Python programming in the final frontier: Microsoft and NASA release student learning portal


The lessons use space exploration and the challenges of cosmic exploration to teach the fundamentals of programming.

Image: NASA

Over the decades, NASA has inspired generations of computer scientists, astronauts, and others to broaden humankind’s knowledge of the ever-expanding cosmos. In recent years, machine learning, AI, and other technologies have been tapped to assist with a host of operational tasks and procedures ranging from confirming new exoplanets to artificial intelligence (AI) astronaut assistants. To teach the next generation of computer scientists the basics of Python programming, Microsoft recently announced a partnership with NASA to create a series of lessons based on space exploration efforts.

SEE: Linux commands for user management (TechRepublic Premium)

Python programming in the final frontier

Overall, the project includes three different NASA-inspired lessons. These learning pathways were created by computer scientist and entrepreneur Sarah Guthals to teach programming fundamentals using space exploration challenges and themes. The Introduction to Python for Space Exploration lesson will provide students with “an introduction to the types of space exploration problems that Python and data science can influence.” Made up of eight units in total, this module also details the upcoming Artemis lunar exploration mission.

SEE: Key details: NASA’s mission to Mars (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In another learning path, students will learn to design an AI model capable of classifying different types of space rocks depicted in random photos, according to Microsoft. However, the company recommends a “basic understanding of Python for Data Science” as a prerequisite for this particular lesson.

The last of the three learning paths serves as an introduction to machine learning and demonstrates ways these technologies can help assist with space exploration operations. 

Students are presented real-world NASA challenges, particularly rocket launch delays, and learn how the agency can leverage machine learning to resolve the issues.

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The primary objective of the machine learning lesson is “to get students excited and curious to discover how machine learning could help solve other problems in space discovery and different aspects of life,” according to Microsoft.

Smithsonian Learning Labs and Wonder Woman 1984

Microsoft also announced partnerships with Wonder Woman 1984 and Smithsonian Learning Labs to curate five additional programming lessons for students. In Museum Heist, students learn how to code using Minecraft: Education Edition. Players explore a museum and are tasked with solving a series of puzzles to help identify the location of a stolen piece of artwork.

In another lesson, students must decode a secret message to unlock a Wonder Woman 1984 Easter egg. This lesson requires no previous experience with Python and serves as an introductory lesson to the programming lesson, according to Microsoft.

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