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Video ISS-Above Tells You When the International Space Station is Overhead (Video) 59

It's a device, and quite a small one, based on the Raspberry Pi. It tells you when the ISS is visible from your part of the world and when it will soon be visible so you can grab the kids and dogs and run outside to wave at the astronauts. Or just to watch the closest thing humanity has to a space colony orbit the Earth. Liam Kennedy, ISS-Above's creator, points out that the ISS passes over most of the inhabited parts of the Earth five or six times a day, which is more than most people know. And about ISS-Above and Kickstarter: It's too late to climb on that wagon, and it already was when this interview was recorded in mid-May. But don't despair. Liam managed to raise $17,731 -- which was far more than his $5000 goal. Can you buy one of these things in its various manifestations? Yes. But you need to look long and hard at the ISS-Above website to spot the all-caps word HERE that takes you to the order page. Liam also points out that you can get all kinds of smartphone apps that will tell you where the ISS is at any given moment, but the ISS-Above has an advantage or two over those apps that will be revealed only to those who watch the video or read the transcript. (Alternate Video Link)

Tim: Liam, we are standing here at Maker Faire. You are displaying the ISS-Above. Can you tell me what this is about?

Liam: So the ISS-Above is my attempt to really just have the world be present to just how amazing it is, that we have a permanently manned human outpost that is actually above us, probably more frequently than you’d ever imagine. So the space station, many of you know if you’ve watched the Gravity movie, that it comes over every ninety minutes or so. What you don’t probably realize is that it is in your skies five or six times every day. In fact, we’ve just missed one. Just a few minutes ago, it was just flying over San Mateo, a little bit just off the coast here. So the ISS-Above is my idea to make that really present to everyone. It does it through a really clever little computer. It is this here, it is in a transparent case, it is for the Raspberry Pi.

Tim: I think our readers are going to be pretty familiar?

Liam: That’s right. Where would a computer called Raspberry Pi come from but from the UK? It is a coincidence—I actually live in Pasadena. Because this little device has all the smarts, I decided to develop an application that would work with many different display devices. So I’ve got two versions here: This one is called a LedBorg, and this one is called a PiGlow. And they all light up with two things: One of them is they light up to let you know how long it is going to be until the space station is in your skies. And then they also light up really crazy when it is flying over. And at that point, this thing also has a web server on it, that you can connect to, and then you can select from a custom message that you choose to send to the space station. It does that via a Tweet. So that goes to NASA Mission Control. And there’s a lot of other things here you can control as well. But that’s really what it’s all about.

Tim: What is your inspiration here?

Liam: Oh yeah, okay. So I am not a rocket scientist. I am someone who is into programming. But I never used this computer and the programming language until November of last year. My inspiration was to get these on to a Christmas tree of my grandkids in London, and we were traveling over there. So I decided to build it. Word got out there, in fact on Reddit, somehow someone posted that I built this. And then I found out that, well a lot of other people were interested in getting it too. So then I launched a Kickstarter campaign, that closed in February. And as of today, I’ve shipped 260 of these all around the world.

Tim: Now there are also your phone apps that do the same when the ISS goes over—what is the advantage here?

Liam: Yeah, exactly. There are phone apps—in fact, I have every one of them. And also for my iPad. They’re great—I really love them. But mostly what they’re focused on is letting you know when the space station is going to be visible. Because that’s the other amazing thing—you can see it with the naked eye with no telescope, oftentimes at night or before sunrise. But even having those, they really just don’t give you the special presence of really knowing where it is. But it is in your skies, five or six times a day. So what I get is feedback from people just saying how amazing that is to know. So that’s really why I did it. It was to lift it beyond just an app, and also have you active in the game. So we now have 250 users many of them who send a customized message from them to the space station—and it is very inspiring.

Tim: If somebody wants to join that group, what can they do?

Liam: Yeah, so if you go to, you can purchase one of these. Now some people already have the Raspberry Pi, and it can do I actually have a version where you can basically just purchase a customized SD card that actually has the code on it that works with all of these different display devices here. So it has got the PiGlow but then we’ve also got this one here, which is a LCD display. And that scrolls through lots of different information. And then this one here, is what’s called a PiLite that scrolls some cute information. So if you’ve already got one of those, and if you’re already a Raspberry Pi hacker, you can get all of the code you need. It is configurable without any coding required at all. You just plug this into your Raspberry Pi, turn it on, bring up the application, the web application on your phone or on your desktop, and you can select your location anywhere in the world. It takes about five minutes to set it up, and away you go.

Tim: That’s pretty fast. I want to ask you another speed question: How long was this from your inspiration to

Liam: Say that again.

Tim: How long from your inspiration to until you had a working device?

Liam: Yeah, the inspiration to do it in terms of when I started was the end of October of last year. I had a working version sitting in my local coffee shop within two weeks. And then actually I took it to the San Diego Mini Maker Faire—that was on December 7th—just to see what people thought of it. So I’d already had that version available all the way from back then but the Kickstarter launched in February and then completed as of today, May the whatever it is now.

Tim: What does it cost to get started with it?

Liam: Right, so if you want a complete unit like this—we’re doing a special deal for the Maker Faire where it is $115, and it is complete with everything you’ve got here plus the power supply. All you need to add in is just an internet cable here. It is possible for you to buy a Wi-Fi adapter so you can plug it anywhere in your house.

Tim: I will help you answer that again.

Liam: Yes.

Tim: But unfortunately, this is not going to run until the Maker Faire is over.

Liam: No, I’ve got it.

Tim: Let me ask you just a more general question.

Liam: Okay, alright, okay. So the cost of the device is $130. Now if you mention that you actually heard this through the Maker Faire, through this video, watching this video, I’ll honor the price of $115. So that is a $15 discount off the cost of this. If you already have a Raspberry Pi and you just want this card the card retails for $42 but the Maker Faire price is actually going to be $32—so $10 off. So you have until the end of June, I’ll honor that price up to the end of June. Just mention that you heard it on the Maker Faire video.

Tim: 42 for any particular reason?

Liam: Yeah. I am glad you mentioned it. I had to pick some number—I was going to make it 45, and I just thought, “No, it is so close to that other number”. So I decided to make it ,yes, in honor of my favorite book in the world—Life, the Universe and Everything—it is 42.

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ISS-Above Tells You When the International Space Station is Overhead (Video)

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I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.