In 2010, astronomer and author Jeffrey Bennett answered a call from a number he didn’t recognize. The voice on the other end told him that astronaut Alvin Drew wanted to read one of Bennett’s books from space — Drew needed a pdf.
“It took some convincing to make me believe it wasn’t a prank,” Bennett said last week when we met for coffee in Boulder, CO.
On the other end of the phone that day was Patricia Tribe. She’d been Director of Education at Space Center Houston and was working to design science curriculum that would appeal to school districts that had their noses to the grindstone of literacy. Bennett’s books hit two birds with one stone: the engaging stories of Bennett’s Rottweiler, Max, can be read as animal adventures in space or appreciated for the very real science content that frames Max’s adventures.
Alvin Drew read Bennett’s book, Max Goes to the Moon, in March 2011 from the final mission of the Shuttle Discovery. It went well and this January Bennett launched 5 more books to the International Space Station. Here’s a video of NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins reading Max Goes to the International Space Station, which Bennett wrote specifically for the Story Time From Space program. Japanese astronaut, Koichi Wakata, is taping the books in translation and Bennett hopes to make the titles available in additional languages as French, German and Italian astronauts visit the ISS this year. And in October, Canadian astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason will feature science demonstrations taped at the International Space Station to accompany the books.
My kids, 8 and 6, love Max (who looks eerily similar to the strong and silent hero “Carl”), especially Max Goes to the Moon. Bennett’s long-time day gig as a professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder and popular astronomy textbook, The Cosmic Perspective, mean that behind Max’s whimsical adventures is a deep knowledge of space science. In the books, Bennett includes explorations of this science in “big kid boxes,” giving older readers something to sink their teeth into.
For example, in Max Goes to the International Space Station, the title Rotweiller dons a Gravity-esque spacesuit to sally forth into the great void to fix a coolant leak. A leak in the same coolant system delayed the launch that brought Bennett’s books to the ISS, and required two spacewalks to fix. Again: the stories are basic but the science is sound.
To keep the science ball rolling toward a wider audience, Bennett needs a little help.
“The expensive stuff is all taken care of — it’s not cheap to launch that kind of weight into space!” Bennett says.
Bennett hopes a Kickstarter campaign will help pay for video editing, website design and curriculum development (which, as you navigate the links in this article, you will see is needed…). Bennett has donated about 23,000 copies of his books to schools; he flies around the country on his own ticket evangelizing STEM education; and now it’s time to kick in a little to help Story Time From Space reach a wider audience. Maybe geeks with kids could help spread the word a bit to the wider universe?