NASA Launches Online Game for Would-be Rocket Scientists

Posted June 26th, 2012 at 6:24 pm (UTC-5)
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(Photo: NASA, M.Masetti)

(Photo: NASA, M.Masetti)

If you think you have what it takes to build a satellite, NASA has just introduced an online game that might appeal to you.

With “Build It Yourself: Satellite!” the US space agency offers users the chance to act as engineers and astronomers who conceive and build their own special virtual satellite.

“It’s fun to play,” says Maggie Masetti, a NASA webmaster who created the game. “And users will learn something about satellite instrumentation and optics and how they are used to make scientific discoveries, as well about a large range of different existing astronomical missions.”

The game lets players choose what kind of science their satellite will study. They can then customize the sophisticated technical aspects of their satellite – such as what wavelengths their creation will operate at and what kind of tools, instruments and optics will give them the best opportunity to learn as much as possible about their chosen science.

Artist conception of James Webb Space Telescope (Image: NASA)

Artist conception of James Webb Space Telescope (Image: NASA)

A number of astronomical missions, some dating back to 1980s, are available to game players.  You can go from rather small x-ray telescopes, like NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, to the much larger and popular  Hubble Space Telescope.

The game is available in two sizes so players can choose the one better suited to their monitor.  If you’re stuck with a slower computer, the game offers a special toggle button that will reduce the quality of the graphics but will make the game run faster.

The new gaming experience was inspired by the James Webb space telescope, which is being built now and is scheduled for launch in 2018.

Said to have the latest cutting-edge technology, the Webb space telescope will help scientists expose the secrets of the universe by taking them far back in time, toward the Big Bang.  Webb will be the most powerful telescope ever built by the space agency.

Who knows, maybe after playing “Build It Yourself: Satellite!” you’ll realize you have the talent and ability to become a real-life rocket scientist!

Time-lapse of the construction of the giant structural steel frame that will be used to assemble the mirrors and instruments of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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