Space shuttle Q&A leads to video game Discovery

If you asked 100 adults which question they’d most like to ask an astronaut, probably 95% of the responses would involve bodily functions. But American children have a different question: Do astronauts play video games in space?

That was the first question asked by a group of schoolchildren who joined Barack Obama for a live link-up with the crew of the Discovery shuttle which is currently orbiting Earth. The reply came from one crew member that:

We can, in fact. And in fact a few years ago when I was up here for six months I had a video game that I used to play in my spare time. Unfortunately, we don’t have much spare time. So we can, we have a lot of laptop computers. But for the most part we stay real busy doing real work.

The chat also revealed that the crew receives a daily electronic e-mail including all the latest NCAA March Madness results.

It will come too late for the crew of Discovery, but NASA is working on a game titled Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond. The CEO of one of the firms involved in the game, Information in Place, says it could help spark interest in sciences, mathematics and technology: “When [students] see that they can use these skills to build something – like a space shuttle or a greenhouse – then they understand why it’s important.”

NASA certainly seems happier dealing with children than adults at the moment. It’s still deciding on how to deal with the results of an online contest it ran to name a new wing on the International Space Station. The leading option suggested by NASA, ‘Serenity’, wound up 40,000 votes behind the top write-in suggestion ‘Stephen Colbert’.