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Children's Books Head To International Space Station

Technicians pack a Cygnus supply module at Kennedy Space Center. Photo: Brendan Byrne
Technicians pack a Cygnus supply module at Kennedy Space Center. Photo: Brendan Byrne

Jets of air shower technicians decked out in blue bunny suits, blowing off any contaminants. They’re heading into a clean room at Kennedy Space Center where a resupply module is being loaded up with 7,000 pounds of supplies – getting ready to head up to the International Space Station.

Dan Tani is a former Station astronaut. Now he works for OrbitalATK, the company sending the supply module to the Station. He’s been in space when one of these makes its way to the station, so he knows how excited the astronauts can get.

"The crew has several emotions. One is 'here comes Santa Clause,' because of in addition to the t-shirts and wet wipes, there’s going to be notes from home and special presents," says Tani

One of those special presents is a collection of children’s books. It’s part of a program called ‘Storytime from Space’. Astronauts on board the ISS record themselves reading the books from orbit and send the videos back down to earth for elementary-aged kids to watch.

NASA Educator Patricia Tribe came up with the idea about five years ago. At the time, educators were focusing on literary education – bulking up kids’ reading skills. But she worried that spending more time on reading was taking away from other studies.

"Let’s do an example, if we put an extra 10% of time into literacy activities we noticed about 10% of time was taken out of science," says Tribe.

She convinced astronaut Alvin Drew to read a children’s story from the space Shuttle Discover. They weren’t able to send Drew up with a physical copy of the book, so he read from his laptop – floating in front of him – while he filmed himself reading from the shuttle’s aft-flight station.

Patricia Tribe says the first digital Storytime from Space was a success, "but what we needed was the actual books up there. It provided a much more intimate experience up there, just like you were really having a Storytime if you had the books up there"

Tribe convinced the folks at NASA and other astronauts to continue the program by sending physical copies to the station, which she says wasn’t a hard sell.

"I don’t know of any astronaut that does not think that education plays a role – obviously it played a huge role in their lives in order to get to where they are. There’s a lot of backing for education through the astronauts and they see the educational value in this," says Tribe.

The books are geared towards elementary and middle school aged kids. But Tribe wants to continue the program to high-school aged students by sending science demonstrations to orbit

Earlier this year some of that equipment was heading to orbit on top of a SpaceX rocket. But two minutes into flight, the rocket exploded destroying the cargo heading to the International Space Station.

Through various fundraising efforts, Storytime From Space will continue.

This week, a rocket will send up 7 more books. And early next year, SpaceX will deliver new demonstrations to the station.

Until then, parents and children can stream previous stories online at www.storytimefromspace.com


Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program. Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration, and the weekly news roundup podcast "The Wrap."