We use Minecraft Moding in Java to design a custom Mars Mod with a VR environment integration to allow students to explore and learn about the surface of Mars. We use NASA resources to document facts about different regions on Mars and their particular surface features. We choose several regions of interest and we design our 3D model on Minecraft platform to exemplify the different types of terrains on Mars surface and specific environmental factors, as well as the in-depth composition layers of the planet. The virtual reality environment will provide interactivity for an enhanced VR exploration experience, and the option to step in and out of the VR immersion. Minecraft allows integrating VR on Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, and Gear VR.
There are different terrains on Mars: smooth plains, sand dunes, rolling hills, winding channels (that were probably carved by ancient flood waters), deep rugged canyons, steep cliffs, mesas (isolated flat-topped hills with steep sides), enormous volcanoes, and polar ice caps. We design our Mars Dimension in Minecraft as an integration of multiple Bioms that can be explored while learning about specific locations where they can be found on Mars: floodplains, valleys and riverbeds (Valles Marineris), lake beds (Eridania basin), rocky rough surface (Ares Vallis), major volcanoes region (Tharsis Montes), and the polar ice caps (North and South Poles). Using the mining functions of Minecraft, we enable collecting samples of rocky surface soil from the crust, and to dig into the deeper mantle stone layer, as well as to mine the frozen solid water trapped under the surface of the polar regions. In the dry lands, our custom Martian Soil and Rocky Soil Blocks are our Minecraft “blocky” version representation of the rusty reddish brown soil that contains much iron oxide. We’ll try to represent the dusty atmosphere, unstable air currents and dust storms and to generate tornadoes in Minecraft. The gravity we set in our MarsMod is 62 percent lower than the gravity on Earth, to match the scientific documentation on the real-life Mars environment.
For a more futuristic experience, the students and players will be able to spawn Robot Geologists (rovers and mechs) and drive Mars Exploration Vehicles to navigate the surface of Mars. The MarsMod will allow generating Mars Habitats and Astronauts and, in multi-player mode, the players will be able to switch between different astronaut roles to complete different tasks: in-vehicle (and in-habitat) roles vs. extra-vehicular surface exploration roles.
We aim to provide a rich learning experience and a super-fun gaming platform to students and gamers and all-ages space exploration enthusiasts. We also encourage the reuse of our VR model to build upon and extend its purpose for space exploration.
George is a young and enthusiastic coder and Minecraft Mod designer, Adina is a PhD scientist and a coding teacher for children and youth, Ian is an university professor and a very experienced PhD computer scientist and coder.
1. Our research was based on NASA resources and science books:
- “StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson”
- “Space: The definitive visual catalog of the universe”
- “Encyclopaedia Britannica: Virtual Reality Space”.
2. Special thanks to:
YouthDigital ( https://www.youthdigital.com/) - we used their on-line tutorials for learning how to Mod in Minecraft with Java and to design our own mods:
- Course: Minecraft Mod Design 1
- Course: Minecraft Mod Design 1 - Dimensions
- Course: Minecraft Mod Design 2.
ID Tech ( https://www.idtech.com/) - the experience gained in their summer camps was invaluable:
- Course: Java Coding: Build Mods with Minecraft
- Course: Adventures in Game Design: Minecraft.
SpaceApps is a NASA incubator innovation program.