Introducing NASA’s Virtual Universe “Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond”

by Ian O'Neill on February 24, 2009

A scene from Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond

A scene from Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond

If, like me, you are a fan of first-person computer games and space exploration, you may be more than a little excited to hear about this news. A group of companies are currently working with NASA to create a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) based around the space agency’s endeavours. They will use a game engine more familiar driving first-person shooters than online roleplay adventures; the tried and tested Unreal Engine 3 technology.

The Internet has a growing number of vast space-based MMORPGs, but NASA is hoping to use one of the most advanced gaming engines to develop an engrossing first-person online adventure, where players can choose their own mission to explore space, interact with other players and build settlements on other worlds. All this will take place in a scientifically accurate vision of a near-future Universe in 2035…

ammb_feb20Players will pick a profession like a roboticist, space geologist, astrobiologist or mechanical engineer and work together as a team as they explore space and complete missions, establishing bases and outposts and traveling to the farthest reaches of the solar system,” explained Jerry Heneghan, founder and CEO of Virtual Heroes, one of the companies involved with developing the NASA MMORPG Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond. “The game will offer both individual challenges and team-based objectives to encourage players to use real-life applications of science, math and engineering to unlock new in-game vehicles, spacesuits, robotics and mining apparatus that will propel them further into space.”

MMORPGs are increasingly popular gaming platforms, where players can participate in seemingly boundless virtual universes. Popular examples of MMORPGs are World of Warcraft (which dominates with a monthly subscriber base of 11.5 million people), Second Life, EverQuest and space-based rollplayer games such as EVE Online and Star Trek Online.

Ever wanted to take a spin on the Moon?

Ever wanted to take a spin on the Moon?

Now NASA is hoping to create a very popular online gaming/educational experience that will not only entertain, but get young people interested in a career in science and engineering. What’s more, it is hoped the game will incorporate the Unreal Engine 3 Editor so that players can design their own content, from spaceships and stations to mission profiles. The developers will also include scenarios, such as the threat of near-Earth asteroid impacts and other reality-based events as the online community develops. This will provide a problem-solving/adventure element, while keeping the science grounded in science fact.

See more screenshots from the game »

There are concerns that a NASA space reality platform may not be very popular, as other in-space universes offer space fantasy, with epic spaceship battles and alien encounters. Also, the technical detail in carrying out “mundane” astronaut tasks may be a turn-off; virtual universes depend on exploration rather than educational tasks. Hopefully NASA and MMORPG developers will strike a healthy balance between education and entertainment.

Exploring Mars with NASAs MMORPG

Exploring Mars with NASAs MMORPG

However, I’m very excited to see Astronaut appear online sometime next year.

Sources: Big Download, Softpedia


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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog:, be sure to check it out!

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