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NASA launches Mars coding game

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Adults keen to encourage the take-up of coding for children will always be on the lookout for something that can really capture the imagination. The good news is it seems no less eminent an organisation than NASA is looking to do just that.

The arrival of the Perseverance rover on the red planet last month has got lots of people thinking about Mars and space exploration, with the tantalising prospect of the probe discovering if there are any signs of present or past life there.

Among the devices that the probe has come equipped with is Ingenuity, a specially-designed helicopter that has been engineered to fly in the Martian atmosphere, which is many times thinner and less dense than that of Earth. If it works, it will be humanity’s first powered flight on another planet, 118 years after the Wright Brothers first managed it on Earth.

Students will be able to try to design and fly their own virtual version of the helicopter by using a video coding programme called Scratch.

In an instructional video posted on YouTube, a representative of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said "The Mars helicopter is a technology demonstration mission designed to show that a small, lightweight helicopter can fly in the thin atmosphere of Mars.”

"Success for game players can be the same as success for the Mars helicopter mission," the representative added, explaining that players should develop code blocks that declare success when the virtual helicopter flies. 

The exercise could be one of the very best ways of getting youngsters into coding; after all, by linking it with the most cutting edge elements of science via aeronautics and space exploration, this could help sustain an interest in those keen to pursue scientific careers.

Perhaps, one day, one of the children who get into coding because of the NASA project will end up being the first astronaut to set foot on Mars.