NASA has released an app which allows users to learn about the agency’s robotic spacecraft. Among the first of a new kind of app called “augmented reality” apps, the program shows a virtual model of a selected spacecraft imposed on a real scene. Called Spacecraft 3D, the app is available from iTunes.
Currently, users are able to select either the Curiosity rover, which is in transit to a landing on Mars next month, or the twin GRAIL spacecraft which orbit the Moon. Kevin Hussey, manager of visualization technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says that there are plans to add new spacecraft to the list soon. “In the near future, we will incorporate the Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn, the Dawn spacecraft, which is deep in the heart of the asteroid belt, and the Voyagers, which are right now at the very edge of our solar system. Looking down the road, we’ve got a veritable solar system full of spacecraft to work with.”
According to the report, to use the app, users are instructed to first print out a “target” onto a sheet of regular paper. When users point the camera of their iPad or iPhone at the target, they are shown a virtual 3D model of the spacecraft, which they can view from multiple angles or distances, as if the camera was actually pointed at the object in reality. The model can also show various animations or information about the spacecraft. Mr. Hussey explains, “Let’s say you want to get an idea what our Curiosity Mars rover is all about. Like Hollywood directors sizing up their next shot, you move your camera-equipped iPad or iPhone in and out, up and down and the spacecraft perspective moves with you. It is a great way to study the 3-D nature of NASA spacecraft.”
The app’s download page says, “Using a printed AR Target and the camera on your mobile device, you can get up close with these robotic explorers, see how they move, and learn about the the engineering feats used to expand our knowledge and understanding of space.” It also hosts screenshots of the app in use. Users also have the option of taking a photograph of themselves or a friend with the selected craft.
NASA hopes the app generates interests among space enthusiasts and educators. Stephen Kulczycki, deputy director for communications and education at JPL, says, “With Spacecraft 3D and a mobile device, you can put high definition, three-dimensional models literally into the hands of kids of all ages.”
This is not the first time that NASA has explored the world of software apps. Earlier in the year, NASA teamed up with Rovio for the launch of a new game called Angry Birds space. Building off of the success of Angry Birds, Angry Birds space will ”the biggest game launch since the original Angry Birds,” promised game developer Rovio Mobile.
“Science and education are very important to us, and we’re very excited to have NASA and National Geographic as launch partners on Angry Birds Space,” said general manager of Rovio North America Andrew Stalbow in an interview with Yahoo Games.
A trailer for the game features actual NASA footage.