Working in collaboration with NASA, littleBits has brought out a new electronic module kit designed to give everyone hands-on contact with some of the devices and technologies used by real astronauts.

littleBits and NASA provide a kit to help you explore space science

Over the last few years astronomy has become a hot topic, with the re-run of the TV series Cosmos, the discovery of Kepler-186f, an Earth-type planet, and the detection of waves in space-time that could be the first ripples from the Big Bang. Space and astronomy have always aroused people’s passions, partly perhaps because they appear to be a mysterious field penetrable only by mathematicians, physicists and astronomers. Now however, New-York startup littleBits has come out with a kit which enables just about anyone to build his/her own space gizmos with no or very little engineering knowledge. LittleBits set out in 2011 to make experimenting with electronic gadgets as easy as playing with Lego bricks, enabling users to put together an almost infinite number of component combinations. The startup provides building blocks and models so that everyone from experienced engineers to amateurs and students can construct electronic equipment of various levels of complexity. Now it has developed the Space Kit in collaboration with NASA. The aeronautics/aerospace research organization hopes this collaboration will promote widespread interest in basic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, making robotics, energy and wireless data transmission easily accessible to people without training in engineering.

Making aeronautics experimentation accessible to everyone                                     

Each Space Kit comes with 12 magnetic modules, including a numbers module, remote trigger, infrared LED sensor, a direct current motor, a microphone, and a speaker. It also comes with a booklet of circuit applications written by scientists at NASA and instructions on how to build your own wave generator, star chart, orbiting satellite, an International Space Station and a model automated space vehicle better known as the Mars Rover. The modules are color-coded, so that you can tell them apart easily, and snap together magnetically to prevent any connection problems. The kit gives everyone the opportunity to learn the basic principles of electromagnetism, kinetics, and energy potential. It is now on sale on the littleBits website and will also be available on Amazon and several other online stores at a price of $189. The models and projects can be accessed in open source, and everyone who wishes can share his/her creations on the littleBits site.

Turning consumers into active, educated users      

littleBits plans to keep up and enhance the relationship with NASA and is organizing a series of hackathons and workshops around the kits, with the aim of getting more people excited about science and technology. Ginger Butcher, whose job it is to enhance public awareness of NASA, points out that it is far from easy for the space agency to raise its profile among a wide young audience as it does not make products that people can actually use. However, collaborative initiatives such as the partnership with littleBits will enable NASA to reach out and inspire consumers. Along the same lines, littleBits aims to convert people from passive consumption of technology to more active use, offering ‘makeable’ electronic products in order to encourage people to learn the basic concepts of technology in a simple, fun way. The two partners also hope this approach will inspire more young people to study math, science, engineering, technology and design-related subjects as these skills are going to be more and more essential in a world where computing and information technology are driving the economy.

By Manon Garnier