Mars: NASA Unveils New Online Exploring Tools

NASA is unveiling two new online tools on the three-year anniversary of the Mars landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover. The tools open the mysterious terrain of the Red Planet to a new generation of explorers, and invite the public to help with its journey to Mars.

The first, Experience Curiosity allows viewers to journey along with the one-ton rover on its Martian expeditions. The program simulates Mars in 3-D based on actual data from Curiosity and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), giving users first-hand experience in a day in the life of a Mars rover.

experience curiosity

A screen capture from NASA’s new Experience Curiosity website shows the rover in the process of taking its own self-portrait. Users can view Mars through the eyes of the rover, using the window in the lower, right corner. The control panel at left helps users navigate the rover itself, and relive some of its actual expeditions on Mars. Visit the website online at: . Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

And Mars Trek is an amazing free, web-based app that provides high-quality, detailed visualizations of the planet using real data from 50 years of NASA exploration and allowing astronomers, citizen scientists and students to study the Red Planet’s features.

Already, one NASA team is using Mars Trek to help in the selection of possible landing sites for the agency’s Mars 2020 rover, and the application will be used as part of NASA’s newly-announced process to examine and select candidate sites for the first human exploration mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Mars Trek has interactive maps, which include the ability to overlay a range of data sets generated from instruments aboard spacecraft orbiting Mars, and analysis tools for measuring surface features. Standard keyboard gaming controls are used to maneuver the users across Mars’ surface and 3-D printer-exportable topography allows users to print physical models of surface features.

Said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington:

“This tool has opened my eyes as to how we should first approach roaming on another world, and now the public can join in on the fun. Our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way, making great progress on the journey to Mars. Together, humans and robots will pioneer Mars and the solar system.”

Experience Curiosity also uses real science data to create a realistic and game-ready rover model based entirely on real mechanisms and executed commands. Users can manipulate the rover’s tools and view Mars through each of its cameras. Kevin Hussey, manager of the Visualization Applications and Development group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages and operates the Curiosity rover, said:

“We’ve done a lot of heavy 3-D processing to make Experience Curiosity work in a browser. Anybody with access to the web can take a journey to Mars.”

NASA has been on Mars for five decades with robotic explorers, and August traditionally has been a busy month for exploration of the planet. Viking 2 was put into orbit around Mars 39 years ago on Aug. 7, 1976, making NASA’s second successful landing on the Martian surface weeks later.

MRO was launched on Aug. 12, 2005 and still is in operation orbiting Mars.

And, Tuesday, Aug. 4 marked the eight-year anniversary of the launch of the Phoenix mission to the north polar region of the Red Planet.

[thrive_text_block color=”light” headline=””]More information about NASA’s journey to Mars is available online at:[/thrive_text_block]

Photo: NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover drilled this hole to collect sample material from a rock target called “Buckskin” on July 30, 2015, about a week prior to the third anniversary of the rover’s landing on Mars. The diameter is slightly smaller than a U.S. dime. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS