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Finding Cosmic Passion Through Play: How NASA Astronauts used Simulation Games to Reach the Stars

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When most people think about playing video games a specific image comes to mind. It often involves basements, teenagers, junk food, and a rotting brain. However, throughout the world games are used to develop skills and practice situations that can only be emulated in a virtual setting. Gone are the days when video games are limited to entertainment. In the modern world, video games are a tool to teach, grow, and inspire the greatest minds.

One of the leading innovators in video game-based teaching is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA uses video game simulations to help astronauts practice and try new things without a large financial risk. Video games act as the perfect platform for trial and error and truly inspire astronauts to innovate and reach for the stars.

Making the Case for Play-Based Learning

Play-based learning is nothing new. From the time that we open our eyes, we are constantly playing with objects as a form of learning. Play is the perfect method for self-discovery. When a child learns through doing, they are far more likely to retain the information they have gathered. Play-based learning allows children and adults alike to solve problems and try new things. For example, a child who plays with blocks is not just building a tower. They are learning about gravity, physics, structural integrity, and the value of different materials. The same can be said for young adults who play video games to discover new things.

When we play video games, we are not only taking up the helm of a new character, but we are taking on new challenges to solve. Anytime we pick up the controller or approach the computer we are priming ourselves to try new things and possibly fail in the pursuit of success. This act of problem-solving through a virtual medium is play-based learning that people of any age can interact with. They can be presented with a problem and, through their ingenuity, find a solution.

Astronauts, Kerbal, and Being Inspired through Interaction

One of the best cases for play-based learning comes from NASA. Astronauts, rocket scientists, and astrophysicists alike all hold a respectful wonder for what lies beyond our atmosphere. But this wonder and the skills to turn dreams into reality have to come from somewhere. Many NASA scientists cite video games as their inspiration to explore the cosmos.

Kerbal Space Program is a game released in early 2015 that allows you to build rockets to reach space. The game uses real physics and requires you to do trajectory math to build a rocket that can get to space without exploding. Kerbal Space Program is a notoriously difficult game. It takes lots of experimenting and trial and error to build a rocket that can safely get through the atmosphere. Most players will take hours if not days to make their first successful launch. This level of difficulty is important for the discovery process that makes the game so challenging and enjoyable.

Kerbal Space Program allows players to try a variety of things. It is a perfect game for young aspiring scientists to learn the scientific method. As they build ships, they will make a hypothesis and test that hypothesis. They can take what they’ve learned from their failures and apply it to their next try with the hope of reaching the stars.

Many astronauts attribute this game as their initial inspiration to enter a career in their field. The game taught them how rewarding it can be to solve problems and reach new frontiers. They got to apply their knowledge of their content area to solve problems and get little green men to space. The game uses real-world math and physics and therefore is a perfect place to practice all of the skills needed to be an astronaut. Not only did the game provide a platform to learn and evolve these skills, but it allows aspiring astronauts to be truly inspired by the challenge of space exploration.

Developing Passion through Play

Whether you want to be an astronaut, a chef, a business owner, or you are not quite sure yet, video games can help you find your passion. Playing games is one of the only ways to experience a variety of challenges and information in a low-stakes environment. It is through play that we can develop our passion. When you play games, you find out what type of problems you enjoy solving and what type of work you are willing to do. Games teach us how to solve problems and try new things. They show us that it’s okay to fail as long as we try again. They help us practice skills that we can build upon in a career. They teach us how to deal with downfalls and small victories. Games show us what it’s like to accomplish something. That sense of accomplishment may be all it takes to inspire the next great astronaut’s passion for the stars.

When it comes to young people deciding on a career, do not count video games out as a way of learning about the possibilities that are out there. Letting your kids play is a great way for them to discover how they react to difficult situations. Through play, they will learn how to deal with adversity and solve problems. They will quickly lose their fear of failure and learn what it takes to innovate. In addition, young people are given the chance to explore content and skillsets through play. What they might consider now to be a fun experience may be the toolset needed to complete some of the world’s most important jobs. Play is a great way to gain the experience needed to solve difficult problems and utilize specific content. Whether it’s in the pursuit of space or general curiosity about a specific topic playing games can help develop a passion that will continue to serve young people throughout their lives.

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