Astronauts tweeting from space has quietly captivated followers for a while now, but when Chris Hadfield’s cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” went viral, the YouTube video seemed to spark a revived interest in just how thrilling it is when space and Earth are bridged by simple, everyday technology.

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Appropriate, then, that the European Space Agency (ESA) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are creating Zero Robotics Competition, a tournament where high school students can compete for points by controlling robotic, basketball-sized spheres that will float inside the International Space Station (ISS).

The SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) glide around the ISS via jets powered by compressed gas. Each sphere is equipped with their own power, propulsion and navigation systems, but they lack the programming to make them move.

That job is up to the students, who will be tasked with writing algorithmic instructions to achieve a specific goal. Students will be able to test their codes in online simulations. Winning algorithms will earn competitors a berth in the finals, where they’ll get to witness SPHERES run their tasks live from space.

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U.S. high school students can register here. Participants will be a part of a three-team alliance from various European countries.

Finals will take place in January 2014. The U.S. team will meet at MIT, while the European teams will meet at the ESA’s ESTEC Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

via i09

Credit: MIT