I returned last night to check out the rest of the Spaceflight Museum in Second Life. In my first visit, I remarked that this sim showed the enormous potential of Second Life for education. What I didn’t mention was the power of Second Life to inspire and evoke powerful feelings.
Last night, my friend Beckto Babcock and I were zooming around the Museum, checking out all the rockets and cool toys — like a simulation of a mechanical arm used to manipulate satellites that you can operate by remote control. Then we headed to a rocket that we could board and lift off to an orbitting space station. The visual and sound effects simulating sitting in the rocket’s cockpit, leaving the atmosphere and docking with the station were impressive.
From the orbitting station, you get a near orbit view of the Earth laid out below you. Then from there, you can teleport around the solar system, getting up-close views of all the planets. You can not help but feel more peaceful "up there" with the stars twinkling around you in the black. We ran into a couple making out around Mercury, which seemed like a natural thing to do.
Standing before the immense orb of Jupiter, I was struck by the power of these 3D simulations to elicit awe and wonder. Obviously the volunteer creators of these planet simulations were motivated by that same spirit to painstakingly re-create these celestial bodies.
Ultimately education is more than just the imparting of facts and data. It’s supposed to be about opening up minds to new worlds and nurturing that creative and exploratory spark that everyone has. An inspired teacher, a good book, a well-made movie, a museum can all play a role in this. If CSI can lead to explosive rates of enrollment in schools of forensic science, there’s no reason why a 3D simulation of rockets and the solar system can’t encourage the next generation of rocket scientists and astronauts.