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.
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