“Angry Birds Space” Q&A: Your Guide to the Angry Universe

[MARCH 22 UPDATE: The game has landed! Initial reviews seem pretty excited about the science-fueled gameplay. In case you missed it, NASA also released a fun video of astronaut Don Pettit demonstrating Angry physics aboard the International Space Station, now embedded!]

The Eagle Nebula, a grand old bird roughly 6,500 light-years away.
Image courtesy T. A. Rector & B. A. Wolpa, NOAO, AURA

Green pigs across the cosmos should start looking for places to hide, because the Angry Birds are headed to space.

In partnership with NASA and National Geographic, series creator Rovio is bringing the popular game to the final frontier with Angry Birds Space, scheduled for launch on March 22.

Today [March 8] attendees at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, are getting the first taste of this spacey new game, which features new, astronomy-themed mechanics such as zero gravity, slow-motion puzzles, and “lightspeed” destruction.

Even more exciting, from this blogger’s perspective, is that saving those precious eggs will involve increasing your space savvy—you and your birds will have to know all about planets, gravity, nebulae, and other astronomical wonders to finish your quest.

To lend gamers a helping wing, National Geographic today also announced its official companion book for the game. Author Amy Briggs deftly guides humans and birds alike from our familiar “home base” here on Earth, through the solar system, and beyond, into mysterious corners of the universe filled with black holes, exploding stars, and alien worlds.

The book goes on sale March 20, giving you a few days to mentally prepare for your epic trek with the space-bound birds. (Click here or on the image of the book cover to find out how to get the book.)

In the meantime, astronaut Ron Garan—who’s currently down at SXSW for the official announcement—has given us a sneak peek at some of the things we’ll need to know to conquer the Angry universe:

The Angry Birds are about to boldly go where they’ve never gone before. How does an astronaut get suited up for a trip to space?

Very carefully, of course, and exactly how you put on the suit depends on the spacesuit. For the U.S. spacesuit that we use when we go outside for a spacewalk, you first put your “Space Pants” on and then slither and squeeze yourself up into the torso, the mid-section, pushing your head out the top of that section and your arms out the sides. Then you attach the gloves and your helmet, and you are ready to go. For the Russian spacesuit that also is used for spacewalks from the International Space Station, you open a hatch in the back and climb inside — it is all one piece, except for gloves that you attach. Either way, getting into a spacesuit is a lot easier when you can “fly” in zero gravity than it is to practice it on Earth. By way of explanation, I will just say that in zero gravity, you really can put your pants on both legs at a time. Oh, and I forgot to mention the long underwear you put on first with miles of tubes that water flows through to keep you cool and acts as your personal climate control in the suit. The birds could probably use a pair of those…

Can travel via slingshot actually get someone from Earth into space?

Author and engineer Jules Verne, in his novel From the Earth to the Moon, envisioned a giant space gun that could fire a bullet-shaped projectile carrying people to the moon. Later, German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth explained that living things could not survive the initial acceleration needed to get Verne’s bullet to the moon.

The same is true with a slingshot. If you had one big enough and strong enough to accelerate an object to the speed that’s necessary to stay in orbit (17,500mph) it could work. Unfortunately people couldn’t survive the acceleration the slingshot would need to produce to get them into space. Angry Birds are pretty tough though and they might be able to make the trip.

I’ve heard that a “gravitational slingshot” can help a spacecraft travel faster—how does that work?

A gravity assist maneuver uses the relative movement and gravity of a planet (or other celestial body) to alter the direction and speed of a spacecraft. As a spacecraft nears the planet, it begins to gain speed from the tug of the planet’s gravitational pull. Because the planet and spacecraft are traveling in the same direction, if everything is just right, the spacecraft won’t be pulled into the planet and crash. Instead the spacecraft will slingshot past it. The idea is that using a gravity-assist maneuver, the spacecraft comes up and steals some angular momentum of a planet’s orbit around the Sun, removing a small amount of momentum from that planet. A slingshot maneuver can therefore be used to change the spaceship’s trajectory and speed relative to the Sun. Gravity assist is like a Ping-Pong ball hitting the revolving blade of a ceiling fan and being thrown further and faster than before it hit the blade.

We use gravity-assist maneuvers to shave time of a spacecraft’s trip. Each Voyager mission, for example, used the enormous gravity field of Jupiter to be hurled on to Saturn, experiencing an increase in speed of roughly 35,700 mph. Voyager 2 did slingshots around Saturn and Uranus to reach Neptune, and those maneuvers reduced Voyager 2’s trip by nearly 20 years.

For more detailed information on how gravitational slingshots work, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/gravitationalslingshot

Was a bird the first animal to travel to space?

No. To the best of our knowledge, no birds have flown in space. It seems that Angry Birds are the first.

The first animals to go into space were fruit flies aboard a U.S.-launched V-2 rocket on Feb. 20, 1947. On June 11, 1948, Albert I, a rhesus monkey, became the first primate to fly in space when he launched from White Sands, N.M., also aboard a V-2 rocket. Laika became the first animal to orbit Earth on Nov. 3, 1957, when Russia launched Sputnik 2 with the dog aboard.

Is it true our moon was born from Earth’s collision with a large, round object?

The origin of the moon is now commonly believed to be the result of a Mars-sized object that impacted the Earth 4.5 billion years ago. This impact put a large amount of material into Earth’s orbit that ultimately formed into our moon.

Red Bird is probably most excited about visiting the red planet—which other explorers have made it to Mars?

NASA’s first successful Mars mission was Mariner 4, launched on Nov. 28, 1964. Since then, we have sent 15 other missions to the Red Planet. The most recent, the Mars Science Laboratory, launched on Nov. 26, 2011, and is due to arrive at Mars on Aug 5.

For more information about all of our missions to Mars, visit http://go.nasa.gov/mars-missions

Saturn’s hazy moon Titan seems like a good place to hide eggs—what’s under that dense atmosphere?

Titan, the largest of Saturn’s 62 moons, has an icy surface with lakes made of, and channels cut by, liquid hydrocarbons. It is probably not the best place to hide eggs.

As a fan of all birds great and small, I’d love to know more about the Eagle Nebula.

The Eagle Nebula, cataloged as Messier 16 or M16, and as NGC 6611, is a young, open cluster of stars in the constellation Serpens. It was discovered by Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux in 1745-46. It received its name from its shape, which resembles an eagle. It’s the subject of the famous Hubble Space Telescope photograph called “Pillars of Creation” that shows pillars of star-forming gas and dust within the nebula.

What exactly is an exoplanet, and could one harbor little green piggies?

An exoplanet is simply a planet found outside of our solar system. Sorry, we have not found any little green piggies…yet.

Click here for full information about the National Geographic Book Angry Birds Space.

Victoria Jaggard is a senior editor for National Geographic News, specializing in all things space. You can follow Victoria on Twitter @vmjaggard99.

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