Idaho students to watch live International Space Station broadcast at Boise State

Posted at 3:16 PM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 17:17:02-04

Idaho middle school students will gather at Boise State University Friday to watch a live broadcast from the International Space Station. The event will be held in the Skaggs Hall of Learning in the Micron Business and Economics Building.

Students are celebrating completion of the Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program. The five-week STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program is provided through a partnership between the MIT Space Systems Lab, the Innovation Learning Center and Aurora Flight Sciences. It is sponsored by NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the Northrup Grumman Foundation.

The public is welcome to attend the live broadcast beginning about 7:30 a.m. and continuing intermittently until about 11:15 a.m.

The live broadcast is part of the national Zero Robotics Finals Competition that will feature the students’ computer code written during the summer program. Nine teams of Idaho students participated, representing Boise, Burley, Hailey, Meridian, Nampa, Sandpoint and Twin Falls.

Following the morning program, students will participate in a STEM celebration, which will include tours of STEM Bus USA, Segway rides and more.

Zero Robotics curriculum introduces students to computer programming, robotics and space engineering, and provides hands-on experience programming SPHERES (and acronym for Synchronized, Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites). The program culminates in a tournament where winning teams’ SPHERES compete aboard the International Space Station), with NASA astronauts conducting the tournament and providing real-time commentary.

After several phases of virtual competition in a simulation environment that mimicked real SPHERES, Idaho students’ top three codes were sent to the ISS and will be programmed into SPHERES this Friday. Idaho’s top teams are:

• Sage International
• Evolutionary Coders (NeighborWorks Boise - Gateway)
• East Bonner County Library District and Sandpoint Middle School

The SPHERES program is designed to teach critical thinking and computer coding to middle school students with little or no experience. Each year, MIT creates a space challenge for the students to conquer through coding SPHERES. All Zero Robotics competitions are tied in some way to actual space research.

The Idaho Zero Robotics program is being run by the Idaho Afterschool Network with grants from MIT/Innovation Learning Center and Idaho STEM Action Center. Boise State University helped bring the middle school program to Idaho three years ago, in partnership with Discover Technology.

Steve Swanson, former NASA astronaut and now distinguished educator in residence at Boise State, is helping with this year’s program.

“As a Zero Robotics team mentor and having conducted the middle school tournament on the ISS, I have seen the excitement and growth opportunities this program provides,” Swanson said. “And I am always extremely amazed at the effort put forth and abilities these students have. The strategies and software they create are fantastic. I believe programs like this can show students that science and engineering are creative, rewarding and fun endeavors.”