SpaceX made a spaceship-flying video game that will make you wish a NASA astronaut was around to help

  • SpaceX launched its first-ever passengers – NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – into orbit on Saturday.
  • To train astronauts to fly its new Crew Dragon spaceship, SpaceX developed software that simulates docking with International Space Station.
  • On May 12, SpaceX released a free in-browser video game that’s based on a version of its real flight simulator.
  • The game teaches players to control a spaceship’s pitch, yaw, roll, and approach speed for a safe docking.
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If you fantasize of becoming an astronaut and rocketing into space, you’d better also daydream of complex docking manoeuvreswith the International Space Station (ISS).

Better yet, try on your awesome responsibilities by playing SpaceX’s humbling new video game. Released on Tuesday, “ISS Docking Simulator” is a free game you can play from a web browser.

The simulator is based on a real software that the rocket company, founded in 2002 by tech mogul (and avid gamer) Elon Musk, uses to train NASA astronauts to fly its new Crew Dragon spaceship.

Spacex crew dragon spaceship video game flight simulator docking controls international space station iss sim
A screenshot of SpaceX’s video game based on a Crew Dragon flight simulator for docking with the International Space Station. SpaceX

SpaceX published the video game just two weeks before its scheduled test flight of Demo-2: a mission with Crew Dragon piloted by seasoned NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

If their roughly 110-day flight is successful, it will mark the first human spaceflight from American soil since July 2011, when NASA retired its fleet of space shuttle orbiter.

The launch of Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, would also be SpaceX’s first-ever flight of humans in the company’s 18-year history. (SpaceX has successfully flown 19 operational missions with Cargo Dragon, or Dragon 1, but that ship flies supplies, not people.)

“The simulator will familiarise you with the controls of [the] actual interface used by NASA Astronauts to manually pilot the SpaceX Dragon 2 vehicle to the International Space Station,” SpaceX says in the game’s introduction.

SpaceX shared a link to the browser game with a video of its actual docking simulator in Hawthorne, California, where astronauts go to train.

Spacex crew dragon spaceship digital touchscreen docking controls international space station youtube sm
A person in a spacesuit uses SpaceX’s training simulator for docking the Crew Dragon spaceship with the International Space Station. SpaceX via YouTube

The game simulates a touchscreen-panel interface that Behnken and Hurley will try out in earnest about a day after launching to orbit.

Even to those familiar with spaceflight operations, it’s not easy. Players have to maintain tight control of yaw, pitch, roll, and speed as they rendezvous with the ISS or they will lose the game.

“Movement in space is slow and requires patience & precision,” SpaceX says in its game.

An artist’s illustration shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft docking to the International Space Station. SpaceX via NASA

Piloting Crew Dragon has come easier to some than others, though, including former Navy pilot and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, who recently bragged about his mastering of the simulator.

“Last year I got to try out the @SpaceX #CrewDragon docking simulator with [Hurley] and [Behnken]. And yes, I nailed it on my first try!” Bridenstine tweeted on Tuesday.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on May 13, 2020.