CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Angry Birds have a new space coop.At NASA's invitation, the online game birds are roosting at Kennedy Space Center for the next 1 1/2 years in an effort to lure youngsters to the cosmic wonders of math and science.The huge interactive exhibit opened March 22 and immediately packed in the kids, including this reporter's 7-year-old son, who couldn't get enough of the mirrored maze and design-your-own Angry Bird and play-the-game stations.The exhibit is called "Angry Birds Space Encounter" and is the first of its kind.Astronaut Donald Pettit, a chemical engineer and father of 12-year-old twin boys, announced the collaboration between NASA and Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment a year ago while living aboard the International Space Station. He squeezed as much physics as he could into the YouTube announcement."Wow, this could be a great venue for getting some physics and getting some math and getting some science into something that has the connotation as just an empty brain-draining video game that sucks out the creativity from the minds of young people," Pettit told The Associated Press at the grand opening."And so I thought, well, maybe I could help make a difference on this and bring the idea of a game up to a different level, where unbeknownst to the kids playing it, they're learning a little bit of math and physics at the same time."Enter the concepts of parabolic trajectories, hyperbolic trajectories, elliptical trajectories and even Hohmann transfer orbits, "which is what we do with spacecraft going from Planet A to Planet B.""There's all this stuff latent in this game, particularly if you tend to be a geek, or an uber-geek, or what I'm actually calling now a super-uber-geek," Pettit said. "All of this stuff can be mined out of this game and it can be used as an excuse to learn more. If you're not in any of those categories as a kid, you can still play the game and be entertained."Parent alert: If a Ph.D. astronaut like Pettit endorses Angry Birds Space, it must be worthwhile.Toss in space shuttle Atlantis, making its museum debut in another few months, and the educational value goes sky-high.The $100 million Atlantis display, just a few minutes' stroll from "Angry Birds Space Encounter," opens June 29.The Angry Birds show is "a nice prelude to Atlantis and it will be a nice complement as well," especially for children, said John Stine, Delaware North Co.'s director of sales and events at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex."They're going to learn something about Angry Birds and they're going to really be inspired when they go to Atlantis."The Finland-based Rovio Entertainment has another Angry Birds Space exhibit up its sleeve at another locale in the near future, said Dan Mitchell, the company's director of location-based entertainment."But you can't get a much more true-to-life space theme than being here at Kennedy Space Center," Mitchell said as his 6-year-old daughter waited none too patiently at the exhibit entrance.The 4,485-square-foot exhibit features six interactive stations, including 4-foot-high Eggsteroid Slingshots that children can use to launch mini Angry Birds at enemy pigs, and a laser-beam obstacle course set on the Red Planet.My son had to be dragged away after more than an hour inside the noisy, darkened chamber -- noisy and dark for grown-ups, that is. The Florida sunlight beckoned, with the outdoor play area, rocket garden and shuttle launch-simulator ride."Want to go back to the Angry Birds?" he pleaded a few days later. "Pleeeease."
If you go
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex: Located about an hour's drive east of Orlando, Fla. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Angry Birds Space Encounter included with regular admission ($50, $40 ages 3-11).
Note: Unmanned rockets still soar from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, so check to see if a launch is coming up for double the fun. www.kennedyspacecenter.com.
NASA's Angry Birds announcement: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxI1L1RiSJQ