Working in conjunction with NASA, Penticton educator Patricia Tribe has designed a children’s reading program that’s literally out of this world.
Several weeks ago she was at Space Centre Houston meeting with officials for a final, detailed evaluation on whether the plan to have astronauts read books from the International Space Station (ISS) to kids on Earth would fly.
Admittedly a stressful presentation, her project, Story Time From Space, which she has worked on for over the last four years with astronauts and others, was given the green light.
“It’s incredibly daunting to go through these two tests (usability and safety) because if you don’t pass them you don’t go, especially after you’ve put so much effort into it,” said Tribe, who worked as education director at the Houston centre before moving to Penticton. “They (NASA officials) help and want you to pass but it still very daunting but we passed and this is incredible. I shake my head sometimes, it’s taken years, a lot of determination and a lot of work.
“It really is a dream come true.”
Through the program astronauts are video taped aboard the space station reading and conducting simple experiments and demonstrations developed by veteran Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason to compliment the concepts found in the books.
People will then be able to go to the Story Time from Space website to access to the material.
Although limited information about he project has been released, Tribe is already receiving emails from educators around the world who are eager to connect.
The idea actually came to her while working on a pasta dish one evening at her Penticton home and she saw it as a way to bridge what she and others believe is a widening gap between science and language skills instruction in schools.
“I don’t believe we should sacrifice one for the other and that’s why we need to get kids interested in science and I think this program can really do that,” said Tribe.
She first talked it over with her friend and astronaut Alvin Drew who was at the time preparing for his 2011 mission (STS 133) on the space shuttle Discovery, its final voyage.
Drew quickly got on board with the project and the search for appropriate reading material began at which time Tribe remembered books she had while working in Houston.
Enter Dr. Jeffrey Bennett, a mild-mannered astronomer and astrophysicist by day who is also an award-winning children’s author best known (by kids at least) for his series about the space travels of Max the dog, who has already been to the moon, Mars, Jupiter and most recently the space station.
“Jeff’s books are really awesome because they have a story but they also have a lot of good accurate science and that’s the key,” said Tribe.
Drew and other crew members actually downloaded some of Bennett’s books on their computers and did a test reading from Discovery during the 2011 flight.
Five of the author’s works are now currently on the space station, having been taken up in January 2014.
Tribe recalled contacting Bennett the first time to ask permission to use his material.
“Jeff thought it was a prank call and then Alvin got on the line and assured him it was not a prank and yes, we were actually serious about this,” she said.
Bennett too remembered that initial telephone call.
“Patricia’s right, I didn’t believe it at first,” he said during a telephone interview from his home in Boulder, Col. “That was a shocking one but then really, somebody would have to be going a long way out of their way to pull a hoax like that.
“It’s really exciting and to have the books picked up for something like this was just amazing. It’s a great honour and also really been a lot of fun to work with Patricia and Alvin and these other folks, they’re all really amazing people.”
He credited Tribe’s tireless efforts for making the project a reality, adding of all the work Bennett does, his true passion is to inspire kids to “reach for stars.”
“That’s why I started writing these books in the first place, I want kids to get more interested in science and space and this program has such great potential and has the ability to reach a much wider and larger audience around the world than I could have ever done,” said Bennett.
According to Tribe when it came to designing the nine demonstrations, which are already packed aboard the SpaceX CRS −7 for its resupply mission to the space station, scheduled to liftoff Sunday morning from Cape Canaveral, Fla., her longtime friend Tryggvason was the obvious choice.
“Well, in the first place she cornered me into it,” joked Tryggvason, who was a payload specialist aboard the STS-85, 1997 Discovery shuttle mission. “Seriously, our education system has taken a nose dive in the last 30 years and this is a way to look at how you teach science and math. To produce material that is clear and easy in terms of scientific content, that’s the basic philosophy.”
Tryggvason, who will be 70 this year, currently lives in London, Ont. where he divides his time between the university lecture circuit and training test pilots.
The easy-to-do experiments give the program an interactive and three dimensional component and will be interspersed between the readings.
“Bjarni actually built flight hardware for this, they are unique, never-been-done-before experiments and they’re good solid science and teachers will find this very exciting,” said Tribe.
When completed she hopes Story Time from Space will open children’s eyes and imaginations to the wonders of the world of science.
“I think Alvin put it best,” she said. “What you cannot imagine, you cannot do.”