6 months ago

Community interview – Dave Honess

Taking education to the stars with Space Dave

“My earliest memory of being interested in space was watching Halley’s Comet as a nine-year-old,” Dave Honess tells us. We know Dave personally – he used to work at the Raspberry Pi Foundation as the man behind Astro Pi, and he’s even written a couple of tutorials in the magazine.

These days, Dave works with the European Space Agency (ESA) to help organise their educational programs, and liaises with current Astro Pi programs at the Foundation.

“Most of my career had nothing to do with space,” Dave admits. “But I always maintained an interest and enjoyed watching the ISS live streams in the early noughties when it was still being built. I never even imagined that the space industry could be a place where I might work one day; it always seemed so distant and abstract.”

Dave started working for the Raspberry Pi Foundation in early 2014, and soon found himself talking to folks from the UK Space Agency about a collaboration that eventually became the first Astro Pi mission.

Ed, one of the Astro Pi computers on board the ISS

“A friend working at ESA in the Netherlands told me he was changing jobs and that his position was going to become vacant.” Dave said. “We spent about an hour on the phone discussing all aspects of the work and… I decided to apply for the job. We have now moved to the Netherlands, and I have been working at ESA ESTEC [European Space Research and Technology Centre] since March 2018.”

What’s your favourite memory of working in the intersection of space and education?

“It’s hard to pick just one. I’m really grateful to my former colleagues at the Raspberry Pi Foundation for allowing me to travel to Florida to watch the OA-4 rocket launch at Kennedy Space Center in 2015 (the one carrying the original Astro Pi hardware to the ISS). I have strong memories of talking to the kids that have participated in Astro Pi, and hearing them say they now want to study aeronautics or astrophysics and suchlike.”

Do you have any personal space-related plans?

“I do, actually. Every year, ESA organises a staff trip to French Guiana to see the Ariane launch facility; you have to fund the flights yourself, but you’ll get access to the launch site and a guided tour. If you’re lucky, you also get to see an integrated launch vehicle sitting on the pad, and if you’re really lucky your visit might coincide with an actual launch.”

Any future work-related plans you can share with us?

“I’m actually starting to believe that computing education is getting to a really good place now, not to say that we should take our foot off the pedal or anything. Astro Pi has developed into a mature educational challenge and I think it will go from strength to strength. I’m now turning my attention a little towards amateur radio, which is something that definitely doesn’t have the uptake it needs. Radio remains the only way to communicate with all our spacecraft throughout the solar system, and organisations like ARISS and local HAM radio clubs are, in my opinion, becoming more and more necessary to attract new talent. It would be good to see educational material joining computing and radio topics. After all, all spacecraft can be boiled down to two main components: a computer and a radio!”

Make your own Astro Pi with the 3D printer files magpi.cc/EtDxAo