That’s one small step for video games, one giant leap for NASA.

Affordable day trips to the moon may not happen as soon asGeorges Méliès would have had us believe, but NASA is giving us the next best thing: a virtual adventure to a lunar station where players get to save the day.

Moonbase Alpha, the first game from NASA, has finally launched and is now available for download from Steam. The title was created by The Army Game Studio and North Carolina-based developer Virtual Heroes. Up to six gamers can play together and – in keeping with government-sponsored games like America’s Army – it won’t cost players a dime to download.

Players are cast as astronauts in a “futuristic 3D lunar settlement,” according to the game’s website. “Their mission is to restore critical systems and oxygen flow after a nearby meteor strike cripples a solar array and life support equipment. Available resources include an interactive command center, a lunar rover, mobile robotic repair units and a fully stocked equipment shed.”

Moonbase Alpha is actually more of a multiplayer scenario than a proper game, since it only takes around a half hour to actually beat. However, there are apparently plans to eventually develop the title into a proper MMOG. NASA has announced that this is the first of two commercial-quality games it’s working on with commercial developers, so maybe the MMOG will be the next title out of the queue.

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