I've been a space reporter for 22 years and think Starfield's Constellation Edition is an epic Apollo-era treat (video)

The new game Starfield brought hundreds of strange new worlds within reach of gamers everywhere this season, but if you're a space history fan like me, there's a special treat just for you.

This week, space fans will celebrate the 54th anniversary of Apollo 12, which launched three astronauts to the moon in 1969, and Starfield's Constellation Edition from Bethesda Games Studios is a clear homage to the legacy of NASA's Apollo program. The special Starfield edition, which retails for $299.99 for either PC or XBox, comes in a sleek case reminiscent of vintage NASA gear and it's not by accident. 

"We put so much detail into our game worlds and we love the opportunity to bring that into the real world with our collector's editions," Todd Howard, Bethesda game director and executive producer, said ahead of Starfield's release.

Related: Is 'Starfield' a far-flung fantasy or a glimpse of mankind's space-bound future?

Howard and other Starfield developers have repeatedly referred to the game's look and feel as "NASA-punk," and nowhere is that more clear than in the Starfield Constellation Edition, the premiere collector's edition or the game. Recently, Bethesda sent me one for Space.com to check out and review up close, and I can confirm that the NASA influence is unmistakable. 

The Constellation Edition includes a digital copy of Starfield (on a laser-etched credit stick like one found in-game) and the Constellation Explorer's Watch (again, found in the game) packed inside a solid white case about the size of a small toaster oven — or space toaster oven, if you will — decorated in red and gold trim. 

The space age look comes from a design heavily influenced by NASA's Apollo Lunar Sample Return Container, or ALSPRC — the secure rock box used by Apollo astronauts to bring lunar samples back to Earth. It has a heft to it that makes it feel like something I'd really see in space, but not so much that it takes up too much room on my shelf.  

"We really took as much care in the design of this case as we did the watch," Istvan Pely, Starfield's art director, said in a video. "Our attention to detail in the game totally translates to this."

Related: 'Starfield' animated anthology introduces gamers to its inhabited planets (videos)

The real-life space influences don't end there. Inside, I found a mission patch for Constellation, your primary faction in the game, inspired by the mission patches used by astronauts on every spaceflight. It also seems like a nod to NASA's scrapped Constellation program, the precursor of the current Artemis program, which from 2004 to 2009 aimed to return astronauts to the moon (much like Artemis does today). 

The mission patch is a nice touch that honors both past and present space tradition, while recognizing a notable in-game faction. The Constellation Edition also comes with a collector's Steelbook emblazoned with Starfield livery, but there is no game disc inside (since the digital download code is on the credit stick). The edition does include access to Starfield's first expansion DLC (downloadable content) Shattered Space, when it is released in the near future, as well as Old Skin Pack and Constellation Skin Pack in-game cosmetics.

The Starfield Constellation Edition game includes a digital game download, a black Steelbook display case, a Starfield Chronomark watch, a logo Constellation Patch. (Image credit: Bethesda)

I was curious how authentic the Starfield Constellation case was when compared with the real-life Apollo Lunar Sample Return Container, so I asked Robert Pearlman, a space historian and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com (and occasional Space.com contributor), how the game's case stood up. 

"The case shares a passing resemblance to the Apollo Lunar Sample Return Container (ALSRC), or 'rock box' that the Apollo astronauts used to safely transport moon rocks and soil back to Earth," Pearlman told me. "The ALSRC had a bare metal finish, rather than a white exterior, but did have metal straps and a front-facing locking mechanism that operated similarly to the one on the Starfield Constellation Edition case."

The locking mechanism, I should say, is unique. By rotating a center knob, two metal rods unlatch the case so you can open the case.  It does feel very space-y, for sure. However, the Starfield case, at about 7 inches wide, 3.5 inches tall, by 9.5 inches long (18 cm x 9 cm x 24 cm), is smaller than its Apollo counterpart.

This silver Apollo Lunar Sample Return Container was used to carry moon rocks back to Earth by astronauts on NASA's Apollo 12 mission in November 1969. (Image credit: Air and Space Museum/NASA/CCO - Creative Commons (CCO 1.0))

"The ALSRC was larger (measuring close to 2 feet long and weighing 20 pounds) and was lined with an aluminum mesh," Pearlman said. "The Starfield case trades out the protective padding for form fitted inserts to hold the watch and patch."

During Apollo 12, NASA astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Richard Gordon launched to the moon on Nov. 14, 1969, with Conrad and Bean landing on the lunar surface on Nov. 19. The two moonwalkers collected about 70 pounds (32 kilograms) of moon rock and dust samples and 15 pounds (7 kg) of other lunar samples during their nearly 32-hour stay on the lunar surface, according to NASA

Gordon, meanwhile, orbited overhead in their Command Module. One of the ALSRC boxes used on that mission, made by the company Union Carbide, is currently in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum collection in Washington, D.C.

"While not a replica, the Starfield Constellation edition case is a nice tribute to the ALSRC," Pearlman said. The Apollo 12 astronauts returned to Earth on Nov. 24, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.  

I haven't had a chance to play Starfield itself yet, but there are clear NASA nods in what I've seen so far. The major planet Jemison is an obvious homage to former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to fly in space, and the space agency's Mars rovers and Apollo spacecraft and landers appeared in trailers for the game. 

In late summer, I actually built a new gaming PC just to be able to play Starfield, and while the frenetic pace of real-life space exploration has kept me busy since the game's Sept. 6 release, I look forward to launching into its digital cosmos soon. 

If you're searching for more suggestions on the best games set in the final frontier, you can read through our best space horror games and best alien invasion games ranked lists. For picks based on sci-fi franchises, check out our best "Alien," "Star Trek," "Star Wars," and "Warhammer 40K" games of all time.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.