Welcome, Welcome, Welcome

Hello everybody, and greetings from the STEM Innovation team. During our journey of discovery, together, we will be sharing and conversing with you as we test emerging technology products coming to market; hack hardware; and prototype software algorithms to visualize the universe. We will be describing our journey in many social and traditional media. So come find us! Contribute, collaborate and innovate with NASA scientists!!

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The 5 Questions Attendees Asked Us Most Often At ISTE

The NASA STEM Innovation Lab recently had the pleasure of participating in the International Society for Technology in Education annual conference in Philadelphia. The team was able to bring our virtual reality, coding and electronics, and digital fabrication and design programs. Our stations also featured digital applications, mobile sensors and citizen science, an accessible eclipse experience for the visually impaired, and even a planetarium. People who walked through the NASA Playground could attend 25 flash talks from team members ranging from makerspaces in a Navajo community to where to begin with a 3D printer.

Our interactions with the many thoughtful and engaging conference-goers who stopped by the NASA Playground were the greatest part of ISTE for many NASA team members. These are the biggest questions that participants asked us and we have answers!

Two men sit in front of a crowd holding microphones and answering questions.
NASA Scientists Dr. C. Alex Young and Lou Mayo answered questions from ISTE attendees as part of “Ask an Astronomer”.

“Have you tried this?”
This is our favorite question! Everyone from NASA was inundated with thoughts and creative ideas from people who walked through our stations. Attendees shared everything from ways to integrate our projects into the classroom or types of research that they’d like to see explored with the team. We hope our programs can inspire new ideas and technologies and we want to hear them!

“How Can My Whole Classroom Participate?”
Or this question’s cousin: “Can students work together while doing this project?” We have many ideas that can involve multiple students—like our coding and electronics or papercutting projects—but we were motivated to develop even more group-centric programs. Stay tuned for those!

“How Much Does This Cost?”
We work hard to include low-end to high-end technologies in our work. That’s why we’re currently incorporating more NASA content into papercutting projects—it’s just paper! Our mobile sensors and citizen science projects, as well as the app Spacecraft AR, only require a smartphone or tablet and we’re creating more projects that are low or no cost.

“Do you have a curriculum or lesson plans?”
As a thinktank and makerspace, we generate and collect ideas that could be further developed into lesson plans and curriculum by our users. We hope that people will get inspired to build off these malleable ideas and incorporate them into their programs the ways they best see fit. However, NASA has developed a large number of lesson plans that teachers can use and bring into their classroom for more structured learning that you can access here.

“Can you work with us on our makerspace?”
Yes! This is the ultimate goal of NASA’s STEM Innovation Lab. We want to have NASA Outposts at makerspaces and STEM labs all over the country and potentially all over the world. To stay up-to-date on what’s next for this program, subscribe to our newsletter or contact us directly.

A group of people from the NASA and ISTE partnership posing in the NASA Playground at ISTE.
Our NASA and ISTE team was excited to show our work and is looking forward to continuing to share STEM Innovation Lab research.

Mixed Reality: New setup for the Lab

Virtual Reality environments can be a challenge to fully perceive by watching through a TV screen. However, Mixed Reality, where a camera plus software can remove a green screen background to place a user directly into the environment for all to see is hugely more collaborative.

Prior to the STEM Innovation team traveling down to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) last week, the VR development team were lucky enough to receive and quickly test a Mixed Reality setup.

Mixed Reality, depending on what articles you read, seems to have slightly different meanings. Here we talk about Mixed Reality as a method for people to more clearly see what a VR user is seeing – by overlaying the person directly inside their VR environment and displaying it onto a TV screen.

Once we got the camera and software (we tested a product called LIV), we went about learning how to set it up for our Lab and our Space science related products. Our VR summer intern spent a few days trying, and found it challenging to setup the ‘triangulation part’ of the software. This part of the setup effectively generates a depth perception of the VR environment i.e. to estimate when a person is in front/behind a virtual object.

We did manage to get Mixed Reality working briefly, just prior to shipping our equipment to Kennedy, but we did not have the time to perform robust tests to ensure it would smoothly operate when the team went on the road. This meant the VR team were able to use the Parker launch at KSC was a great testbed for us to learn what is needed to demonstrate Mixed Reality while on tour during future conventions and conferences.

Have you tried a different system to operate Mixed reality in your Lab, or on the road? If so, let us know how you got along and what you liked about it?

Parker Solar Probe: T Minus 1 day

Today is the STEM Innovation team travel day. We are mostly arriving from various airports around the Washington DC area and at different times of the day. The flight is about 2hours and 15min. But have you ever wondered how long it would have taken Parker to travel the same distance?

Today, the majority of the STEM innovation team have been in transit to Florida. Not only have we transported the majority of the equipment and technology ahead of time, but many of us are also bringing smaller items that we are more intimately involved with – and perhaps things where last minute changes were needed.

A few days ago you saw us in a blog, as we boxed up several gear VR headsets. When you come to visit us this week (not if, because why wouldn’t you ), you will see some amazing projects that the team has been developing: From looking closely at a NASA spacecraft and Earth’s magnetic field called the magnetosphere using gear VR technology, through to NASA data visualized and interpreted into a 3D cube of LED lights, and even fly with Parker in VR as your buddy while it circles the Sun. And of course, not forgetting, so much awesome NASA related material for you to take home and learn about Space.

When Parker flies around the Sun, it speeds up as it gets closer to the Sun (this is the conservation of angular momentum). But did you know that Parker at its closest position to the Sun will be traveling a monstrously large speed of about 430,000 miles per hour.

Can you calculate how long it would take Parker to travel our same journey from DC to Orlando? When it took us over 2 hours to fly.

Look away now if you do not want to see the answer:

By guessing the plane follows mostly the eastern coastline, the flight is about 875 miles (using an online map).
Using the trusted formula of speed = (distance / time) , we can rearrange the formula to:

Time = (distance / speed).
Which gives us (875 / 430,000) hours.

So actually it would take Parker a mere 7 seconds !!!

Want to know more details about Parker or get hands on experience with what real scientists are investigating? Then come talk to a scientist at Kennedy this week and talk to the STEM innovation Team.

[edit: Sorry this blogs was meant to go live on Thursday night, but had delays in its release]


Parker Solar Probe: T Minus 2 days

Did you know NASA has several definitions for a countdown?!?  “T Minus”, “L Minus”, and NASA even sometimes uses “E Minus”. What do they all mean and why do we have them? NASA Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center can help with the translations.

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Parker Solar Probe: T Minus 3 days

Today, we had the big team meeting prior to flying down to Kennedy Space Center. We discussed everything from the big picture to the finest of details, all to ensure the American people receive the best support possible. We went through contingencies, scheduling, logistics, more contingencies, events, equipment, science and engineering message, and even more contingencies.

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Parker Solar Probe: T Minus 4 days

Less than a week to go before the launch of the Parker Solar Probe, and so, this marks the beginning of our journey together as I begin to write daily blogs for a week. Today, the team gathered together to collate all the equipment to transport down to the Kennedy Space Center.

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Innovation Team showcasing our latest at Fall AGU conference in Washington DC

Fall AGU 2018 conference is the largest Earth and space science gathering in the world, and the STEM Innovation Team are attending the conference in full force. The team just submitted numerous presentations in several sessions to showcase the variety and breadth of our work. So come find us to talk about all our new and exciting projects in December 10 – 14th.

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Internet of things – Wifi connected room lights

Our entire Lab now has internet accessible smart room lights!! New technology here we come! We have found freely accessible online python software to hack together new ways of visualizing science through the medium of lights in the room. What wonderful science projects can you imagine that we can convert to multicolor lights?

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Where’s Parker? An interactive orbit viewer for the web

We have created a “where’s Parker?” web viewer. To help navigate where our Parker spacecraft will be in the future and to better understand how close to the Sun it will be going, check out our new interactive web tool that we quickly prototyped in a week.

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I’m all ’bout that Parker, ’bout that Parker Solar Probe – in Virtual Reality!

The first mission to touch the Sun – Parker Solar Probe – will be launching in less than a month! We are beginning our month long campaign to focus on supporting all the great NASA scientists working on the Parker Solar Probe mission. First, Parker in Virtual Reality!

Over the next month we will demo a wide range of technologies related to the Parker mission. From 3D printers to touch-tables and Virtual Reality.

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