NASA to explore strange, new virtual worlds

The Learning Technologies Project Office of NASA is actively considering hopping on the video game bandwagon by releasing its own massively multiplayer online game.

NASA has apparently gotten wind of the fact that young people are intensely interested in MMORPG games, and is now actively pursuing the possibility of developing or at least hosting its own game in an effort to renew students' interest in what it calls the "STEM" subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"A NASA-based MMO built on a game engine that includes powerful physics capabilities could support accurate in-game experimentation and research," according to a NASA request for information (RFI) (PDF available here). "It should simulate real NASA engineering and science missions in a medium that is comfortable and familiar to the majority of students in the United States today."


The US space agency already owns CoLab, a virtual island located in the Second Life virtual world. CoLab lets people outside of the San Francisco Bay Area collaborate with entrepreneurs to help brainstorm new ideas and technologies while conducting experiments virtually.

"Persistent immersive synthetic environments in the form of massive multiplayer online gaming and social virtual worlds, initially popularized as gaming and social settings, are now finding growing interest as education and training venues. There is increasing recognition that these synthetic environments can serve as powerful 'hands-on' tools for teaching a range of complex subjects, including STEM-based instruction. Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity - making it easier to grasp complex concepts and quickly transfer this understanding to practical problems," the NASA document added.

Video games are becoming an increasingly important tool for government agencies to gain exposure and boost recruitment. A popular example is America's Army, a popular video game used as a recruiting tool by the US Army.

Parties interested in working with NASA have until Friday, February 15 to apply on the NASA LT Project Office.

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