NASA is keeping up with the times when it comes to social media and to reaching out to the public through commercial avenues. Recently, Angry Birds released a space themed app, made in collaboration with NASA, to introduce the public to NASA missions and space in general. When using the app, you will visit the International Space Station, interact with gravity and save your asteroid eggs from evil interstellar pigs. On the main page, you can tap on the International Space Station and it will take you to a NASA site where you can learn about microgravity. They also have an icon for their new Amazing Alex app that helps kids learn about the basics of physics. I hadn’t intended to purchase this Amazing Alex, but it looked like fun – so I have been ricocheting soccer balls off of benches, books and into baskets to complete levels. Makes me wish I enjoyed learning this much as a kid, but somehow the Oregon Trail just doesn’t stack up.
My new Angry Birds Space app is cozily situated next to a French vocabulary game and NPR News joining my Hubble Space Telescope and Aquarius Satellite apps – this has raised my nerd level to ludicrous! NASA has certainly made a major push to join the 21st Century by reaching out to the public through social media and interactive applications. I have even pinned Hubble Space Telescope images on Pinterest. NASA may no longer wield the same attention they did during the Cold War and the Space Race to the Moon. However, they have not gone the way of the way of POGS, snap bracelets and cassette tapes as they are still making attempts to reach out to the public and educate us on emerging technologies and discoveries.
NASA wants to get people jazzed up about science – which is commendable given that as a country we are falling behind in math and science, ranking 25th out of 34 countries (Survey Source: Programme for International Student Assessment). Where will this void of young scientific knowledge leave the space program which has pioneered technological advancements on all fronts – including joint ventures with commercial companies like the one that created a more efficient solar panel and was originally designed for an unmanned aircraft? Some other interesting and important advancements that NASA technology has pioneered or contributed to include: anti-fog coating, which your ski goggles enjoy; long-term storage for blood cells and bone marrow for cancer patients; plus solar collectors, the electric car and the implantable heart aid. Every year they release a publication called Spinoff that features successfully commercialized NASA technology. You can find the most recent Spinoff and a database going back to 1976 here. Many of the commercialized technologies have come from innovations made for the International Space Station, such as improved plant growing systems, water filtration and water quality monitoring.
NASA funding is always in flux due to budget constraints and cuts; as such, many aspects of space exploration have been commercialized due to decreased funding. While NASA is trying to get in touch with American citizens, the commercial sector is getting involved in educating the public on space and raising money for space-based projects. Uwingu is a Boulder-based company that is raising funds for space research and education. They plan on using half their revenue to support a variety of such proposals – from classroom projects, all the way to space exploration. Uwingu will sell space themed apps to raise the funds. And right now, it is all very hush-hush as they are keeping the exact app content under wraps for their unveiling in late October. Uwingu received funding and support from a number of commercial space companies, including XCOR and Moon Express, and have raised money using the crowd-sourcing website, Indiegogo.
Seeing the commercial sector give back to NASA’s mission, after all of the technology and funding NASA has contributed to them, is reassuring. Everyone should have an interest in advancing technology, if you don’t, then you wouldn’t be on the internet reading this article. Space is still the last great frontier, full of mystery and unexplainable events, coupled with the greatest mystery of all: the origins of life. We continue to reach for this ultimate goal, and with each problem that arises, the best scientific minds strive to solve them. Along the way these innovations become ingrained in our life and shape our future. So show your love and hug a scientist today!