Tag Archives: international space station

FAN, NASA, MIT Wrap Up 2013 Zero Robotics Summer Program

4 Sep


Check out the blog below from Laura Colville, Education Specialist for CASIS, the organization that operates the International Space Station.  Florida Afterschool Network was excited to lead this program in the state of Florida, and looks to be able to offer the program statewide next year.  FAN would also like to congratulate the teams from Southern Oaks Middle School, in St. Lucie County, and Ralph Williams Elementary School, of Brevard County, for coming in first and second, respectively, in the national Final Competition!

“On Tuesday, August 13, approximately 350 middle school students gathered at universities and NASA centers across the country for the Zero Robotics Middle School Competition. Zero Robotics is a robotics competition where students have the opportunity to utilize the International Space Station as a laboratory to test programming codes from the ground using “SPHERES” (Synchronized, Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites) satellites.

Led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Space Systems Laboratory, which originally designed SPHERES, along with its partners (Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, Top Coder, and Aurora Flight Sciences) and generous sponsorships from CASIS, DARPA, and NASA, this program is aimed at engaging students in innovative, complementary learning opportunities during the summer, as well as increasing student interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

During the five-week Zero Robotics Middle School Program, middle school students in California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, and Massachusetts worked collaboratively with program staff to learn physics, mathematics, and computer programming through interactive activities and hands-on experience programming their SPHERES satellite. SPHERES are bowling ball-sized spherical satellites used inside the ISS to perform test flight formation and docking maneuvers. Students spent much of the summer learning to write computer programs and formulating strategies for their SPHERES in anticipation of the final competition.

Students had the chance to see the SPHERES that they had programmed over the summer and competed against each other aboard the ISS as NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Karen Nyberg  provided real time commentary on the competition via live feed.

Florida had 10 teams from Brevard, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Orange Counties participating in the Zero Robotics Middle School Competition.  Harbor City Elementary School, Enterprise Elementary school, Lewis Carroll Elementary School, Ralph Williams Elementary School, Southern Oaks Middle School, Gifford Middle School, Lake Nona Middle School, and Jackson Middle School all participated.

The Florida teams gathered at the Kennedy Space Center on August 13th to view the competition that was broadcast live from MIT and the ISS. Two Florida teams placed in the top tier. The wild card team from Southern Oaks Middle School in St. Lucie County, Florida won the competition with the team from Ralph Williams Elementary in Brevard County, Florida placing second.

Larry Pintacuda, Chief Executive Officer for the Florida Afterschool Network, the coordinating agency for Florida’s teams, was thrilled that Florida middle school students had the opportunity to participate. “These young people spent a very productive summer working together in teams becoming excited about learning in a hands-on, fun environment,” he said.  “Perhaps we have fostered future scientists and engineers. I can tell you for 150 middle schoolers (in Florida), it has been a wonderful summer”.

The Zero Robotics Middle School Program was started as a component of NASA’s Summer of Innovation, a nationwide program targeted at encouraging STEM education for middle school students. The pilot in 2010 was centered regionally around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, and in 2013 the program has grown to  include multiple locations around the country, including California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, and Massachusetts, with CASIS as the main sponsor for the middle school competition.”

To view an archive of the competition, visit:



FAN, MIT, NASA Launch 2013 Summer Robotics Program

17 Jun


For the last five months, the Florida Afterschool Network has been working closely with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to launch an exciting, project-based, summer science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum for middle school students.  The program began today, June 17, in four counties.

Ten teams of middle school students from Brevard, Indian River, Orange, and St. Lucie counties will work with leaders in the science and technology fields to learn and write coding to control SPHERE satellites aboard the International Space Station. At the conclusion of the summer, the teams will compete against one another, as well as against teams from California, Georgia, Idaho, and Massachusetts, to determine the most effective code.  The final competition will take place live, on the International Space Station.  Each team will serve up to 20 middle school youth.

“The programs selected to participate in the Zero Robotics Summer SPHERES Program have demonstrated a commitment to including innovative STEM curriculum in their summer programs,” said Larry Pintacuda, CEO of the Florida Afterschool Network.  “The teams will work with program staff and scientists to learn about robotics and space engineering while gaining hands-on experience.”

“Governor Rick Scott has been very focused on increasing awareness about the importance of STEM subjects and careers,” said Florida Commissioner of Education Dr. Tony Bennett.  “By providing students with the opportunity to build relationships with experts in the field, and learn in a team-oriented environment, students will discover the wonderful possibilities of working in the science and technology community.”

SPHERES are bowling-ball sized spherical satellites used inside the International Space Station to test a set of well-defined instructions for spacecraft performing autonomous formation flight and docking maneuvers. “SPHERES” is an acronym for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites.

The Summer SPHERES Program is a continuation of the programming made available in 2010 through NASA’s Summer of Innovation Grant Program, which originated at MIT in the Boston area.

For more information on afterschool and out-of-school time, as well as summer programming, in Florida, visit www.myfan.org.