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EPAM Named a Finalist for NASA MarsXR2 Challenge: An interview with Nataliia Savchenko, team captain from EPAM Poland

EPAM Named a Finalist for NASA MarsXR2 Challenge: An interview with Nataliia Savchenko, team captain from EPAM Poland

EPAM designers advanced to the finals of the NASA MarsXR2 Challenge. The finalists, selected by NASA experts, developed a vision for collecting rock samples on Mars. Nataliia Savchenko, team captain from EPAM Poland, talks about the details of the project.

First, congratulations. Winning the NASA competition is an outstanding achievement for you and EPAM. How did you find out about the project?

In February, I met a colleague who is a Product Manager from EPAM Germany. He talked to me about his interest in the NASA challenge and asked if I wanted to participate. I agreed and started looking for people to join my team. In the first meeting, 26 people showed interest in joining the project, but we whittled it down to a group of six people.

How long did you work on this project?

We dedicated one month to working on this project, and it was an intense effort that primarily took place during the night. While we did have meetings during the day, some assumed that our project was solely developed during those gatherings. In reality, it was only after regular working hours that we could focus on tasks such as creating the storyboard, researching and watching films about Mars, and gathering relevant information from various sources.

Can you describe your solution in a few words?

Initially, our work looked like a storyboard. However, it went beyond visual representation to serve as a training resource for instructors. Given Mars’s uncertainties and unique challenges, we had to develop various scenarios and describe potential situations. For instance, we provided detailed information about the necessary tools and possible solutions in the stone collection scenario. Every tool mentioned in our script was thoroughly described, resulting in a storyboard that looked like a comic book.

In the second phase, our plan involves creating 3D assets and integrating them into a virtual reality environment. It will be a real challenge for designers and programmers, requiring translating our concepts into an immersive and interactive experience.

What was a source of inspiration and information for your team?

Three days before the end of the challenge, we didn’t know how to present the results of our work. Then one of our team members suggested a comic book style, and we created our storyboard.

How much competition did you have?

Two hundred and sixty teams from different countries took part in this competition.

That’s a really big number! What else was a challenge for you in this project apart from beating the competition?

The entire project presented numerous challenges. When we selected the rock sample collection scenario, we had to research and decide on the most suitable tools, which was laborious and time-consuming. Despite watching numerous documentaries about Mars, we discovered we needed more time to collect samples by hand. Instead, tools like tongs and clean tubes were required to extract and transfer the stones back to Earth.

NASA's objective of exploring the presence of water and the potential for life on Mars required more than surface-level samples. Utilizing a drill would have been ideal, but given the absence of electrical equipment on Mars, we explored the field of geology for alternative solutions.

Eventually, our breakthrough came from a video showcasing gold diggers on Earth. They demonstrated a special drill with a sleeve to extract materials from inside rocks. This discovery served as our inspiration.

Interestingly, as non-device engineers, we continuously sought inspiration since we needed a clearer idea of what these solutions should look like. We watched various programs, including those documenting the Apollo mission to Mars, to gather insights and refine our current solutions. During our research, we stumbled upon a video featuring snake-catching pliers with a unique mechanism. This inspired us to consider incorporating it into our task.

How do you feel now? I suspect that you can be happy on the one hand and feel overwhelmed on the other.

We were delighted when we found out we had won. As we navigate through the second stage of the challenge, our workload has intensified, and we are actively seeking new talented individuals to join our team.

What motivates you to win now?

This project serves as a tremendous source of motivation for me, as I am eager to gain deeper insights into the inner workings of this prestigious organization. Being educated as a rocket science engineer, I am excited to apply my knowledge in this unique opportunity.

Thank you for the conversation!

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