Have you wondered where to look in the sky to see the International Space Station in orbit? You might need to ask a fifth-grader.
The station orbits more than 250 miles above Earth’s surface, but students at St. Barnabas Episcopal School in DeLand don’t need to venture off campus to connect with it.
The school recently installed an educational device known as an ISS-Above in one of its busiest hallways.
“What it does is, as it goes along, it tracks the orbit that it’s on [currently] and it tracks its future orbit,” Tamara Parker, the school’s computing teacher, said. “It supplies information about the next time the International Space Station is passing over us.”
Parker, a lifelong space enthusiast, had the idea to get the device. It also shows information about the current crew aboard the Space Station, live videos of spacewalks, and information on where to look to see the Space Station as it passes overhead.
“I’m a Space Station ambassador and educator, and I have been interested in this for as long as I can remember,” Parker said.
The device is based around a Raspberry Pi computer board, a tiny $35 computer originally created to promote teaching computer science and coding in schools.
The cheap computers have become popular among makers and enthusiasts of all kinds, who have incorporated them into projects ranging from Space Station trackers to weather stations and retro game consoles.
“As soon as I saw that there was a Raspberry Pi board, you could talk about — like, look what you can do with this tiny $35 computer,” Parker said. “They’re amazing.”
The ISS-Above is supported by the ISS National Laboratory’s education program. Parker said mostly schools and museums have the device, but some hardcore enthusiasts also own them for their personal Space Station tracking pleasure.
The only other ISS-Above in Volusia County is at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Parker said the device has been a hit with her students, many of whom have taken an interest in space.
“They love it. It is a natural attraction to look up,” she said. “And so, they get here, and they’re kind of jostling for attention. They can’t get up close enough to it.”
Some students take a moment between classes to check up on the astronauts’ activities.
“Whenever we pass by for our classes, we just take a second to look at it,” fifth-grader Kate Budzinski said.
Parker’s enthusiasm for all things space-related is infectious. Unfortunately, her introduction to space was a tragic one.
“I was in fifth grade when the Challenger disaster happened,” she recalled.
Teacher Christa McAuliffe was aboard the ill-fated space shuttle, and was slated to conduct lessons that were to be broadcast to millions of schoolchildren around the country.
“We were prepping for it all school year,” Parker said. “We were watching it in the classroom. So that stuck with me for a long time.”
Before becoming a teacher, Parker worked at NASA as a research historian.
She hopes the ISS-Above and related experiments can spark a passion for science and space in her students, just as she became enthralled with space at a young age.