NASA astronaut takes Angry Birds to space

12 Mar 2012

NASA astronaut and International Space Station flight engineer Don Pettit demonstrates microgravity using characters from Angry Birds. Photo by NASA

NASA astronaut Don Pettit has been taking the new game Angry Birds Space for a spin in the International Space Station (ISS), all in the name of demonstrating how microgravity works.

Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, the maker behind the Angry Birds franchise, has engaged with NASA on Angry Birds Space under a Space Act Agreement. The aim is to share the wonders of space with the Angry Birds community, as well as educate gamers on NASA’s programmes.

Rovio debuted the new Angry Birds game, Angry Birds Space, on 8 March. The new game will launch simultaneously on iOS and Android, Mac and PC, animation, merchandise and book publishing on 22 March.

Via Angry Birds, Pettit has been aiming to share the core concept of space exploration – gravity – as well as concepts like trajectories, from the ISS.

He used Angry Birds Space to explain the unique properties of physics in space, including a demonstration of a catapult in zero gravity using an Angry Birds toy.

NASA said today that not only does gravity play a vital role in the game but, in general, gravity is a force that governs motion throughout the universe.

Image of the new 'Angry Birds Space.' Credit: Rovio
Image of the new Angry Birds Space. Credit: Rovio

The nature of gravity was first described by Sir Isaac Newton more than 300 years ago.

Gravity is the attraction between any two masses. The acceleration of an object toward the ground caused by gravity alone, near the surface of Earth, is called normal gravity or 1g. If you drop an apple on Earth, it falls at 1g, explained the space agency today. However, if an astronaut on the space station drops an apple, it falls, too, but it just doesn’t look like it’s falling, said NASA.

“That’s because they’re all falling together: the apple, the astronaut and the station. But they’re not falling towards Earth, they’re falling around it. Because they’re all falling at the same rate, objects inside of the station appear to float in a state we call ‘zero gravity’ (0g), or more accurately microgravity (1×10-6 g.),” added NASA.

Microgravity research at the ISS

At the ISS, NASA uses the microgravity idea to study areas such as gene expression, microorganisms, fluids and other materials. The aim is to determine how their behaviour is different on the station and how that applies to life on Earth.

“When you have the ability to turn gravity off in your experiment, it enables you to look at things from a new perspective. That makes the station unique, because you can do things on it that you can’t do anywhere else,” said NASA today.

The space agency said that one of the most important things it is studying is how this lack of gravity affects human physiology over the long term.

“If we’re going to send humans to asteroids and Mars, they’re going to be in space for a long time, and there are a lot of health unknowns that only the microgravity of the station can help us study and overcome,” it added.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic