If you can believe it, the Mars Curiosity rover just celebrated its third anniversary of landing on the Red Planet today, and to commemorate the incredible achievement, NASA decided to give the entire world a free trip there — well, digitally at least. In a press release published to NASA’s website, the space agency unveiled not one, but two new online tools geared towards bringing the exploration of Mars to the general public. In other words, NASA just made visiting Mars possible without requiring you wear a cumbersome spacesuit. Hell, you wouldn’t even need to put on pants to drive the Curiosity rover around the surface of Mars. As Jesse Pinkman would say, “yeah science!”
The first of these programs, Mars Trek, is a web-based application which allows users to view and study various landmarks on Mars (like craters and volcanoes), and provides a bevy of information about the planet’s terrain. Mars Trek is essentially Google Earth if it were applied to Mars. NASA’s Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project developed this interactive tool by combing through and analyzing roughly 50 years of research and exploration data before applying it into a 2D and 3D model of Mars. Perhaps Mars Trek’s greatest feature is the fact NASA itself regularly uses the program to assist it in finding suitable landing spots for the Mars 2020 rover, as well as sites for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
NASA’s other simulation, called Experience Curiosity, ups the exploration ante by putting the reigns of the Curiosity rover firmly in the hands of anyone using the program. While this doesn’t mean you’d get to drive the actual Mars rover — that would be outrageous — it does allow you to explore and learn about actual data discovered by Curiosity. By simply clicking on any one of the various markers set about the map, users have the ability to guide the rover across the unique terrain native to Mars. Experience Curiosity also gives visitors information about the rover itself, audio clips detailing how and when it discovered certain regions, and the ability to observe Mars via any of Curiosity’s onboard cameras.
“We’ve done a lot of heavy 3-D processing to make Experience Curiosity work in a browser,” said NASA’s Kevin Hussey. “Anybody with access to the web can take a journey to Mars.”
Even just a few short years ago it seemed ludicrous to think we’d have the ability to explore Mars from the comfort of our own couches. Though thanks to some impressive work by NASA, this futuristic tech is no longer a pipe dream.
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