Pi takes flight: Raspberry Pi computers head to the International Space Station

You might be stunned to learn that, from Earth, your child could easily send messages to astronauts based on the International Space Station (ISS) – but it’s all very possible thanks to a pair of Raspberry Pi computers that were recently sent on a rocket to the ISS.  

Liftoff commenced on the morning of 21st December 2021, with the Pi units tagging along on the journey as part of a project overseen by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Raspberry Pi Foundation (RPF) in an attempt to spark young people’s interest in STEM subjects.  

This isn’t the first time Raspberry Pi computers have visited the ISS…

Older, less advanced Pi units – known as Ed and Izzy – were originally sent to the station in 2015 due to British astronaut Tim Peake’s Principia mission that year. The new Pi computers have been deployed in order to replace these older units.  

The new ones were placed on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket itself carrying the Dragon 2 spacecraft. The SpaceX rocket lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre, with the RPF’s Olympia Brown saying that the new Pi computers would be “with all of the astronauts’ Christmas presents”.  

The RPF itself has detailed, on its website, the thorough process the organisation had to undergo in order to suitable prepare the Pi units for what it calls “the Astro Pi Challenge”. It was crucial for the two mini computers to pass safety and certification checks to verify that they could be safely operated on board the station.  

What is the Astro Pi Challenge?

The Challenge runs until 18th March, and is calling on children and teenagers to write simple computer codes that would subsequently be used in conducting experiments on the ISS.  

Ms Brown, the RPF’s head of youth partnerships, has suggested – in words quoted by BBC News – that Challenge participants could create “a message that will be seen by the astronauts” stationed on the ISS. She noted that it will not be difficult for this message to reach the astronauts, as “the International Space Station does have Wi-Fi”.  

This message would be sent as part of Astro Pi Mission Zero, a beginners’ coding activity in which all young people under the age of 19 in ESA member and associate states are able to participate.  

Could the Astro Pi Challenge inspire your child?

In visiting the RPF’s website, you could learn how your child would be able to pursue the Astro Pi Challenge. They could be particularly inspired to learn that the astronauts have been sent not only the two new Pi units but also an extra component for them called the Sense HAT.  

This accessory has a joystick, camera and LED display as well as an array of sensors for tracking lighting conditions, humidity, pressure and orientation. It’s possible to order both a Raspberry Pi computer and a Sense HAT for it from a specialist online store like The Pi Hut, making it easy for you to introduce your child to the wonders of programming a Raspberry Pi.  

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