Kerbals in Space? Gamifying the Physics of Space Exploration #physics #physicsed #KSP

So, not long ago I came across a sandbox simulation software package / game called Kerbal Space Program.  It allows you to build space vehicles on the fictional planet of Kerbal, launch the vehicles, attempt to put Kerbals into orbit, help them travel to other planets, etc. etc.  Cute.  But as I looked into it a little more, it has quite a bit of scientific and educational merit.  The physics modeling is pretty good, the game is extremely addictive, and I believe it could be a great way to help students in my AP Physics C course transition from pure physics to applied physics and engineering in our last few weeks of school following the AP Exam.  So I bought the game.  Or, rather, I bought a copy, and the school bought five copies for the kids!


Right now I’m still working out the details of the project.  In general, though, I think it’d be fun to have the kids work through the simulation with a set of challenges as part of a “space race.”  Each group of 3 students will form their own space exploration team.  With safety of all Kerbals as their prime directive, they will be asked to complete a series of tasks, documenting and analyzing their work along with each design and launch, and sharing their findings with the other teams through the use of blogging.  In this manner, we’ll begin to combine technical writing, project management, and even risk management with an addictive game centered around physics principles!

  • I’m thinking their challenges may look something like:
  • Launch an unmanned rocket
  • Launch a manned rocket safety
  • Safely put a Kerbal in orbit (and bring him home)
  • Safely land a Kerbal on the Mun (and bring him home)
  • Safely land a Kerbal on a distant planet (and bring him home)
  • etc.Screenshot2

In just playing with the sim for a few minutes tonight, I managed to put a Kerbal in orbit, but them promptly left him there as I played around with an extra-vehicular activity walk… and then couldn’t bring him back in as my command pod was out of fuel.  Should be a hoot to see how the kids do, and if anyone else has played with the sim, wants to join us in our “experiment,” etc., we’d love to work with others!

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