Now, NASA, the U.S. space agency, hopes it has found a workaround
through new space kits and a collaboration with a New York-based
startup called LittleBits.
NASA, through its Aura mission to study the Earth's ozone layer and
climate, is working with LittleBits to develop activities around a
new $189 space kit, announced on Thursday.
Using electronic modules such as motors and dimmers that snap
together, the creations will perform functions that normally might
require hours of tedious tinkering or piles of electronics
The new kits are more demanding than playing with snappable blocks
like Legos, but far easier than wiring, soldering or programming.
"You don't have that frustration level," said Steve Heck, a
sixth-grade math and science teacher at Mulberry Elementary in Ohio
who says too many students lose interest in science and space
experiments when the projects become too difficult.
"You're going to get a much better student in the long run."
For NASA, the partnership has a more specific goal.
"From our perspective, it was to engage kids in how NASA uses the
electromagnetic spectrum," said Ginger Butcher, education and public
outreach lead for the Aura mission. "We can see how much ozone is in
the atmosphere. We can see features on Mars."
NASA reached out to LittleBits after Butcher saw its chief executive
and founder, Ayah Bdeir, give a talk in 2012 about the company's
online modules and decided they could be helpful for Aura's
LittleBits is building and selling the kit while NASA is developing
the activities that go along with them. NASA will not benefit
financially from the sale of the kits, Butcher said.
While the playthings are designed to stay earthbound, a few lucky
kids could see their creations end up in space.
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Working with a company called Xcor Aerospace, Heck said he hopes to
get 10 student projects onto a suborbital flight in 2015. The
students will be selected through a contest, and Heck said he
believes many will submit LittleBits-based projects.
LittleBits says the kits will boost revenue as well as the company's
missions of incorporating better design into electronics and
increasing familiarity with electronics among the public.
"Not understanding electronics is a form of illiteracy," said CEO
Bdeir. Her company is backed by venture-capital firms including the
Foundry Group, Khosla Ventures and True Ventures.
It is unclear what demand may emerge for the kits — Bdeir said she
expects to sell tens of thousands — or if they really will help
children better understand the electromagnetic spectrum or outer
They go on sale at a time when space-related issues are increasingly
coming into the public eye.
A few days ago, scientists announced they have found an earthlike
planet known as Kepler-186f.
(Reporting by Sarah McBride; editing by Steve Orlofsky)
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