Online tips to blast into orbit with Astro Pi Mission Zero!

Astro Pi Mission Zero gives young people the opportunity to blast their program into space and send a message to the astronauts on board the International Space Station. 

With many of you supporting young people to learn to code from home, Ruth from The Mount School Code Club in York shares some tried-and-tested tips for taking Astro Pi Mission Zero online. 

What is Astro Pi Mission Zero? 

Astro Pi Mission Zero is an engaging challenge to write a simple Python program that will run on the International Space Station. The code will run for up to 30 seconds on one of the two Astro Pi computers that are on the space station. 

Step-by-step instructions are available to help young people take part in this year’s challenge, which involves measuring the humidity in the Columbus module and displaying a colourful message on the Astro Pi’s LED matrix for the astronauts to read!

It can be completed in person or as part of an online session. Entries can be submitted either individually, or as part of a team of 2–4 young people. 

The closing date for entries is Friday 18 March and Astro Pi is open to ESA Member States, as well as Slovenia, Canada, Latvia, and Malta.

Two young girls with long brown hair sat facing a laptop at a table. In the corner of the image an animation of of a astronaut is giving a double thumbs up.

Ruth’s top tips on delivering Astro Pi Mission Zero online 

Code Club educator Ruth has helped her club go into orbit with Mission Zero. Read her four top tips to make sure you have a smooth mission from online classroom to space! 

1. Show them where their code is going to run 

Engage the kids in the project before they start writing any code. I showed them a Raspberry Pi with a Sense HAT and we watched the video at the start of the project so they could see the Astro Pi computers onboard the space station. Take a look at Google Street View of the ISS, and see if you can find them on board! 

It helped them realise that the code they were about to write was actually going to be run in space!

2. Teach them the underscore (_) key! 

Kids are now used to typing on a computer, however, there are some keys that we use in code that they may not be so used to. For example in the Astro Pi project, the underscore key (_) is used often.

An astronaut in onboard the International Space Station and is pointing towards the Astro Pi's.
The Astro Pi onboard the International Space Station (Image credit ESA)

3. Fixing bugs together 

To help fix a bug, I’ll ask them to share their screen and make their code font larger on Trinket. Everyone benefits from this, as all the kids can see the problem and learn from it. Coders often help each other rather than me helping them, which is great and I always encourage this.

4. Take your time 

Astro Pi Mission Zero can be completed in one session, but we took our time and completed the project in three sessions. We used the first session for setting up, explaining the project and working on the scrolling message to appear. The second session was about investigating how to get the picture to appear, and the third session was using the sensor to read the value and to respond differently depending on the value it’s received.

Ruth’s last piece of advice:

“[At] each small step in this project I’ve seen the kids’ faces light up when they see their code working how they wanted it to and now that they know their code is actually going to be used somewhere it makes them feel even prouder. I’ve had comments from parents saying it’s the most engaged they’ve seen their child in a long time.”

My Code Club is paused

If your club is paused, we have a step-by-step video to guide coders through Mission Zero. You can share the video link and they can blast their code into orbit from the comfort of their own home! 

Connect with the Code Club team on Twitter at Code Club UK or Code Club World and let us know how your coders get on with Astro Pi Mission Zero! 

How partner-run Coolest Projects events are making a difference to digital makers around the world

Coolest Projects 2021 idea registration is officially open! The online showcase brings together a global community of young digital makers to showcase their tech creations with the world. 

Josh, our Global Community Coordinator, celebrates how two international partners ran online Coolest Projects events in 2020, to help inspire your Code Clubs to enter their COOL tech ideas to this year’s Coolest Projects online showcase! 

Bringing ideas together with Penang Science Cluster: Malaysia

In 2020, Penang Science Cluster did something really special: they ran a Coolest Projects online event across all of Malaysia and Vietnam.  

The team had a whopping 151 project submissions from a colossal 320 students across 14 states in Malaysia and Vietnam! Not only that, but they received over 20,000 public votes for the shortlisted projects.

Because it was an online event, Vi Tien Dat — a young digital maker who has cancer and is housebound in rural Vietnam — was able to take part. 

His team’s project ‘Radio for communicating with communities’ uses two micro:bits to transmit messages via radio signals and was inspired by his own personal situation. Take a look at Vi Tien Dat’s exceptional entry.  

His teacher said:

“Vi Tien Dat is a strong boy. He lives in Hoa Binh Province Viet Nam and although he has cancer, he still studies hard. As a result, he can do it! Thanks Coolest Project Malaysia for giving us a chance to take part.”

Well done to Aimy and her team at Penang Science Cluster for making this event such an enormous success and an unforgettable opportunity for young people like Vi Tien Dat.

A dazzling showcase in Belgium!

Coolest Projects in Belgium have been running for the past five years in the Technopolis arena (a science centre known for cool technology and science exhibits, including  its very own dinosaurs!). In 2020, for their big five-year celebration, they moved the WHOLE event online. 

The online showcase featured a dazzling showcase of 32 projects from 46 brilliant Belgian young creators, including 28 projects in Dutch, three in French, and one in English. 

Local celebrities supported the online showcase, including comedian and enthusiastic maker Henk Rijckaert; ICT Woman of the Year, Dewi Van De Vyver; and Young ICT Lady of the Year 2014, Wendy Vermoesen. They talked to the young makers about their projects and what it means to use digital making in your career.

The team had this to say: 

I think it’s exactly that level of accessibility that makes Coolest Projects so cool.

Everyone is welcome, all that matters is your enthusiasm and your idea and not so much the complexity or a high level explanation. It’s about inspiring kids to use the ability they have and put it into their own creative idea, for the world to see.

One project that really impressed me was ‘Water Maker’ by Salome Mehta, which aims to address the issue that millions of people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water.

The Belgian event will be run online again this year with the ambition to reach an even bigger audience. Well done to the whole Belgian team! 

Get involved with this year’s global online showcase

Idea registration is now open for Coolest Projects! Wherever you are in the world, invite your Code Club members to get creative and take part in Coolest Projects 2021!