NASA MMO Gets Kickstarter Funding, Beta In 2012

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The concept of a NASA-backed MMO about space is one that’s been floating around for years, and thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the project is making its first steps to becoming a reality.

A bit of background: in 2009, developers Project Whitecard, Wisdom Tools, and Virtual Heroes beat out 20 other competitors in a contest sponsored by NASA’s Learning Technologies division.

The prize? A commercial license for creating an MMO called “Astronaut: Moon, Mars, and Beyond” that will inspire new generation of players to look to the stars and pursue a career in the sciences.

Under the terms of the agreement, the developers would have to pony up the funding necessary to create and sustain the game. A Kickstarter campaign kicked off on August 15, and over 500 backers have carried the project over the $25,000 funding goal in just two weeks. If they manage to reach $50,000, development of the PC and iPad versions of the game will start, with a beta release expected for 2012. In exchange, the developers get a government tax credit that will match the full amount of donations up to $700,000.

It sounds just a tad on the dry side as far as content is concerned, but the Kickstarter pitch paints a picture that’s more World of Warcraft than EVE Online. Players will assume the role of an aspiring astronaut at the Arthur C. Clarke Astronaut Academy Station in the year 2035, and can choose from such compelling character classes as Astrobiologist and Engineer.

While the game will take players to the surface of the red planet and into the outer reaches of the solar system, players will also have to deal with a looming threat to civilization we know it. The game only exists as concept art for now, but it is expected to be developed using the Unreal Engine, so the end result should be pretty easy on the eyes.

Cheesy sci-fi plot points aside, this could be exactly what NASA needs to turn people’s attentions skyward again. In providing a compelling vision for the future of space exploration, NASA is positioning itself to young, smart gamers as the way to help make it real.