Taking a ride on the moon


When I visited Wellington last weekend I had my 9 year old son with me. We were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to experience flying a 737 aircraft from within a fully decked out flight simulator. Watching my son so quickly adapt to using the controls as he listened to the flight instructor reminded me of just what a powerful learning experience such simulations are. One thing that impressed me a lot was the quality of the computer generated graphics that we were viewing through the cockpit window – all based on actual geographical data of the Wellington airport and environs.

I couldn’t help but think of that experience tonight when I read of a Los Angeles company that has developed software that renders the exact physics and topology of the moon in a 3D game, letting players drive the lunar surface, gaze at the galaxy or study objects that were left by NASA astronauts on real missions.

I was in my first year at high school when the first moon landing occurred – and 1300 of us were crowded into the assembly hall to listen to the radio broadcast of the event through a single speaker! How things have changed – read what this company have developed:

Virtue Arts, a Los Angeles-based software developer, has used NASA data on the topology and physics of the moon to build a 3D application that lets kids and adults explore the lunar surface. The software, called Lunar Explorer, works with standard PCs and lets users gaze at the galaxy, walk around the surface of the moon, and study rocks that are actually there. Lunar Explorer will be released this month and will cost $39.95.

Virtue Arts’ Lunar Explorer software also depicts objects that were left by NASA astronauts on real missions from the ’80s and ’90s, thanks to data from the space agency. Point a cursor over an object like the satellite shown here, and the software will educate users on how and when it got there.

Virtue Arts, through its content company VirtuePlay, also has created a lunar buggy game, called Lunar Racing Championship, which is expected to be released next June. The buggy is much like a spacecraft, according to Virtue Arts’ chief technology officer, because it must work within the physics of the moon to operate. It has rocket boosters and a reaction control system, which is typically found on spacecraft, to stabilize itself in the event of spinning out of control.

Lunar Racing Championship, which will sell for $49.95 next June, is a networked application so that two kids can race each other from two different PCs. The application can run on a standard consumer-grade PC with a graphics accelerator.

News item courtesy of CNet News.com

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