Space Camp Gets AeroBall™

by Mike Carroll Jr. ©2001 All rights reserved.

The NASA Space Camp program has been around since 1982. Those of you old enough might remember the movie Space Camp starring Kate Capshaw. It suffered an untimely release around the time of the January 28, 1986 Challenger disaster. The movie portrayed a group of Space Camp teens who were accidentally launched into orbit on a shuttle. Due to a shocked nation that once thought of America's space program as invincible, the movie did poorly at the box office and soon ended up on rental shelves.

The AeroBall and Space Shuttle simulators share a space under the Space Camp tent.

There are three Space Camp facilities today in the United States: Huntsville (Alabama), Titusville (Florida) and Mountain View (California).

Space Camp offers a five-day program of astronaut training geared for children from 9 to 11 years old. Set in the summer camp tradition, kids are housed in dorm rooms with bunk beds by night and get to experience different activities during their days themed along the US Space program. Young space enthusiasts can sit in a mock mission control room to simulate a shuttle launch. They can also experience a ninety percent scale space shuttle flight simulator, which includes the mid and flight decks. The shuttle simulator and mission control room are linked by audio and video devices.

For older children from 12-14, the program offers Space Academy® and Advanced Space Academy for young adults from 15-18. Parent/Child Space Camp is offered to parents and their children who can go through the same program together. They have other programs tailored just for adults.


The control panel that runs the simulator sits in the corner of the room.

Recently, the SimulTainment Corporation® entertainment company arranged to have their flagship flight simulator, AeroBall®, installed at the Space Camp facility in Mountain View (Moffett Field), California. The AeroBall simulator, which seats two, is far beyond anything currently availabe in the arcade market. Riders can play a virtual reality soccer type game in a cockpit that has the feeling of an F18 fighter plane - complete with stunning visual graphics and motion dynamics that rival high-end military simulators.

SimulTainment CEO John Barnes, heir to the Barnes and Nobel bookstore chain, has been pursuing this project for almost 10 years and refused to make any sacrifices in the process. He contracted CGSD Corporation to build a simulator that was designed not only to roll and pitch like a real F18, but would shake in turbulent atmosphere. Audio with subwoofers enhance the simulator's experience further.




AeroBall's Stadium is designed to look like an ancient Greek coliseum, but with a touch of high tech.


My job at CGSD Corporation has been to create a rich 3-D database that players can interact with. Using my expertise in photorealistic paintings, I worked around the limitations of real-time technology to create an environment that immerses the player in a truly virtual experience. I worked closely with Dean Hardwick (Lighting Engineer - Starship Troopers) who designed some of the tunnels and game vehicles.

AeroBall's 3-D world includes stadium set in a a tropical island. There are many tunnels within the mountainous terrain that the player can spend time exploring. Using some clever programming wizardry, the CGSD staff also implemented fog in some of the deep valleys.




View is from the rear of the shuttle simulator. It is cut off where the cargo bay would be normaly located.

Before the simulator was shipped to Space Camp, I added Moffett Field's runways and hangers to the environment. This makes it possible for students to land and take off from the familiar air base.

In the early days, the only hardware available to run such an ambitious project were either high end Silicon Graphic Onyx mainframes or specialized image generators. A Lockheed Martin REAL3D Pro 1000 Image Generator (IG) was used to drive the 3-D graphics of AeroBall. While today's PC 3-D accelerator cards have come a long way in the past 10 years, the REAL3D IG's overall image quality is far superior to any PC cards on the market today.

The AeroBall simulator has been a great addition to the Space Camp. It allows attendees to experience the feeling of flying a fighter jet.

In the future, John Barnes hopes to bring his entertainment ride into the arcade market. There are plans on the drawing board for the SimCenter™, an array of kiosks that surround the main simulator. AeroBall players could rent time on either the kiosks or the simulator while competing with each other in the game.