Rovio, NASA team up for Angry Birds Space launch

Rovio, NASA team up for Angry Birds Space launch

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It’s official: NASA is a fan of Angry Birds.

Officials at NASA are celebrating the latest version of Angry Birds, helping assist  the Finnish game developer Rovio, which produces the popular game, according to statement released by the U.S. space agency on Thursday.

“We’ve been working with NASA for quite a while already and they’re very keen in cooperating with us,” Rovio senior account manager Tiina Mikkonen said Thursday. “We got this astronaut Don Pettit in space to cooperate around the launch … They’ve been helping us with all the physics-related questions around space and gravity.”

Aboard the International Space Station, Flight Engineer Don Pettit of NASA created a video using Angry Birds Space to explain how physics works in space, including demonstrating trajectories in microgravity by catapulting an Angry Bird through the space station. The video was shown this week to an audience at the South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals, an annual convention of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies in Austin, Texas.

NASA officials say they have put all of its eggs in one basket with Angry Birds Space, noting this was the only major game launch to be expected from the company this year, with more merchandise, tie-ins, and animated cartoons on the way.

The NASA team involved with assisting the Finnish company with the launch noted that the relationship began with simple interest in the game, which a number of engineers seem to enjoy playing.

“This collaboration began with a simple Twitter exchange about birds and pigs in space, and it has grown into a tremendous outreach and education opportunity,” said David Weaver, associate administrator for communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Games are fun and entertaining, but they also can be inspirational and informative. This ongoing collaboration with Rovio and Angry Birds is an exciting way to get people engaged with NASA’s missions of exploration and discovery, and get students energized about future careers in science and technology.”

The new game is based on the same premise — which involve slingshotting birds into structures built by pigs — but places the battlefield in space, with the trajectory of the launched birds altered by the gravity of nearby planets.

The coordination between NASA and Rovio comes as the U.S. space agency is facing a series of steep budget cuts. Earlier this year, the White House released a budget plan that all but eliminates essential funding for a number of future missions  for NASA. Space agency officials have sought to increase interest in space exploration, launching public awareness programs and testifying before members of Congress.

For more than 50 years, NASA has used such agreements for a range of partnerships, including the recent push to augment its own space exploration capabilities with commercial flights.

Using Thursday’s announcement,  NASA used the opportunity to educate the public on one of the key laws of physics: gravity.NASA.gov, it used the occasion to explain the difference between normal gravity (1g), zero gravity (0g), and microgravity (1×10-6 g), and to point out that experiments on the International Space Station happen in a microgravity environment.

The announcement of the latest version of the popular game was not without controversy. Rovio executives said Thursday that the latest version would not appear on the Microsoft platform. However, the Rovio CEO later contradicted earlier reports, saying the latest version would indeed hit Microsoft, as well. The statement suggests that Microsoft’s clout remains on the rise in the smartphone arena, given the possibility that Windows 8 might become a third major player in the smartphone market.

Since its release in December 2009, Angry Birds has been downloaded 700 million times, and it is expected to exceed one billion downloads.

Angry Birds Space costs $5.95 for the PC and $4.99 for the Mac.

iPhone and iPod Touch users can grab the game for 99 cents, while iPad owners will find an HD version for $2.99 already optimized for the Retina Display. Android users can download a free ad-supported version at Google Play.

Dedicated versions are also available at $2.99 for the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook tablet.

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