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long_comps_topcoder  Challenge Details

The NASA-TopCoder Challenge

Competition Overview

This is the second of a series of Experimental Marathon Matches that TopCoder is running in coordination with Professor Karim Lakhani of Harvard Business School and Professor Kevin Boudreau of London Business School/MLab. The structure and rules for these events are a departure from anything that TopCoder has run in the past, in that we are exploring the effects of collaboration and information sharing during competition.

The second Experimental Marathon Match will include an algorithm problem provided by the Integrated Medical Model Team at NASA . In this challenge programmers will be asked to help NASA optimize a space flight medical kit for astronauts. We believe that the TopCoder community may have an interesting take on this problem and could potentially come up with a breakthrough that will help NASA explore our universe.

This Experimental Marathon Match event has over $25,000 in prizes! In addition, 10 participants will get VIP access to one of the few remaining NASA shuttle launches and all contestants who actively participate will receive a limited edition, personalized TopCoder/NASA T-shirt.

In this Experimental Marathon Match, members who register for the event will be assigned to a Group, and within the Group will compete in sets of 20 individuals. The total prize for each set will be $1,000. In one Group, contestants will compete as members of teams of 5 against 3 other teams and in the other Group, contestants will compete individually against 19 other individuals.

  • Group A - Traditional Marathon Match - Individuals in this group will be assigned to work on the problem individually - i.e. no information sharing at all. Winners in each set of 20 competitors will be declared based on the best performing code according to the problem statement's scoring forumla.
  • Group B - Teams - Individuals in this group will be split into sets of 4 Rooms of 5 individuals, with Rooms competing against the other designated Rooms to win the $1000 prize. Room members will allowed to share code and ideas during the entire length of the competition. Winners will be chosen based on the best score for each room. The Room score is equal to the highest individual score in the Room. Prizes will be allocated among the Contestants in the winning Room according to their contribution, as judged by the others in their Room.

Participants in all groups may submit code written in any of the following languages: Java, C++, C#.NET, VB.NET, or Python. All sets of 20 will be isolated from one another so that there are no spillovers of information, discussions, or code amongst the groups. In addition, each team will be placed into a private competition with their own forum and standings information. Competitors will need to use the web-based interface for participating in the competition - no experimental rounds will be accessible from within the TopCoder Arena.

Keep in mind that there is no actual problem statement associated with the "registration" round.

After the registration period closes on October 28th, 2009, we may ask you some brief questions to help us us determine the groupings of 20. The email with the link to the brief questions will come from TopCoder and we request that you respond to it within 12 hours.

We ask that you register only if you plan to dedicate significant effort and time to this competition that begins on November 4, 2009 and will last for ten days, and you are willing to complete the contribution list (if applicable) and the Post-Competition Survey following the competition. In addition, the number of available spaces for competitors is limited and we will only allow 480 competitors into the competition with preference given to competitors who have demonstrated a high likelihood of participating in challenges after they register. Once registration is closed, and prior to the start of the competition, you will receive an email with your Group and Room assignment.

Harvard's Professor Lakhani has been active in the forums discussing this Experimental Marathon Series. His handle is karimlakhani and you can find further discussion here in the TopCoder forum discussions.

Please check out the rules link below for more detail.

Register to be assigned to a competition group

Prize Structure
Cash prizes, an Invitation to View a NASA Launch, and T-shirts will be awarded as follows:

Group Summary Prizes
Group A
(Traditional Format)
Performance Prizes will be awarded in each Room to the highest individually scoring competitors $500 to highest scoring submission.
$200 to the second highest scoring submission.
$125 to the third highest scoring submission.
$100 to the fourth highest scoring submission.
$75 to the fifth highest scoring submission.

NASA Launch Invitation: Each of the 5 individuals in Group A with the highest scores will be eligible to receive an invitation from NASA to view a NASA launch as described above.

T-Shirts: All Contestants who are assigned to a Room and who actively participate are eligible to receive a challenge T-shirt.

All prizes are contingent upon fully completing a survey from TopCoder and our academic research partners.
Group B
(Team Format)
Performance Prizes will be awarded to members of the winning teams based on team member feedback A total of $1,000 will be divided among the members of the highest-scoring Room group according to the contribution list submitted by the members of the Group.

NASA Launch Invitation: Each of the 5 members of the highest-scoring Room team, if actively engaged in the competition, will be eligible to receive an invitation from NASA to view a NASA launch as described above.

T-Shirts: All Contestants who are assigned to a Room and who actively participate are eligible to receive a challenge T-shirt.

All prizes are contingent upon fully completing a survey from TopCoder and our academic research partners.

In addition, one $1,000 cash prize will be awarded to either the individual in Group A or the Room in Group B with the highest score. If this prize is awarded to a Room in Group B it will be divided according to the contribution lists for that Room.

Contestants must be active participants in order to be eligible to receive any prize. In both Groups A and B, active participation means working on the problem and submitting a reasonable attempt at a solution, including all required parts (e.g., solution description, contribution list in Group B), responding to any email inquiries, and completing all competition-related surveys, including the Post-Competition Survey. In Group B, active participation includes providing a contribution list as requested (including the final contribution list) whether or not a Contestants has submitted code during the competition, and may include, instead of code submission, productive participation in the Room forums.


You must be a TopCoder member, at least 18 years of age, meeting all of the membership requirements. In addition, you must fit into one of the following categories.

If you reside in the United States, you must be either:

  • A US Citizen
  • A Lawful Permanent Resident of the US
  • A temporary resident, asylee, refugee of the U.S., or have a lawfully issued work authorization card permitting unrestricted employment in the U.S.
If you do not reside in the United States:
  • You must be authorized to perform services in the country from which you are located while participating in the competition as an independent contractor. (Note: In most cases you will not need to do anything to become authorized)

Registration Timeline
Opens: 10.21.2009
09:00 EDT
Closes: 10.28.2009
17:00 EDT