Journey to Mars
On the three-year anniversary of the Mars landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover, NASA is unveiling two new online tools that open the mysterious terrain of the Red Planet to a new generation of explorers, inviting the public to help with its journey to Mars.
Mars Trek is a free, web-based application 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.
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.
A NASA team already is using Mars Trek to aid 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.
“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,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. “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.”
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.
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.
Photo courtesy: NASA