(Posted 4 October 2016) I recently had the opportunity to present a number of portable planetarium programmes to (highly enthusiastic) participants, volunteers and organisers of the first Canberra Space Camp.
The first Canberra Space Camp (text from website) is a ‘4 day/3 night immersive experience for high school students in the ACT and surrounding regions in Years 7-9. The Canberra Space Camp aims to promote space science and related technology. The aim is to inspire and raise the aspirations of young people to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines via the exciting Space Industry that is located in the ACT.‘
As I drove home after I packed up the planetarium, I was left feeling very envious of the teenage participants of Canberra’s first space camp. They won’t realise it but they are in the golden age of affordable technology and innovation. To use an old cliche, when I was their age, my high school literally had only two personal computers. Both were very expensive and literally kept under lock and key and away from the prying fingers of lower high school students. I can still remember the librarians of my high school cursing because we used to spend some of our lunchtime pressing our noses against a glass door trying to get a better look at one of those computers in the library. The librarians would then spend their time rubbing the nose prints we left on the said glass door off at the end of each lunch time.
Contrast that to the wonderful opportunities availed of the participants at the Canberra Space Camp. Among other things, they got to spend time using Scratch (a graphical computer language) to programme Makeblock robots (only five years ago these would have been totally unaffordable for those with a normal wallet). Camp participants also got to hear a former NASA astronaut (now working at the Boeing company (one of the camps sponsors) speak via Skye. Even my planetarium presentations would not have been possible ten years ago. My projection equipment uses affordable or free software to ‘warp’ (pre-distort) images and video so that a data projector can project onto a security mirror which then reflects the images or video onto the planetarium dome. A simple idea but mathematically complex requiring a powerful laptop. The alternative would be to use a fisheye lens costing in the tens of thousands of dollars!
A big ‘Well done!’ needs to go to the organisers and sponsors of the Canberra Space Camp. Particular thanks goes to Ingrid McCarthy (Inspiring Australia ACT Program Manager – STEM & Entrepreneurship (CBR Innovation Network Ltd) who gave me the opportunity to contribute to the programme.