Today, the phenomenally popular mobile game Angry Birds Space gets its latest free update with “Beak Impact,” adding 40 new levels to the game. The update tasks players with taking down asteroid-mining pigs for fun, but also for education, as the game specifically highlights NASA’s efforts to explore asteroids.
NASA has been working with Angry Birds creator Rovio since at least 2012, coordinating product launches from the International Space Station and updates in conjunction with the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars. While the physics used in Angry Birds Space may not be totally accurate, the game is still a fun and addictive introduction to physics and the cosmos, as over 100 million downloads attest.
“Beak Impact” may feature a silly premise—pigs mining asteroids—but understanding asteroids is a huge part of NASA’s past and future research. As Lindley N. Johnson from NASA’s Planetary Science Division says in a guest post on the Rovio website, a mission to an asteroid will help test technology that could send humans to Mars one day, and further the study of our solar system’s formation. Sending humans to an asteroid, as NASA plans to attempt, could even illuminate how life began on Earth.
No matter how much information players glean from the new update, Rovio’s collaboration with NASA is a win-win for science communication. “The collaboration with Rovio and Angry Birds Space is an extraordinary opportunity to reach millions of gamers and use the fictional universe to point players to real information about asteroids, why NASA studies them and how they fit into our exploration path to Mars,” said David Weaver, associate administrator for the Office of Communications at Headquarters in Washington in a press release.
Another cool feature of the new update is that NASA spacecraft are featured as easter eggs within the game. When you find the Orion Crew Vehicle, OSIRIS-REx, Deep Impact, or Dawn spacecraft hidden among the levels, a pop-up offers to redirect you to NASA for more information on what the spacecrafts do for science and where they are headed.
If learning about NASA’s planned asteroid missions isn’t enough, “Beak Impact” also includes a new bird—the Mighty Buzzard—modeled after the legendary Apollo 11 moonwalker, Buzz Aldrin. Maybe the character can help you punch pigs in the face.
You can download “Beak Impact” here.