Out of This World, Virtually!
A screenshot from the game showing the exterior of the space station

The view outside the space station includes the docked shuttle and Earth below. Image Credit: NASA IT

Imagine the thrill of floating out of the International Space Station and into the vastness of space. Picture the amazing view of peering past the airlock and seeing the space shuttle docked to the station and, beyond that, the blues and greens of Earth. What would it be like to move along the metal structure of the space station, on the way to work on the orbiting laboratory?

Only a select handful of people will ever experience and see those things in person. But NASA's new Station Spacewalk Game offers the next best thing. In this online video game, players take on the role of spacewalking astronauts. They are tasked to help assemble the International Space Station. The game is based on real work NASA astronauts performed on previous space shuttle missions.

NASA today launched an update to Spacewalk Game that enables players to virtually experience astronauts' adventures on the space station. The game uses a 3-D graphic model NASA's Space Station Program uses. The result is a very realistic representation of what it is like to move around outside the complex.

An astronaut is held near a solar array by the station's robotic arm

Scott Parazynski repairs a tear in a solar array in one of the spacewalks on which the game is based. Image Credit: NASA

"This game enables students to share the thrill of spacewalking from the comfort of their computer," said Carla Rosenberg, the project manager for the game. More than 114,000 players have experienced the thrill of 3-D simulations of actual work astronauts performed during several NASA missions to provide power to the station and keep it operating at full capacity.

The latest version gives players an unlimited supply of oxygen so that they can explore and learn more about how the station is assembled; take a spacewalk to bring station communications back online by powering an auxiliary antenna; or help tiny satellites, the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, also known as SPHERES, learn to fly in formation so that they someday can remotely help astronauts handle tasks. Players can also earn "badges" for completing missions and exploring the station. The updated game includes significant upgrades for a faster game and more realistic graphics.

The game includes other tasks from the original game. One is to install the S6 truss segment. The truss is the long "backbone" of the station that supports the solar arrays. The S6 segment was launched on the STS-119 space shuttle mission in March 2009. During that mission, robotic arms were used to move the segment into place. Astronauts then went on a spacewalk to connect it to the space station.

Screenshot showing the exterior of the station and a green picture (mini-map) showing the player's location

Guides help players navigate along the space station and complete the assigned tasks. Image Credit: NASA IT

Another task is to unfurl, or open, the S6 solar arrays that help provide power for the International Space Station. When the truss segment was launched, the arrays were folded up like a road map. Once the segment was attached to the station, the solar arrays were unfolded. This task also is based on the STS-119 space shuttle mission.

Another task in the game is from the STS-130 space shuttle mission, which featured an unprecedented spacewalk to repair a damaged solar array, enabling the full deployment of the array.

The final task is to retrieve tools floating in space after a spacewalk. Both of these tasks attempt to capture what it would be like to actually perform these jobs in space.

On the Web:
>  Station Spacewalk Game
>  3D Resources   →
>  NASA Education
>  International Space Station
>  STS-119
>  STS-130

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services