I was at STARBASE One at Selfridge Air National Guard Base on June 11 & 12, 2019 as part of their Summer Academy – I taught the students how to fly rockets in Kerbal Space Program. I created several different rockets for them to launch: a small and large sounding rocket, and a crewed sub-orbital and orbital vessel; I related the sub-orbital and orbital flights to those of Alan Shepard and John Glenn.
Their first rocket was aimed down at the launchpad, so they got to see something explode! For some reason, the students seem to get a kick out of this… but it does show that rockets in KSP can crash.
When the students launched sounding rockets, I mentioned the Keweenaw Rocket Range; Michigan launched its first sounding rocket into space on Jan. 29, 1971! My wife and I visited the launchpad in 2016.
When I showed the students how orbits are raised, a common comment was “that’s weird!” Yup! Orbital mechanics sure is!
A couple students were able to execute a Hohmann transfer and travel to the Mun (that’s what it’s called in KSP) and crash into it!
The students participated in several other activities during the morning too:
• Launching air-rockets and trying to land them in small plastic wading pools across the parking lot. The rockets had different sets of fins that were 3D printed on-site.
• Discussing personal hygiene on the International Space Station – let’s just say I’m a fan of gravity, and leave it at that…
• Mission patch design.
• Soldering a custom-built LED-blinkie in the shape of the Detroit “D.” The circuitry kits were designed by 2DKits.com – who are friends of mine; Starbase has commissioned a couple custom kits from them.
We were all provided with pizza for lunch – ahhhhh, nature’s perfect food! 🙂
Students also got to see the Apollo 11 VR Experience; one chapter has you standing in the Lunar Module as it is descending the surface of the Moon! It was so amazing, I wanted to cry…
The students also experienced Apollo 11’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere in VR – which was a perfect tie-in with KSP, because I had them do a reentry with KSP too!
The students all got a signed photo of astronaut Leland Melvin, and took home a handout I created with a bunch of NASA and non-NASA space resources.
At the end of my last session, a young girl said to me: “I want to be an astronomer when I grow up!” I beamed and gave her a Warren Astronomical Society business card, and told her to come one of our meetings – I’ll consider that a win!
I wrote about Kerbal Space Program previously on the Sacred Space Astronomy blog here and here. My wife and I have used KSP as part of an after-school club for two years. I was a guest on “Astronomy for Everyone” where I was videoed talking about KSP. As of this writing, I have logged 3380 hours in KSP on Steam.
Here are some of the things that can be done in Kerbal Space Program:
- Build rockets, jets, space-planes, rovers and landers – LEGO-style
- Launch and fly them, get them into space and into orbit – visually, with ZERO math required
- Scan planetary surfaces for resources and other science
- Perform orbital maneuvers:
- Raise/lower orbit
- Plane changes
- Hohmann transfers
- Rendezvous and docking
- Construct space stations (takes multiple launches)
- Orbit and land probes and crew on planets and moons
- Reentry and parachute/powered landings
- Collect science from space-around and surfaces-of celestial bodies
- The latest update include robotic parts!
If you have a spare hour and a half, this video recreation of the Apollo 8 mission is simply amazing! It uses actual NASA footage and command module audio, and Kerbal Space Program for visuals!