New NASA tools bring Mars closer to young explorers

Washington : On the third anniversary of the Mars landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover, the US space agency has unveiled two new online tools that open the mysterious terrain of the Red Planet to a new generation of explorers.

“Mars Trek” is a free, web-based application that provides high-quality, detailed visualisations 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.

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The second tool named “Experience Curiosity” allows viewers to travel along with the one-ton rover on its Martian expeditions.

The tool simulates Mars in 3D, based on actual data from Curiosity and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, giving users first-hand experience in a day in the life of a Mars rover.

“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, DC.

“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,” he added.

A NASA team already is using Mars Trek to aid in the selection of possible landing sites for the agency’s Mars 2020 rover.

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 that 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 manoeuvre the users across Mars’ surface and 3D printer-exportable topography allows users to print physical models of surface features.

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.

At three years old, Curiosity already has had a rich and fascinating life.

“The new programmes let the public experience some of the rover’s adventures first-hand,” said Jim Erickson, project manager for the mission.