NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Innovative Partnerships Office has entered into a Space Act Agreement with littleBits Electronics, Inc., New York, N.Y., to collaborate with the Aura Mission on activities to stimulate student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The activities in the littleBits Space Kit were designed and written by NASA scientists and engineers in collaboration with littleBits, which designed and manufactured the electronics. The company makes an open-source library of electronic modules that connect with magnets, allowing novices and experts alike learn electronics and create projects -- no soldering, wiring, or programming required.
The goal of the partnership is to provide a STEM resource for science explorations or everyday use in after-school programs, science centers, workshops and other informal education settings. The activities introduce children to the fundamentals of energy and its connection to NASA science and satellite instruments.
"Electromagnetic energy is key to everything we do at NASA," stated Ginger Butcher, Aura’s lead for education and public outreach. "The electromagnetic spectrum includes visible light that we can see and infrared, ultraviolet and microwave energy that we cannot see. Satellite instruments can measure this energy to study the Earth and the universe. We also rely on electromagnetic energy to communicate with spacecraft and transmit data."
The interactive activities and companion classroom lessons provide active-learning investigations using littleBits’ open source library of electronic modules that snap-together with magnets. The Space Kit allows children to conduct experiments that illustrate the basics of NASA technologies such as remote sensing instruments used on NASA’s Earth-observing satellites. Projects include instructions on how to build a grappler, a working satellite dish and a remote control Mars rover with additional projects and lessons available online to explore energy, robotics, and other areas of NASA science and engineering.
"It is fascinating to communicate the technology of Earth-observing satellites with hands-on activities," said Bryan Duncan, Aura deputy project scientist. "My favorite activity illustrates how instruments onboard the Aura satellite can detect trace gases in the atmosphere such as ozone in the stratosphere and pollution in the troposphere."
Optics engineers, educators and scientists with NASA’s Aura mission team were funded to create these activities in 2013 through the Internal Research and Development program at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "This type of collaboration benefits everyone – NASA, littleBits, and explorers of all ages in homes and classrooms across the country," said Blanche Meeson, chief of higher education for NASA's Science and Exploration Directorate. "We are able to bring our love and knowledge of science and engineering to a new generation of explorers through littleBits’ simple yet powerful platform."
As part of the Space Act Agreement, littleBits will incorporate the NASA-related activities into future workshops and outreach events. The period of performance for this agreement is three years (effective January 14, 2014) or until all obligations of both parties have been met, whichever comes first.
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