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NASA Ignites Interest in Space With LittleBits Partnership

The "Space Kit" lets students build Mars rovers, satellite dishes and more.

Courtesy: Little Bits and NASA

Space is having a bit of a moment.

In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the relaunch of Cosmos, the discovery of an Earth-like planet a mere 500 light years away and the detection of ripples in space-time that appear to be the “first tremors of the Big Bang.”

So the timing couldn’t be much better for the latest news from LittleBits. The New York startup creates building blocks for the Information Age, colorful electronic modules like motors, speakers and wires that students, hobbyists or engineers can magnetically snap together into increasingly complex do-it-yourself projects.

On Thursday, the company will unveil its “Space Kit,” a collection of components and instructions that will let users build their own versions of the Mars Rover, the International Space Station, a satellite dish and much more.

The $189 kit is the result of year-and-a-half-long partnership with NASA, which approached the company about creating a product that would inspire interest in science and space exploration. Its engineers and researchers designed and tested the projects for scientific accuracy.

“It’s very important to NASA and our education and outreach efforts to come up with new and exciting ways to engage that next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Ginger Butcher, a public outreach lead for the space agency.

“We don’t sell products or endorse products, so we’re limited in our reach,” she said. “When we’re able to collaborate with a commercial company that can carry the science to a broader audience, that helps NASA and it helps inspire a lot more people.”

The kit also includes several new modules from LittleBits, including a digital number display, an infrared light-emitting diode and a remote control.

The modules form the working parts of the projects, but users can build shells for the rover, space station and other experiments using 3-D printers, cardboard, paper or other materials.

LittleBits is on a mission to convert us from passive consumers of technology into active makers of electronics, by creating products that convey the basic concepts in a fun and simple way. In particular, they hope to inspire students to learn more about the so called STEAM subjects: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The company has raised more than $15 million to date from Khosla Ventures, True Ventures, Foundry Group, Vegas Tech Fund and others.

“Whether you’re a retired engineer, a professional maker or a student, LittleBits creates this really powerful platform for you to invent, with infinite possibilities,” said Ayah Bdeir, founder and chief executive of the company. “The vision of the company is to put electronics into everyone’s hands.”

These are important skills in a world where information technology drives so much of the economy. But understanding the scientific process and how things work is increasingly critical for a society where vast parts of the population reject even basic tenets of modern understanding, like evolution and the age of the planet.

The Space Kit goes on sale on the LittleBits website on Thursday, and will appear on Amazon and various retail stores by the end of the month.

To learn more, check out Bdeir’s TED talk in the video below.

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