Co-founder Patricia Tribe of Story Time from Space with three of Jeffrey Bennett’s Max the Dog series books that are currently orbiting the earth on the International Space Station as part of her education program. Mark Brett/Western News

Story Time from Space reaching new heights for Penticton educator

Patricia Tribe can’t believe how her reading and sciene program from space has grown internationally

A simple idea that came to a Penticton educator in her kitchen a decade ago has since soared to new heights and is still climbing quickly.

Story Time from Space, which got its start with the video of pilot test readings of by Alvin Drew aboard space shuttle Discovery’s (STS 133) final mission in 2011, has received international acclaim, with millions of views from around the world since the program officially began.

Astronaut Joseph Acaba did the first Spanish reading for Story Time from Space.
Photo courtesy NASA

“No, I never dreamed it would get to be like this. I really didn’t. I hoped it would, but I really didn’t think it would become this big,” said Patricia Tribe. “I had to upgrade the website just to keep up with it. I got a note from the server people saying you need to go a bit bigger now and I thought, ‘oh that’s a good problem.’”

Since the program started and the books that the astronauts read on video from the International Space Station (ISS) became official payload on board SpaceX rockets, there have been 13 videos in English, Spanish and Japanese that are available on the Story Time from Space website at no charge.

It is being used by schools, libraries, science centres and families worldwide.

Five more books and two experiments are expected to be included in the upcoming SpaceX launch in March or April.

Before moving to Penticton Tribe worked for 13 years as director of education at Space Centre Houston and eventually teamed up with Drew, Story Time from Space co-founder, to make the program a reality.

“Our main goal is to try and improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education by using space, showing that literacy and learning is cool, that space is cool. It’s a good way to capture the audience,” said Tribe. “And yeah, it fills my space junkie need, I love it and love doing it.

“The majority of folks (using the videos) are in the United States, then Canada and the United Kingdom and Germany flip back and forth between second and third and then Australia and New Zealand come after that and then I have India, Pakistan and countries I don’t even know come up.”

She is also working closely with retired Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason, who was the payload specialist aboard the STS-85 Discovery in 1997 and who is also passionate about what he feels are the failing grades in STEM studies by public schools these days and the need for a fresh injection.

“Seriously, our education system has taken a nose dive in the last 30 years and this is a way to look at how you teach science and math. To produce material that is clear and easy in terms of scientific content, that’s the basic philosophy,” Tryggvason, who is now 73, told the Western News previously.

Tribe and Tryggvason are developing a related curriculum that educators can use, progressing from kindergarten through Grade 9.

Astronaut Kate Rubins performs one of the Story Time from Space experiments on board the International Space Station.
Photo courtesy NASA

“It’s like teaching people how to read. You start with the ABCs and then you do words and then you do sentences and then you do paragraphs. And science is the same kind of a thing,” said Tribe. “With science you need to do that same sort of progression. Start with the basic concepts and get them right and then build slowly upon those concepts until eventually they all start to intertwine and you can see that bigger picture when you get into high school and college.”

Tryggvason also developed the experiments that the astronauts do for Story Time, although the first set he designed never made it to space.

From their homes on June 28, 2015, he and Tribe watched on their computer screens in disappointment as the SpaceX 7 rocket carrying their payload erupted in a ball of flame just 139 seconds after launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

They regrouped and got additional funding and the next attempt on the SpaceX CRS-9 resupply mission the following year successfully made it to the International Space Station.

Along with NASA, Tribe now works closely with the other partners in the space program.

“NASA is still really supporting this because they supply us the astronaut time. I’m just working with a whole bunch of them right now with our payload for the books and yesterday was a conference call with 25 people from NASA all over country (United States) to help you get your payload through the payload system,” said Tribe. “Some folks there (NASA) sent me an email afterwards saying the stuff that you do with Story Time is our favourite payload. That was like ‘yay,’ because you wonder if people really see this. because it’s the not the main goal of the space station. It’s great to hear that people see the need for this.”

One of those people is Kevin Tyre, payload analyst for the Centre for Advancement in Space, the managing body of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory.

“I’ve been working with Patricia for years now. I think it’s great what she’s doing, making it available to educators and parents and students,” said Tyre in a telephone interview from his office in Cape Kennedy, Fla. “She comes up with all the books and science experiments and does all the planning so we just look at what she wants to do and decide whether or not to approve it. So far, she’s submitted all good stuff that we’ve liked.

“It’s (Story Time) growing exponentially. There’s an appetite for very cool space stuff and it definitely has the cool factor.”

Related: Penticton woman takes reading program to space with NASA

Also on the horizon for Tribe and Story Time is something she particularly excited about.

She is currently working with Twin Cities Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in St. Paul, Minn. to produce a pilot show for Blast Off!, a series for ages two-eight years old to be aired on the entire PBS network.

The show is a multi-platform initiative engaging kids in reading and hands-on science with information on living and working in space and was featured last month on the NASA ISS Lab website.

Related: Canadian astronaut who flew to space but faced biggest challenges on solid ground

“This is a really cool project. I never dreamed it would get to be like this,” said Tribe about the program that would reach millions of children. “It could be a series of readings on air, science and go back to reading with an animated character pulling kids through the process.

“It’s really quite an endeavour but can you imagine a children’s television series?”

The biggest struggle right now is raising the additional half of the $200,000 funding needed to produce the pilot program.

Regardless of how the project turns out, Tribe and her crew from Story Time from Space will continue to help kids reach for the stars.

ASTRONAUT RECALLS FIRST READING FROM SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY

Travelling at five miles a second on the space shuttle Discovery in 2011, astronaut Alvin Drew couldn’t pinpoint his exact location over earth when he did his pilot reading for Story Time for Space.

Astronaut Alvin Drew aboard space shuttle Discovery in 2011.
Photo courtesy NASA

“I think it was same day we left the space station, I’m sure we’d done a complete lap (of the earth) but at that speed there’s no one place on earth you’re going to be but it very well may have been Penticton,” said Drew with a laugh during a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he now works as the NASA liaison to the United States Air Force. “It’s still a very memorable event, my initial plan was to sit in the cupola (observation module) of the space station where they do the readings now, but the time aboard the space station was just too hectic.

“It was only after we had closed the hatches and undocked from the space station I stole a bit of time so that I could go and transform the cockpit of Discovery into a film studio and read a few stories.”

The video of that reading can still be found on YouTube: STS-133 Max Goes to the Moon.

Max is actually a dog in children’s author and astrophysisist Jeffrey Bennett’s series of space books, now orbiting the planet on the space station as part of Story Time from Space.

Astronaut Alvin Drew during one of his two space walks in 2011.
Photo courtesy NASA

Drew remembers when he was first approached about the project, of which he eventually became a co-founder.

“Patricia (Tribe) was trying hard to pitch the idea to the education office at Johnson Space centre (Houston, Tx.). There was some disconnect there so, in desperation, she asked if I would do a demo tape,” recalled Drew, who did two space walks during the mission. “Because it was late in our mission planning there was just no way to get that into a timeline as an activity, so I said yeah I would be happy to do a timeline when I could.”

In the video Max Goes to the Moon, Drew reads what he calls “a bedtime story” from a laptop — they eventually decided to use the actual books in the program — reading about the crews’ efforts to get Max into his spacesuit after landing on the moon, including making sure his tail was in the right place.

At that point Drew stops reading, smiles and interjects to the camera: “Sound like my space walk a couple of days ago, except I don’t have a tail.”

About the success of Story Time he said: “Surprised? Yes and no. I mean at one point when Patricia explained the whole idea to me, I think it was eight years ago, it seemed obvious, going into space. What a great idea.

“Then she put it out there and it just took off. I don’t know why we didn’t see this coming and it’s still surprising how much success it’s had.”

This was his second shuttle mission to the space station, the first was in 2007 on board Endeavour, only this time he became only the 200th human to walk in space.

“It was surreal, I remember going out the (shuttle) door and the first thoughts that came to mind were, ‘We’re not in Kansas any more and Through the Looking Glass,” he said.

“It surrounds you, you’re immersed in it, looking through two narrow sheets of plexiglass and the next thing out and beyond you is 13 and a half billion light years away.”

It’s that same sense of wonder and awe he hopes Story Time will inject into young minds.

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