Outer Space Needs You

Who hasn’t dreamt about becoming an astronaut? The Right Stuff, Online: Space Agency Crowdsources Astronaut Test by Susanna Speier explores how the European Space Agency (ESA) is leveraging the general public to aid in their astronaut selection process. Although ESA’s crowdsourcing tests are not meant to find new space agency talent, playing the game gives the average person, like myself, an opportunity to play the role of astronaut. It is also a thrill to get to say I am helping with ESA’s space efforts.

Games can solve today’s complicated problems by harnessing the human brain’s limitless potential to solve puzzles. ESA is maximizing on games and gamers to verify the effectiveness of the astronaut tests, which I find to be reminiscent of FoldIt. FoldIt thrives on crowdsourcing solutions for complex protein folds and potential cures for diseases. I believe it is genius to challenge the general public with complex problems to find a solution in such a win-win fashion.


Speier accurately explains the complexity of the games, yet until actually participating in the game, it is hard to understand how difficult and disorienting the space simulation can be. I took advantage of Speir’s direct link to the ESA gaming website only to find I could not progress past the second level. I believe there are four levels total.

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The ESA test game has elements of solving puzzles, planning, and visualizing, all, while being timed. You can attempt each challenge as many times as you like. Completing level one took me about an hour and by the end of it, my brain was toast. In level two, I attempted to land a spaceship on the earth, but spun out and couldn’t get my ship back. I decided this was my definitive game over moment and retired my imaginary space helmet.


The largest constraint  of the game was that there is no gravity, which makes sense when mimicking space. This was incredibly perplexing when the option to hover up or down is not part of one’s daily existence. All movements had to be determined prior to executing the movement. Not only was I moving objects according to the top, side, and back view, but taking into consideration which axis the object needed to rotate on. There were three axis to consider: x, y, and z. Of course, the best way to understand the test is to give the free online ESA game a try.  


I have absolutely no suggestions for redesigning the game and wouldn’t mind taking another stab at level one to decrease my overall speed. What’s left to be desired for me is to know how ESA plans to extract the game’s data and what next steps will be taken with that data. I would love to know how a laymen’s execution of the game will actually help future astronauts. Perhaps Speier will continue to write about the game’s findings on Space.com.


Photo Credit: The Astronaut Selection Test

Imaginative Play & Eating Dirt


What’s my history of play?


I am eternally grateful to have grown up in a small town, on my grandparents modest farm. This shaped the exploration of my natural environment amidst cattle and crops and gave me a deep appreciation of nature. My grandfather was a veterinarian. He was known as “Doc” around town for his commitment to the ranching community and their livestock. It didn’t matter what hour of the night he was called, he would put on his coveralls and hit the road to perform a cesarean birth in order to save a cow and her calf. Often times, he would take me along for the adventure of restoring health in animals.

Needless to say, I was an extreme tomboy exploring the various ranches, which carried over into my play at home. I relentlessly road my banana bike around the neighborhood gathering friends along the way. We owned the neighborhood and one-by-one would scurry home as our parents beckoned us after a long day of play. This form of play really allowed me to spread my wings and learn through what attracted my attention. There’s a lot to be learned from eating dirt, whether it’s by riding down a dirthill on your face, actually eating a mud pie, or catapulting off a trampoline and landing who knows where. This was my social, extrovert play.

I also had quite a bit of alone time indoors because my single mother made my sister and I stay inside when she couldn’t be home. My sister, Amy was a decade older than me, so true to form, she treated me as if I had the plague. It may seem like this might have been a lonely thing, but my imagination flourished in my alone time. I would create elaborate fantasies in my mind. Often times I would make Barbie the most elaborate house that included our dining room table only to grow bored after the architecture was complete. Then I would move on to turning all the books on the shelves into my own library system. I would put library cards in each book and check them out to imaginary patrons. I also created restaurants with fantastic menus, forcing my sister to pick something that I would then pretend to prepare. This is was my form of inside play throughout elementary school.

In middle school the original Nintendo was all the rage. I spent a great deal of time playing Super Mario Brothers tempered with outdoor play. I never owned a game system, so that kept me from overplaying any particular game. As I grew older and entered high school, play grew into participating in sports. Running was something I excelled at. All my friends were athletes and it certainly kept me out of trouble. I must also say that Coach Murphy shaped me, mentored me, and largely impacted the trajectory of my life. I loved running and let it be the single determining factor in which college to attend. Not being good enough for a scholarship at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado, I walked onto the team. From that point on, I learned that following what I enjoyed and loved was an excellent compass.

What do I want to get out of the Games and Play course?

Play has evolved for me over time. In the beginning it was all joy based. Then it moved into a place of gratification and achieving my goals. Following what interested me has made my life very interesting and most certainly what James Paul Gee would call  a “shape shifting portfolio person” (2004, p. 4). I studied biology for my bachelors of science simply because I loved it. I also got to create and perform magic shows, build my own business, and reinvent myself as an educator from experience alone. My current play phase is that of creativity and service. There has been a huge amount of play in my elearning courses at CU Denver. Once again, I see play guiding my direction in life. I see huge potential in online learning and am excited to be a part of the movement.

From our Games and Learning course, I want to learn how to execute game elements effectively in online classes. With the games industry expecting to grow 22% by 2020 (Takahasi, 2016) I see more and more learners expecting game components in courses. I feel these practices at work in Remi’s classes and even though his classes are demanding, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment upon completion. As I embark on my third class in a row with Remi, I can securely say that I am a fan of his game like instructional techniques and want to imitate and embellish upon them.