Posted: 4:06 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, 2013

9 Investigates NASA's spending on video games, apps

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9 Investigates


WFTV learned NASA is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into video games and apps, saying it's a great way to get young people excited about careers in space, math and science.

But some critics are warning there are better things to spend tax dollars on.

While NASA has stopped sending people into space, for now, it has started exploring the solar system remotely through video games.

The agency has invested $500,000 in content and expertise to help create the video games and apps.

A private company told 9 Investigates it has a contract with NASA for $1 million more to develop StarLite, a game that simulates a journey to Mars and the life of astronauts on the red planet.

But NASA officials dispute the amount and said the agency's in-kind investment is $102,000.

"It's not a good idea," said taxpayer John Flyn. "They already did space. They can't go any further."

But NASA said it has big plans and wants to inspire students to pursue careers in math and science.

And supporters said video games are the best way to reach them, especially since a new study by the Pew Research Center found nearly every teenager in America plays video games.

"This is reaching out to kids, speaking a language that they understand that will hopefully inspire them to pursue those careers that are so important to our space program," said space expert Jim Banke.

Congressman Bill Posey, who recently joined a committee overseeing NASA, said he isn't sure video games are the answer.

"NASA should be focused on space exploration more than anything else," he said.

NASA's video games made Sen. Tom Coburn's wasteful spending report, but the agency told WFTV the majority of its investment is "in kind," provided through content and expertise.

NASA contracted with a private Canadian firm that raised $1 million on its own to create the game. The developer said it will challenge students to use science skills in a way that's educational and fun.

While some taxpayers think the public-private partnership is a win-win, not everyone is convinced.

"It isn't going to work. You can spend all you want," said Flyn.

Supporters point out the money is only a fraction of NASA's $17 billion budget and said it's the cheapest and most effective way for NASA to reach children and share what it's doing with the public.

The first phase of the StarLite game will be released next week.

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