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Dad builds a realistic spacecraft simulator for his sons

The dedicated dad who built the NASA Mission Control Desk for his sons hopes to teach them more about space with this impressive simulator. Ground Control to Major Dad, all systems go!

Why build a treehouse when you can build a spacecraft simulator? Screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

As if the NASA Mission Control Desk built by crafty dad Jeff Highsmith wasn't cool enough for his kids to play with, he's improved playtime even more with his latest creation -- a spacecraft simulator!

"When I was building the Mission Control Desk for my older son's room, it became clear that we would also need a spaceship to go with it," Highsmith wrote for Make magazine. "Over the last four months, in scraps of time between other roles, I built a spaceship for my younger son's room. It has a control panel full of interesting displays and whiz-bang space sounds. A joystick controls lights and sounds for the engine and thrusters."

He added, "The payload bay has a motorized hatch and contains a robot arm that can be remotely operated over video feed to deploy payloads like toy satellites. Headsets provide an audio link between the spacecraft and Mission Control in the other room, so my sons can practice collaborating on their space missions."

To help his sons simulate a proper space mission, Highsmith ran an audio headset intercom -- made with a system designed for motorcycle riders in their helmets -- that runs between his sons' bedrooms to connect the Mission Control Desk and the spacecraft.

Jeff Highsmith brought space camp to his kids daily with this highly detailed DIY simulator. Screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

"This allows the child sitting at Mission Control to talk to the child in the spaceship, directing them through the various steps of the mission, such as launch, payload deployment, spaceship repair, lunar landing, re-entry, and recovery," Highsmith explained. "Each time they play, I hear them picking up more space terminology and getting better at instructing each other."

The spacecraft also has a remote video screen and remote on the control panel so the acting astronaut can control a robot arm to move around various payloads. He uses a space toy set that came with a small Hubble Space Telescope, as well as space-themed Lego minifigs.

Just like his Mission Control Desk, Highsmith's Spacecraft Simulator has a control panel with plenty of sound effects, video and audio files, blinking LED lights, and even a bass shaker to make playtime even more enjoyable.

"I designed the spacecraft and Mission Control Desk to provide open-ended play," Highsmith said on Make. "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."