NASA has confirmed that hackers tried to sway results of a challenge for teenagers that involved public voting via social media by targeting some participants on the basis of their race.
The challenge from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center encourages students to find "spinoff" technology in their everyday world, the USA Today reported on Thursday.
However, after learning hackers attempted to alter the final vote totals, NASA said on April 29 it had to shut down the voting portion of the "OPSPARC Challenge", which hopes to ignite creative thinking in children.
"Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA's attention ... 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," NASA said in a statement.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the hackers targeted a team of students from Washington, DC's Banneker High School who created a product that could purify school systems' water by checking for chemicals such as chlorine.
The Banneker team was among eight finalists to win the challenge.
Before the voting ended, members of the public were using social media to generate support for particular teams in the public voting.
NASA supports this kind of community-based effort to encourage students to engage with science, technology, engineering and math and recognises social media as an important tool for that support.
The challenge team has an accurate record of the voting results prior to the attempted disruption, NASA said.
"In accordance with the judging criteria and voting procedures stated on the OPSPARC website, a panel of NASA Goddard judges will make a final determination of the winners using the published rubrics," it added.
The results are slated to be announced this month.