students across the country that will include an out-of-this-world prize—hitching a ride to the moon with Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic.

Behana is the founder of Space Challenges, a nonprofit that is launching the Stem Lunar Challenge, a national competition that is encouraging students to display their STEM know-how. Students across the country are invited to create and engineer their own lunar-exploration related product or business.

The winning project will earn payload space aboard the Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic mission to the moon next year, the company among the frontrunners in race for the Google LunarX Prize.

The challenge is still in the planning stage. A full launch is planned for June, says Behana.

In a separate event, Space Challenges is raising awareness for its work and bringing the 2014 NASA International Space Apps Challenge to Pittsburgh next week, a two-day initiative and global hack-a-thon.

The event will be held April 12-13 at The Tech Shop.

“Our mission is to promote STEM education through competitions using space exploration for inspiration,” says Behana. “This event nails that right on the head.”

The NASA Challenge is seeking technologists, scientists, entrepreneurs, designers and more. Teams will select a challenge and work in collaboration with other teams from all over the world who are working on similar challenges.

“What’s really awesome about this event is you don’t have to be a software person or engineer,” Behana adds. “It’s a hack-a-thon, but there’s really something for everybody. And it’s free, even the food.”

While this is a first for Pittsburgh, this marks the third year for the NASA event, which attracted participation from 44 countries around the world and 9,000 participants in 2013.

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared...