CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Angry Birds have a new space coop.
At NASA's invitation, the online game birds are roosting at the Kennedy Space Center for the next 11/2 years to lure youngsters to the cosmic wonders of math and science.
The huge interactive exhibit opened in March and immediately packed in the kids, including this reporter's 7-year-old son, who couldn't get enough of the mirrored maze and the design-your-own Angry Bird and play-the-game stations.
It's called Angry Birds Space Encounter and it's the first of its kind.
Astronaut Donald Pettit, a chemical engineer and father of 12-year-old twin boys, announced the collaboration between NASA and Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment a year ago while living aboard the International Space Station. He squeezed in as much physics as he could in the YouTube announcement.
"Wow, this could be a great venue for getting some physics and getting some math and getting some science into something that has the connotation as just an empty brain-draining video game that sucks out the creativity from the minds of young people," Pettit said at the grand opening.
"And so I thought, well, maybe I could help make a difference on this and bring the idea of a game up to a different level, where, unbeknownst to the kids playing it, they're learning a little bit of math and physics at the same time."
Enter the concepts of parabolic trajectories, hyperbolic trajectories, elliptical trajectories, and even Holman transfer orbits, "which is what we do with spacecraft going from Planet A to Planet B."
"There's all this stuff latent in this game, particularly if you tend to be a geek, or an uber-geek, or what I'm actually calling now a super-uber-geek," Pettit said. "All of this stuff can be mined out of this game, and it can be used as an excuse to learn more. If you're not in any of those categories as a kid, you can still play the game and be entertained."
Parent Alert: If a Ph.D. astronaut like Pettit endorses Angry Birds Space, it must be worthwhile.
Toss in space shuttle Atlantis, and the educational value goes sky-high. The $100 million Atlantis display, just a few minutes by foot from Angry Birds Space Encounter, is scheduled to open June 29.
Angry Birds is "a nice prelude to Atlantis, and it will be a nice complement as well," especially for children, said John Stine, Delaware North Co.'s director of sales and events at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
"They're going to learn something about Angry Birds, and they're going to really be inspired when they go to Atlantis."
Rovio Entertainment, of Finland, plans another Angry Birds Space exhibit at another site in the near future, said Dan Mitchell, the company's director of location-based entertainment.
"But you can't get a much more true-to-life space theme than being here at Kennedy Space Center," Mitchell said as his 6-year-old daughter waited none too patiently at the exhibit entrance.
The 4,485-square-foot exhibit features six interactive stations, including 4-foot-high Eggsteroids Slingshots children can use to launch mini Angry Birds at enemy pigs, and a laser-beam obstacle course set on the Red Planet.
This reporter's son had to be dragged away after more than an hour in the noisy, darkened chamber - noisy and dark for grown-ups, that is. The Florida sunlight beckoned, with the outdoor play area, rocket garden, and shuttle launch-simulator ride.
"Want to go back to the Angry Birds?" he pleaded a few days later. "Pleeeease."
For More Information
Admission: Adults, $50; children 3-11, $40 (plus tax).
On the Web: kennedyspacecenter.com