Thursday, August 09, 2007

Orbiter for Educators: Getting Started

As I try to extend the shuttle launch experience with occasional NASA TV breaks and by reading the no-holds-barred Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane (a mission specialist who flew three shuttle flights between 1984 and 1990), I'm also thinking about the teachers and informal educators I met at the NASA STS-118 educational conference on Sunday and Monday. It was great to hear about how these dedicated educators are using space flight themes to help engage students of all ages.

I gave cards and single-page Orbiter information handouts to many of the people I spoke with at the conference, so if you are a fellow STS-118 conference attendee, welcome! I hope Orbiter is useful to you, or to some of your colleagues or students, but I want to warn you not to get discouraged if your first impression is that it's pretty complex. It can be complex, since it's based on real orbital mechanics. But if you do a little preparation, you'll find you can do simple but interesting things pretty quickly. After that, it's up to you - and the sky is obviously not the limit!

A few tips. Download my Go Play in Space and read the introduction and the first two chapters, then install the program and go through the steps in chapter 2. This will teach you a lot about operating a spacecraft in Orbiter. Do this even if you're itching to download the Shuttle Fleet add-on and recreate STS-118. If this is exactly what you want to do, then go ahead (download and install all the required zip files - there are three, the shuttle fleet, the ISS fleet, and the expansion pack, plus the updated STS-118 scenarios), but I suggest that you also download and read this nice Shuttle Fleet launch tutorial by José Pablo Luna Sánchez ("ar81" on the Orbiter Forums). If you don't get what he describes when you start the scenario (e.g., shuttle launch instruments), quit (Control-Q) and go to the Modules tab on the Orbiter "launchpad" dialog box. Make sure that GPCMFD is in the active (left side) list, along with Orbiter Sound. Note that even with the autopilots and Pablo's tutorial, the Shuttle Fleet is probably not the very first thing you should do in Orbiter - it requires a little experience, attention to detail, and a bit of persistence, though not quite at the Barb Morgan level!

You may also want to check out my earlier Orbiter for Educators blog posts for some tips on using Orbiter in the classroom. Also feel free to post questions at the Orbiter Forum (there's even an Orbiter in Education section). Now go play in space!

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