Jeff Highsmith is a writer for Make Magazine. He's also handy with a toolkit and, so it appears, one very cool dad. After a family trip to the Kennedy Space Center, he built his eldest son a desk-cum-NASA Mission Control console. Obviously, the family then needed a spacecraft to fly the missions, so he built this highly detailed and interactive play center in his four year-old son's bedroom. The cubby is based on the Apollo-era spacecraft, with a few space shuttle details thrown in for good measure. See Jeff's video about how he made this spacecraft after the jump -- and be as over the moon as we are at this labor of love and innovation.
The project took four months of Highsmith’s spare time to complete. The spacecraft is constructed of wood frame and lightweight paneling, but the greatest genius lies in the circuitry, which activates all manner of LEDs, sound effects, a camera and a remote-controlled payload bay that ‘launches’ satellites. As well as the buttons and switches, there is a joystick that controls the simulated effects of the engine and thrusters, and a wired headset audio link so the brothers — or rather mission control and the astronaut — can communicate and collaborate on their game from their adjoining rooms.
Highsmith sourced the sound effects for the play center from NASA’s own audio files and freesound.org. He installed a subwoofer and a bass shaker under the bed of the cubby so when the rockets are set to ‘boost’ the whole structure vibrates. One of the boys’ favorite features of the craft is the payload bay, from which the astronaut can launch a mini Hubble telescope or LEGO astronaut using a camera to remotely guide the payload bay arm. When it’s time to pack up and head back to Earth for dinner, the Abort button provides a neat way to shut down the whole system and turn everything off.
Not only does this awesome playspace showcase Highsmith’s creativity, but the boys get the chance to let their imaginations run riot as they devise new missions and scenarios and find creative ways to resolve the inevitable disasters. Highsmith says: “I designed the spacecraft and mission control desk to provide open-ended play. This is not a game itself that can be won or lost, just a fancy prop for my boys to use with their own blossoming imaginations. Rather than limit them to what I can think up in terms of play, I want to give them room to think up things themselves.” Highsmith is also adamant that with a little time anyone can make something this much fun: “Just break it down into manageable chunks, and don’t be afraid to learn new skills.”
Photos by Jeff Highsmith