NASA has admitted to shutting down the public voting for an innovation competition after a hacker tried to sway the vote against a trio of Black girls who were in the lead.
"On Sunday, April 29, hackers attempted to change the vote totals in the NASA OPSPARC Challenge, so managers of the challenge decided to end public voting to protect the integrity of the results," the agency said in a statement.
The girls—Bria Snell, India Skinner, and Mikayla Sharrieff from Washington D.C.’s Benjamin A. Banneker Academic High School —were competing in NASA Goddard’s Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge. Their entry, which involved creating technology that would purify water in public schools, had taken an early lead in the final with 70 percent of the vote, according to The Root.
The competition called on students to find creative ways to use space technology in their everyday lives and encouraged the eight teams that entered to use social media to generate support for their projects. According to the Washington Post, the girls chose to create a water purification system because some water fountains in their school could not be used because of potential lead contamination.
Now, it appears NASA had to shut down the voting due to racist intentions to prevent the girls from winning a trip to the agency's national space program in Maryland.
“Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA’s attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students and support STEM, but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts," the statement said.
The Washington Post reports that “the anonymous posters used racial epithets, argued that the students’ project did not deserve to be a finalist and said that the black community was voting for the teens only because of their race. They urged people to vote against the Banneker trio, and one user offered to put the topic on an Internet thread about President Trump to garner more attention. They recommended computer programs that would hack the voting system to give a team of teenage boys a boost.”
The winners of the competition will be announced sometime in the next few weeks, a NASA Goddard spokesperson told Newsweek.
“NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars,” they said.