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NASA uses Portal's GLaDOS in film to teach about science

Published February 28, 2014 12:29 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Did you know that the sunlight you see and feel on this beautiful Utah day is not only the welcomed rays of an early spring — that light is also thousands of years old! You are basking in ancient light!

That's just one of the amazing science facts in a video that explains the difference between fusion and fission energy. NASA produced and posted the video earlier this month. And as a wonderfully pleasant surprise, the one dropping the knowledge is none other than GLaDOS, popular villain of the "Portal" video game series.

In the games, GLaDOS is a science-obsessed artificial intelligence who turns into a witty and murderous psychopath. Her homicidal tendencies are restrained in NASA's video, considering the limitations of her new home on a run-of-the-mill office computer. So until a couple of earnest (and foolish) humans can finish hooking her up to the NASA servers and doom us all, she focuses on her first passion — science — and explains how the sun works.

NASA hired actress Ellen McLain to reprise her role as GLaDOS for the informational video, which is part of the Spitzer Space Telescope's educational outreach program and its focus on STEM education. As it happens, Robert Wilson, the Spitzer telescope's project manager, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Utah.

Since it launched in 2003, the Spitzer telescope found the first hints that planets are born from the ashes of dead stars, according to NASA. The telescope also caught the first direct light from a "super Earth" (bigger than ours, yet lighter than gas giants). NASA reported that it's also thanks to Spitzer that scientists found some of the basic ingredients for DNA and proteins in an area of space where Earth-like planets might exist.

You can follow all the other rad stuff Spitzer is up to on its official Twitter feed — @NASAspitzer.

The NASA video marks GLaDOS' second appearance outside a video game. McLain also loaned the villainess' voice to "Pacific Rim" as Gipsy Danger's AI.

As in "Pacific Rim," McLain's performance is not credited as GLaDOS (an acronym for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System). Here, it's "NASA's official talking general leisure and diversion operational server." The choice makes sense, since she's not the despot of a sprawling, subterranean science lab at this point in her digital life, and it's clever — the new name spells NOT GLaDOS as an acronym. You can count on scientists for cleverness.

The video also stars Casey McKinnon, best known from "Galacticast" and "A Comicbook Orange," and Mike Romo.

— Michael McFall

Twitter: @mikeypanda