| NEW YORK, April 24
NEW YORK, April 24 Making mini satellite dishes
that collect signals or building remote-controlled mini Rovers
such as the kind NASA has used on Mars are the types of
activities that could interest kids in science, but their
complexity can derail all but the most enthusiastic hobbyist.
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
The new kits are more demanding than playing with snappable
blocks like Legos, but far easier than wiring, soldering or
"You don't have that frustration level," said Steve Heck, a
5th and 6th 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
"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
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 educational goals.
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.
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
"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 space.
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)