Case Study: Experiments in Space

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Educator astronaut, Steve Heck, launches program to take student experiments into space.

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littleBits Case Study Submission

By: Steve Heck

Title: President/CEO – Civilian Astronaut – Educator

Organization: The Arete STEM Project

Age Levels: K-12 (test program – middle school)

Date: June 2014


steve heckSteve Heck served as a Command & Instructor Pilot in the United States Air Force for over 20 years. While serving our country, Lt. Col. Heck amassed over 2700 hours of jet flight time and garnered two world flight records in the KC-10A aircraft. While assigned to the United States Air Force’s Air University, he was nominated for one of President Bush’s “Points of Light” Award for his hard work in education. During his tour of duty, Lt. Col. Heck was awarded five Meritorious Service Medals and was an Outstanding Graduate from the The United States Air Force’s Air War College.

Further, Steve is the recipient of two of the highest honors any educator in our nation has received. He was selected as an Astronaut Educator in the new Citizens in Space Program and awarded a NASA Endeavor Fellowship. These programs select a limited from across the country to undergo enhanced educational training in science technology, engineering and math (STEM) and receive astronaut training, which culminates in a sub-orbital spaceflight. Steve’s efforts within the NASA Endeavor Program garnered him their two highest honors, Leadership with Distinction and their Research Award.

In 2012, The State of Ohio bestowed its highest award given to its’ Veterans by inducting Steve into The Ohio’s Veterans Hall of Fame sighting his exemplary service to our nation and excellence in education. In the summer of 2013, Steve earned his civilian astronaut wings while graduating from NASTAR’s Suborbital Scientist Training Program. Sometime in the next few months, Steve will become one of the first educators in the nation to fly on a sub-orbital commercial flight with XCOR Aerospace and conduct student designed experiments in space. Further, Steve was appointed to the Commercial Spaceflight Federations – Suborbital Applications Research Group (SARG) as its national K-12 Education and Public Outreach Representative.

This year, 2014, has seen another millstone accomplishment with Steve’s creation of The Arete STEM Project. The Arete STEM Project is a first in this nation’s program that brings together the Commercial Spaceflight Industry and K-12 Education. The vision/goal of this project is to help students designed STEM experiments to fly into space while making spaceflight available, at no cost, to schools.

Steve is a dedicated STEM teacher and a highly sought after motivational speaker at school districts, veteran, and community events.

Who were the key people in your organization that made this project possible?

Beside myself, Jim Parker of the Milford Schools Foundation (raised money for the experiments and suborbital flight). In addition, Greg Kennedy, NASTAR Training Center, tested the littleBits modules at the test facilities (centrifuge-simulated missions) and Tara Noftsier from littleBits for her help and support. Finally, XCOR Aerospace for the suborbital flight on board their LYNX spacecraft.

How did you learn about littleBits and what made you decide to implement them into your program

I discovered littleBits on both Facebook and on the internet, then did research on the littleBits company and products.

I felt that the unique design and different types of modules would be just what I needed for STEM experiments for space. I was intrigued that the modules would go together easily and without soldering. Next, I sent a complete circuit packaged in a 10 cm cube to be tested in a high G environment. The circuit package was tested to 6+ G’s, so I know it would work on a suborbital spaceflight.

Explain how you incorporated littleBits into your program?

Students were tasked to develop experiments for a suborbital spaceflight. I started with 580 plus students on 130 plus teams. The teams were given very few constraints to design, build and test their experiments (STEM). Students were given hands on access to the littleBits kits and modules set up in the classroom. Students began the process of investigating what littleBits modules would work with their experiments. Some choose to use sound components and others choose to use lights and batteries.

Outlines of the program are available upon request – contact Steve at and check out the Arete Project on their website and Facebook
















What worked well?

Everything the students tried and used worked for them. Here’s a quick summary:

1) Best power connection: p2 Coin Battery. Especially because of size and the fact that it was rechargeable (Needed it to work for 2 hours – no problems)

2) Best light: o14 Bright LED. Provided the required light and heat for experiments. A good discovery by the students was slight heat given off which allowed for one less component in the Cubes.

3) Best Sound: o24 Synth Speaker. Provided enough generated sound for experiments. Given our size constraints…great speaker.

4) Mounting Boards: Worked great. We were able to cut the boards into different sizes (using a Dremel). The new pieces were then hot glued to the sides of the Cubes thus holding the modules in place.


What was a challenge?

First challenge: finding components that would work in space and survive the harsh environment to get to space and back.

Second: Size and weight constrains. A 10 cm cube does not give you a lot of room to work in and weight is always an issue in spaceflight.

Third: getting students to “keep it simple” in design.

What has been the response of your students and community?

Truly outstanding. Please read the news release from our Suborbital Experiment (STEM) night. My program

has changed how students, community, and businesses view STEM education. Please take a look at this great article on us.

How would you summarize what you’ve learned in implementing your program?

The potential of littleBits is limited only to imagination. Watching students develop, design, build, test and evaluate was unbelievable. Students worked with students they had little contact with and created imaginative experiments to be tested in space.

Creativity and Imagineering will be two key words in my classroom. The sky is no longer the limit. Thank you littleBits.

What standards did you incorporate into your program?

Ohio Science Standards used in the Suborbital Experiments Life

• Summarize that organisms can survive only in ecosystems in which their needs can be met (e.g., food, water, shelter, air, carrying capacity and waste disposal). The world has different ecosystems and distinct ecosystems support the lives of different types of organisms.

• Support how an organism’s patterns of behavior are related to the nature of that organism’s ecosystem, including the kinds and numbers of other organisms present, the availability of food and resources, and the changing physical characteristics of the ecosystem.

• Analyze how all organisms, including humans, cause changes in their ecosystems and how these changes can be beneficial, neutral or detrimental (e.g., beaver ponds, earthworm burrows, grasshoppers eating plants, people planting and cutting trees and people introducing a new species)

Physical Science

•Define temperature as the measure of thermal energy and describe the way it is measured.

• Trace how thermal energy can transfer from one object to another by conduction.

• Describe that electrical current in a circuit can produce thermal energy, light, sound and/or magnetic forces.

• Trace how electrical current travels by creating a simple electric circuit that will light a bulb.

Science and Technology

• Investigate positive and negative impacts of human activity and technology on the environment.

• Revise an existing design used to solve a problem based on peer review.

• Explain how the solution to one problem may create other problems Science Inquiry

• Select and safely use the appropriate tools to collect data when conducting investigations and communicating findings to others (e.g., thermometers, timers, balances, spring scales, magnifiers, microscopes and other appropriate tools)

• Evaluate observations and measurements made by other people and identify reasons for any discrepancies

• Use evidence and observations to explain and communicate the results of investigations.

• Identify one or two variables in a simple experiment.

• Identify potential hazards and/or precautions involved in an investigation.

• Explain why results of an experiment are sometimes different (e.g., because of unexpected differences in what is being investigated, unrealized differences in the methods used or in the circumstances in which the investigation was carried out, and because of errors in observations).

Scientific Ways of Knowing

• Summarize how conclusions and ideas change as new knowledge is gained.

• Develop descriptions, explanations and models using evidence to defend/support findings.

• Explain why an experiment must be repeated by different people or at different times or places and yield consistent results before the results are accepted.

• Identify how scientists use different kinds of ongoing investigations depending on the questions they are trying to answer (e.g., observations of things or events in nature, data collection and controlled experiments).

• Keep records of investigations and observations that are understandable weeks or months later

• Identify a variety of scientific and technological work that people of all ages, backgrounds and groups perform

What are your future plans for littleBits?

In the classroom:

• Developing a class period for Imagineering using LittleBits.

• Developing more space based experiments using LittleBits

Outside the classroom:

I’ve started an Aerospace Company (The Arete STEM Project). We are a private educational organization for student scientists to develop, test & fly their experiments on suborbital spacecraft missions


Our vision is to have student scientists design and fly experimental payloads on suborbital flights with XCOR Aerospace; assisted by expert mentors and using the knowledge and skills, they have developed as part of an Engineering Design Process class.


• Develop future scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians

• Launch a continuing program of research and discovery in schools

• Create a network of mentors to work with students on projects

• Foster a state, community, business, and school relationship to accomplish our mission

• Generate fundraising efforts to totally offset all cost to







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