Thursday, March 13, 2008

Orbiting for Peace

Of course the ISS is the "international" space station, and at this moment, the shuttle Endeavour is docked there to deliver and install a Japanese science module and a Canadian robot arm, adding to the ISS components already in place from Russia, Europe, Canada, and the United States. ISS and current shuttle crews are Russian, French, Japanese, and American. I believe that the extensive and peaceful cooperation among the participating nations is one of the greatest things about the ISS. You could call this "orbiting for peace."

There's another international space program, one that takes place in cyberspace and centers on Martin Schweiger's freeware Orbiter space flight simulator. It includes "orbinauts" from all over the world, many of whom regularly participate in the Orbiter Forum. Some 612 have registered their locations with Dansteph's Orbinauts World Map (statistics here). Forum users help one another with Orbiter problems, collaborate on add-on development projects, post screen shots and videos, discuss real space developments, and more. Many orbinauts also have web sites that help support other Orbiter users. Orbiter itself is not a multi-user program (though there have been some multi-user add-on projects), but the shared interests of these space flight simulation fans have created a real community. One small example is the recently released Mars for Less add-on project. The developers included two guys from the UK (one of whom was living in Finland for most of the project), one Canadian, and one American (me). We also got a big assist from a guy from Portugal. Other Orbiter add-on projects are even more international in scope.

One of the essays in the book What Are You Optimistic About? is "How Technology Is Saving the World" by Diane F. Halpern. She writes, "The strangeness of 'foreigners,' which used to define the relationship between people of different religions, customs, races, and regions of the world, is disappearing as the rapidly increasing numbers of users of technology connect over time and space in ways available only to members of the same clan or village a few decades ago." The Orbiter community is a good example of this sort of specialized "global village" and I like to think it contributes just a bit to world peace. It may be a virtual village of people playing in virtual space, but in a way, we're orbiting for peace too.

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