The 2013 Middle School Summer Program is a 5-week program introducing students to programming and space. Zero Robotics has partnered with statewide afterschool networks in California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, and Massachusetts to bring ZR to selected teams in their states.

In addition to other STEM activities, Zero Robotics opens the world-class research facilities on the International Space Station (ISS) to students. Students write programs that may control a satellite in space! The goal is to build critical engineering skills for students, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, and team work.

The participants compete to win a technically challenging game by programming their strategies into the SPHERES satellites. The game is motivated by a challenging problem of interest to DARPA, NASA and MIT. The programs are "autonomous" - that is, the students cannot control the satellites during the test itself.

The tournament begins with simulation competitions in each region. After elimination rounds, teams will gather at central sites in their states to see their code run in the SPHERES satellites aboard the International Space Station with live transmission from space.

Student teams can create, edit, save and simulate projects online. They use a graphical block diagram editor to write code, then simulate their program immediately and see the results in an animation. MIT provides the simulation and C programming interfaces via the Zero Robotics website--no special software is required. The simulation also enables teams to compete against themselves and pre-coded standard players; students have ample opportunity to test different strategies before submitting their code for a formal competition. All submissions to the competition are via the website.

The Middle School Summer Program Curriculum development and subsequent expansion of the program to five states was made possible by a grant from Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS.)

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