Back again and one day late for the Canadarm 31st anniversary (since its first use since its deployment). A work horse for the Space Shuttle program and Canada's contribution to the space program in in the mid 1980's.
Have you ever dreamt of flying a space shuttle mission? Here's an official short little flash based mission simulator from the Kennedy Space Center that serves as an educational tool as well that's youngster friendly.
For a very detailed simulation of the space shuttle try Space Shuttle Mission Simulator a commercial program with a freely downloadable demo. It supports a wide number of features including head mounted displays and head tracking for those who want real immersion. Throw in technical support and a good library of expansions and you have a great program. I only got a short peek at it and its great indeed, with the most accurate instrument panel I've seen.
On a low budget? For those of you running a Windows based PC, you can download Orbiter, a great free shuttle simulation with a modern dynamics taking into account such factors as the buoyancy of the atmosphere and a highly accurate instumentation model. It would be perfectly rounded out with SpaceShip 2 a sub-orbital space craft in development and one of the pioneer craft of commercial spaceflight.
Looking for something a bit further into the future where we've already tackled all of the rough bits regarding space flight? You might want to check out Frontier: First Encounters on the PC. Its a bit more of a game than a simulation but it originated way back in the early days of computer as the first space simulation game known as Elite first released on the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64. Imagine that! There was a space simulation game that included IFR (Instrument Flight Reckoning) based and VFR (Visual Flight Reckoning) based space station docking in 1984. It was a completely ground breaking program at the time and will get its place on my links page. There were two sequels to the game, Frontier and Frontier First Encounters, both similar to each other but ground breaking in the sense that they simulated nearly the entire milkyway galaxy in 1993 on two 720KB 3 1/2" disks!
Another first was the fact that you could seamlessly fly from ground to space without transitions that were common in most space games at that time. It pioneered all space simulations for the PC including Google Earth utilizing LOD (Level Of Detail) and icosahedron subdivision rendering for its geometric representation of planets and moons. Looking a little dated compared to most modern space simulation games, a group of programmers and artists in the FFE community combined forces in two teams to take on the monumental task of updating Frontier First Encounters to utilize modern 3D hardware, which required reverse engineering a few hundred thousand lines of machine code culminating in FFED3D and FFEGL. Highly recommended, and lots of information and resources out there from the Elite and Frontier community. Special thanks to David Braben and Ian Bell, the original creators of those programs. For more information on these great programs please check out Frontier Astro, a great site detailing all of the Elite series of games.
Lastly, for an updated version of Elite! Check out Oolite, a multiplatform version of the original Elite, with updated graphics and object orientation which translates to lots of expandability.
What space themed blog entry would be complete without Star Trek and Star Wars? Well this one certainly wouldn't. Have you ever wanted to command and fly a Federation starship? Have you ever wanted to lead an away team on a surface mission? You can with Star Trek Online, a massively multiplayer online Star Trek game. It lets you do all that and more in a huge universe with cameo appearances and mentions of the crew of all of the Star Trek series. The best part is that its free to play, you just need an internet connection. Highly recommended.
Last but not least is Star Wars Online, an online massively multiplayer version or Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. Another excellent online game with a free to play version. You can join the Galactic Republic or the Empire, with four different classes and many different races to choose from in each faction. This game takes place a few thousand years before the Star Wars movies and includes many of the locations from the movies. Again, highly recommended.
That should be enough space food to keep your tribbles happy for while.
Until then, may the force be with you at warp 9.