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NASA, Etsy partner on 'space craft' contest

At a panel at the PSFK conference in New York, Robert Kalin of craft marketplace Etsy and Andrew Hoppin of the NASA Ames Research Center talked about the "coworking" movement and announced a collaboration of their own.

This post was updated at 11:51 AM PT in order to correct a misstatement that was made in the announcement. The winning artwork from the Etsy-NASA contest, not the artists, will make a trip into space. Read the correction post here.

NEW YORK--What does a marketplace for handmade crafts have to do with a NASA project in virtual world Second Life?

A lot, apparently, according to a panel at Thursday's PSFK Conference that paired Robert Kalin, founder of the Brooklyn-based handmade goods site Etsy, and Andrew Hoppin, co-founder of NASA Co-Labs at the NASA Ames Research Center. The topic of the panel, which was moderated by futurist consultant Greg Verdino of Crayon, was the collaborative working movement known as "co-working."

"This is no longer a phenomenon that is limited to the one-man shop," Verdino said. "What we're starting to see now is this notion of co-working transcending physical space and blending physical work spaces, digital and virtual."

Hoppin and Kalin announced as part of the panel that Etsy and NASA would actually be doing some co-working on their own. "Etsy and NASA are partnering on a program that we're calling Space Craft," Kalin explained. Space Craft will be a contest in which Etsy members create products inspired by NASA's logo; finalists' work will wind up in the NASA gift shop, and two piece of winning artwork will get to go into space. The audience seemed a bit taken aback, possibly due to the incorrect assumption that Kalin meant the artists would be the ones to go into space. "This is all sort of in the planning phase," Kalin added.

Sounds like more concrete information will be forthcoming.

Aside from the plan to put crafty hipsters in space, the panel mostly touched upon the two speakers' rationales for their support of collaborative working. Hoppin explained that the Ames Research Center, located in Silicon Valley, originally opened a virtual co-working space in Second Life because there was too much governmental red tape to open a physical one. In the Co-Labs work space, there are virtual lectures, 3D replications of the planets, and in-world projects that both NASA employees and outsiders can work on. "People can dress up as penguins," he said. "This is not really where you'd expect, as a NASA bureaucrat, to find NASA."

He added that the space agency is still working on opening a physical work-space in the Valley and is in talks with Yahoo.

Kalin, who says he "doesn't get" Second Life, was asked by Verdino about Etsy's "spirit of collaboration between buyer and seller." Etsy uses chat rooms, wikis, and other various social tools so that it's a bit more interactive than, say, eBay and its feedback ratings.

"There's something magical about the item that you get," Kalin explained. "It comes from this connection that you made online, but (then) you get the physical item."