I took it for granted that I grew up during the Space Shuttle Age of NASA. Maybe it wasn’t as history-shattering as the landing on the moon, but the space shuttle was a huge icon of my childhood, from the Challenger to SpaceCamp to an interesting computer game in 1985 called Project Space Station.
Project Space Station was, in essence, a NASA simulator in which you had a small fleet of space shuttles and was tasked with building a space station while operating a financially successful organization. As a kid, I was pretty horrible at this, never able to turn a profit or figure out what needed to be done to become stable and start working my way up to a huge, bustling space station.
One of the unique factors was that this game’s clock (mostly) kept ticking forward. This mattered, because you were juggling several things at once: shuttles on the ground, shuttles orbiting, the space station, projects, yearly budgets, and the like. The idea was to start small, get a module or two in space, and start doing experiments to make money for bigger and better missions.
In theory, this game was totally up my alley. I was a scifi nut back then (still am) and in love with the space shuttle. But there were two things that kept me from playing it after a while. Well, three if you count the fact that I always went broke.
The first was the arcade sequences that happened with launch and landing. I was *terrible* at these, especially considering all I had was a clunky IBM PC keyboard to work with. Joysticks? On an IBM in the 80s? We weren’t royalty, you know. Failing at these sequences meant lost time and position and a continued loss of money.
The second factor was losing astronauts in space. I killed them off a depressing number of times, usually from forgetting that they were up there orbiting too long. They’d run out of air or water or something, and now I had a giant floating casket that I had to retrieve via EVA and bring back to earth. As a kid with an overactive imagination, this genuinely creeped me out, even if I never saw the actual astronauts. I still didn’t want them to die.
I had forgotten about this game for many years afterward until recently stumbling upon a screenshot and doing some research into what the game was even called. Project Space Station wasn’t a runaway success, but it did well enough for itself and was a good indicator of my love of sims to come.