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Center for Educational Technologies projects have ended (except Challenger Learning Center) and are no longer funded.

First App from Classroom of the Future Plants Seeds for Long Mission

Thu May 17 2012

An image of BLiSS Sim for iPad.Available as a free download from iTunes.

You're stuck on the Moon or relocated to Mars—how are you going to survive for months and possibly years without resupply?

This is the challenge you face in the BLiSS Sim, the first science education app developed by the NASA-sponsored Classroom of the Future. With help from NASA's Bioregenerative Life Support System research, you can plan a plant-based, Earth-like solution for oxygen, water, and food production.

The BLiSS Sim is now available for free download from the iTunes Store.

"There are thousands of apps available in the iTunes store," said Laurie Ruberg, associate director of the Center for Educational Technologies. "What makes this app unique and highly desirable is that it uses a game format to engage youth and adults in the challenges of supporting humans in space or extreme environments on Earth."

In the BLiSS Sim players learn how four plant types—wheat, potatoes, soybeans, and lettuce—can be grown and harvested to supply human oxygen, water, and food needs.

"Anyone interested in plants, human space travel, or planning biological sustainability here on Earth will want to have this app that is based on NASA advanced life support research," Ruberg said.

NASA's Bioregenerative Life Support System research was conducted at a variety of NASA centers and academic institutions but was primarily supported by the Biological Sciences Branch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Classroom of the Future first put that research to use in BioBLAST®, its award-winning biology education CD-ROM published in 1999. The BLiSS Sim app was also featured in another NASA-funded Classroom of the Future project over the last two years, MoonWorld, a simulation in which players in the Second Life virtual world perform research at a lunar base.

Chuck Wood, director of the Center for Educational Technologies and a longtime NASA scientist, said the BLiSS Sim provides food for thought, so to speak, regarding long-term space missions.

"At home we might plan our meals, make a shopping list, and purchase our perishable and processed food supplies at the grocery store as we need them. On a Moon or Mars base we must plan far in advance the crops we plant and grow because we'll rely on them for our supply of oxygen, water, and food," Wood said.

"This is what the BLiSS Sim iPad app is designed to do—help future space travelers learn how to plan a crop growth system that can support a human crew for long periods of time when frequent resupply is not feasible. Taking advantage of the education potential of an iPad app is a great way for youth and adults alike to learn what's involved in long-duration space travel."

Andrew Harrison, web application programmer at the Center for Educational Technologies, programmed the app and endorses the iPad as an educational tool.

"Mobile development is the hot, new trend for programmers. Once I created my first touch screen interactive demo, I was hooked, and I think learners will find playing the BLiSS Sim just as engaging. It's always fun learning something new, especially in a fresh medium."

The images, design, and look of the BLiSS Sim were created by Cassandra Lightfritz, who has won multiple national awards for her work as a graphic designer at the Center for Educational Technologies.

"One of my favorite things to design is an interactive interface, and it was especially exciting creating an interactive iPad app for NASA," Lightfritz said. "I did a lot of research about hydroponics and growing plants in space and became inspired by the different hydroponic systems, which influenced parts of the interface design. I wanted the app to visually reflect what it is like to grow plants in space."

To learn more about the app and download it, visit the BLiSS Sim website.