Every month, tweens and teens come to the Newcastle Library and play with rockets. They aren't real rockets, but virtual ones in the computer game Kerbal Space Program. With a highly realistic physics engine and a sandbox full of rocket and airplane parts, Kerbal Space Program is a game that is fun, educational, and builds community. All of the rocket design and construction begins on the game planet Kerbin, which looks a lot like Earth. Kerbin has two moons, and much of its in-game solar system looks a lot like ours.
Race to a Moon
At last month's club meeting, Kerbal Club had its first ever space flight challenge. Two teams of players set out to be the first team to plant a flag on Kerbin's second moon, Minmus. The teams: KSP Server and Team Kerbalniers.
After a frenzied rocket design session, team KSP Server was the first to launch a custom rocket build from scratch. Team Kerbalniers followed closely behind with a modified version of one of the game's pre-built rockets. Both teams focused on getting a good orbit around Kerbin and setting up for a maneuver towards Minmus. Team KSP Server ran in to some trouble at this stage, finding a great path to Mun, Kerbin's first moon, but unfortunately not Minmus. This set them behind, but Team KSP Server didn't give up and kept trying different ways to correct their flight and head towards Minmus.
As Team Kerbalniers approached Minmus and prepared to land, things got tense because they knew something could go wrong at any moment. But after demonstrating smooth piloting skills, Team Kerbalniers clinched the victory after 45 minutes of play. When I asked them if they learned anything about getting to Minmus during the challenge, Team KSP Server said it was a lot harder than they thought! And one team member added that he learned how to get to orbit better. One of the players on Team Kerbalniers who was new to Kerbal Club said that he hadn't been to Minmus before. His teammate said that he learned how to work in a team.
How Kerbal Club Started
In January 2017, after an introductory workshop on basic gameplay where tweens and teens learned how to pilot a rocket into orbit, they wanted more chances to practice and play. So I passed around a sign-up sheet and invited everyone back for the first meeting of Kerbal Space Program Club. It wouldn't have been possible without one teen volunteer, Alex, who has been playing Kerbal Space Program for years and was thrilled to have a place where he could share his passions for Kerbal and aerospace with others.
In the first few club meetings, Alex created his own lessons and got some teaching practice showing the other club members how to transfer a craft from orbit towards a moon. It was hard to keep everyone working at the same pace though, so after a few meetings Alex changed his approach and started teaching them one-on-one.
Kerbal Space Program Club is almost 2 years old now. It continues to be a place where tweens and teens can enthuse with each other about flying rockets, planning missions, and seeing who can come up with awe-inspiring explosions on the launchpad. Every month, club members show how much bravery, determination, and creativity they have for this computer game and the club at the library. And from my perspective as a Teen Services Librarian, I couldn't be more proud watching them build community and grow into scientific thinkers.
The club is just one of many ideaX programs you can attend at KCLS libraries. See which ideaX programs are coming soon at a library near you and get inspired!