I spent some fifteen minutes on the moon yesterday. It wasn’t pretty. A meteor strike knocked out my base’s life support; I crashed a robot into a NASA supply shed; and, while I fiddled around with a welding torch, a gas line exploded.
Moonbase Alpha, the first of two commercial-quality online games that NASA has just developed, taught me a lot: how a solar panel-powered life-support system might work, what “regolith processing” really means, and the weird gait I’d have if I tried to sprint on the lunar surface. Perhaps it also taught me that I’m not cut out to be an astronaut, but maybe I’ll try multiplayer mode before making that decision.
The game, released yesterday on Valve’s Steam video game network, imagines the year 2020 when we have the meager start of a lunar base near Shackleton crater, not far from the Moon’s south pole. A meteor strike disables the base’s life-support (it’s not just me) and one or more players must get it running again in about 25 minutes.
This requires an understanding the base’s systems as well as building and maneuvering (or racing…) your own robots into areas too dangerous for humans. The game is a project launched by NASA’s Learning Technologies program and is a proof-of-concept meant to see if a video game can inspire youth interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
I’m not sure how more expert gamers will feel, but my geeky heart leap when I saw the animated NASA logo in the game’s opening credits–not to mention the lunar footprints left behind on my trail of destruction.
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