This project uses two games, a web app (Cats in Space!) and a mobile app (Deep Space Nine Lives), and incorporates the idea of gamification to develop a method for teaching learners of all ages about earth and space imagery. Both engage users with this NASA imagery by using a playful approach to learning about the images as they are searched for cat-like phenomena.

This project is solving the Volcanoes, Icebergs, and Cats from Space challenge.


The Cats in Space! project began as part of the 2014 NASA Space Apps Challenge, and we had so much fun we decided to build on the idea again this year! Last year we focused on social media interaction, and we started on a game, but we ran out of time before it was functional. This year, we wanted to improve the Cats in Space! game, add a mobile app, and keep interacting with people on Reddit and Twitter in order to generate excitement about our games and their applications for learning. Using simple and enjoyable games, Cats in Space! seeks to educate users about space and Earth, by engaging them with images and their associated descriptions. NASA has large stores of Earth and space imagery, and Cats in Space! is a way to encourage people to use it.

The games!

Both games allow users to upvote and downvote images, based upon whether or not those images resemble a cat, and the upvoted images are shared with more users in order to verify their cat-likeness. The games are very simple, requiring little specialized skill or knowledge, making them appropriate for learners at all levels.* In both cases, the games (mobile app and web-based application) are going to continue to be developed, in order to refine them visually and functionally.

Cats in Space!

Cats in Space! is a web-based educational game using NASA imagery. The game that pulls NASA Earth imagery from Flickr, along with its accompanying metadata. NASA puts very rich and thorough descriptions on many of their images, and these descriptions can be pulled along with the images and displayed in the game, so users can learn about the universe while they play.

Deep Space Nine Lives

Deep Space Nine Lives is a mobile app using the same principles as Cats in Space! but uses space imagery rather than Earth imagery. Users can explore a variety of space phenomena, including nebulae, galaxies, and more, as they play, complementing the learning about Earth they can gain from the Cats in Space! web app. Because it is a mobile application, it encourages additional learning by providing a game that can be played anywhere. One goal we have for our mobile app is to go engage users even further than our web app, as we ask them to identify what part of an upvoted image looks like a cat. To do this, they could draw a rectangle around the area that looks like a cat. When someone else votes on that image, they can say whether or not the area they agree with the previous user.

Learning is fun!

Through this appealing and playful approach, users who are not familiar with satellite imagery of Earth will develop an interest while searching for cat-likeness in landmasses, cloud formations, lakes, etc. During this process, users are introduced to NASA’s work, the importance of scientific research, and the beauty of our planet and solar system. This project builds on the literature on gamification by making scientific research more accessible to children and young adults (e.g. Groh, 2012; Nicholson, 2012).

Cats in Space! supports 21st Century Skills by promoting creative engagement with images, as well as strengthening skills in information, media, and technology (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). Two of our team members are librarians, and one is a teacher, and so used this project to think about how librarians and teachers could bring this game into schools. As school librarians search for more ways to help students strengthen these skill sets, creative and engaging game play is one way to help students learn about STEM topics. Bringing a game such as Cats in Space! into the classroom and school library exposes them to scientific images, as well as scientific terminology by including descriptions of those images. Adding a mobile app helps students of all ages learn even more, by encouraging them to interact with new images on the go. Importantly, this game-based approach makes satellite imagery fun and accessible to those who otherwise may find educational materials uninteresting or intimidating. Librarians and educators are often on the forefront of finding and sharing innovative and engaging approaches to foster learning, and Cats in Space! and Deep Space Nine Lives are examples of such an approach.


Groh, F. (2012, February). Gamification: State of the art definition and utilization. In Proceedings of the 4th seminar on Research Trends in Media Informatics (pp. 39-46).

Nicholson, S. (2012, June). A user-centered theoretical framework for meaningful gamification. Paper presented at Games+Learning+Society 8.0, Madison, WI.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. 2009. P21 Framework Definitions. Washington, DC: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

*Thanks to Jeff Chatham for the PHP code that was used as the basis for the Cats in Space! games

Project Information

License: Common Public Attribution License 1.0 (CPAL-1.0)

Source Code/Project URL:


Cats in Space subreddit -


  • Julia Skinner
  • Corey Morabito
  • Krystal Salerno
  • Alexandra Hidalgo
  • Abigail Phillips
  • Blayne White