With all of its satellites, telescopes, gizmos and gadgets, NASA collects thousands of data points every month. But what if NASA could present that all of that data in a clean, fun and useful way to the public?

The NASA Tournament Lab hopes to find an answer to this question in its latest series of competitions that challenge students, teachers, game designers and interested civilians to build mobile or web-based applications using any of the more than 100 terabytes of information in the NASA planetary data system.

The space agency hopes that by encouraging the public at large to create interesting apps, it might be able to develop something that a coder from the agency would have never thought of. NASA has assembled a judging panel of prestigious scientists, researchers and an astronaut to declare winners of each competition.

Most competition winners will earn $7,000 and other prizes. The final round of the competition, called the penultimate contest by the agency, will award winners with $10,000. The bar is higher here and judges will be looking for applications that showcase entirely new ways of thinking about PDS data, says NASA of the final competition.

The next major day of competition is May 16, when two different projects will take place. The first competition is open to 13- to 18-year-old members of NNS. It challenges these members to build the ultimate app. The second competition is a challenge to teachers and asks competitors to develop and submit fabulous apps for leveraging PDS data in an educational setting. More details about the challenges can be seen on the official PDS Challenge page.

[The] approach, often termed 'crowd sourcing' or 'broadcast search,' lessens the effects of uncertainty in software development by searching for a problem's solution through multiple, parallel paths, said NASA in a written statement about the Tournament Lab. Instead of relying on one individual or team, the researcher can access many, independent ideas, which increases the chances of a successful solution.