Came across this wonderful story this morning. A Father’s son recently started school and needed a desk for his school work. Rather than make or even buy a standard desk, Jeff Highsmith had something else in mind. Designing something fun and practical was a goal from the beginning for Jeff. Fresh off a summer trip to Kennedy Space Center, the family’s interests were red hot with visions of NASA and space exploration. What Jeff proceeded to do, was both above and beyond the duties of a father, but also of a hobbyist.
After researching NASA’s mission control center, as well as the Apollo Program, Jeff set out to design the perfect desk for the mind of a child. Rather than build a “non-functional” Mission Control with a few knobs and blinking lights, the ultimate goal was some interaction between the various parts, so that his son and his brother could play together. Jeff built the desk to sit under his son’s loft, which he also built. Talk about a crafty father! Jeff even made a great video of the project which you can view below. The design of the desk was even more interesting, with several elements. At the core of “Mission Control,” is an Arduino working in tandem with a Raspberry Pi. The code, which is available on GitHub, enables the setup to work so well together. The Arduino uses four I/O expanders to read the state of the switches and buttons, which the Raspberry Pi receives that communication over a USB serial connection. Once the Pi receives those signals, it then plays a series of events, such as sounds, lights, or animations on the desk itself. Making such a grid of LED’s possible to function and light up was made possible by five LED matrix drivers on the Arduino board, allowing for 640 seperate LED’s.
Above and beyond the call of duty
The desk is highly interactive, with color changes, and button affirmation events. “Mission Control” includes panels that mimic actual Mission Control (NASA) function panels, such as EECOM, CAPCOM, C&WS, and more. C&WS, the Caution and Warning system, was an addition to the desk that was present in the Apollo spacecraft, but not the real life Mission Control board. Jeff designed several events for things like booster control, the simulated Apollo 12 lightening strike, and other fun situations. Jeff was especially proud of the covered safety switches that Apollo 12 would use to activate pyrotechnic systems that used explosives for things like blowing off a hatch to deploy the parachutes or detonating explosive bolts that had been holding separate modules of the spacecraft together.
The bells and whistles of the desk were made mostly possible though community submitted effects on freesound.org, a collaborative database of beeps, boops, and more. Jeff was crafty with his implementations though, changing the pitch the hydraulic sound. Combining the various bits of real NASA audio was no easy task either. Putting it all together and making it functional was another matter. Jeff designed the desk to slide in and out of the desk very easily, allowing his son to make use of a flat surface for “actual work.”
The project was a huge success for both Jeff and his two boys. Within 10 minutes of using “Mission Control,” they learned which button produces the countdown for their imaginary rockets and space shuttle to take off. No doubt the experience has been a learning experience for both Jeff and his two sons. I’m sure he will have to pry them off Mission Control every once and a while to do actual school work! Hands on education is always beneficial, whatever the task may be.
You can find more about Jeff Highsmith’s fun projects on his personal Makezine page.