Exploring Mars from Home
Cross-posted from the original on my NASA.gov blog
Under President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, NASA is exploring new ways to share with the public the exciting science we take part in every day. NASA has a long history of sharing its discoveries with the public, but figuring out how to present it in a way that is both easy to understand and simple to use frequently poses a challenge. By partnering with private industry, NASA has the opportunity to take advantage of existing technology innovations that can deliver science data in a format that is more publically consumable.
Yesterday, NASA and Microsoft unveiled the latest version of WorldWide Telescope, featuring the highest resolution and most complete map of Mars images ever released. Over 13,000 images from NASA’s HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, each with a resolution of about 100 times that of a 10 megapixel point-and-shoot camera, have been mapped onto a 3D globe of the Martian surface. They offer unparalleled views of spectacular surface features, including imagery of the Mars Phoenix Lander site and Olympus Mons – the highest peak in our solar system.
Soaring above Mars in WorldWide Telescope
Bringing all of these incredible images to user’s desktop computers is not an easy feat. With hundreds of terabytes of data available, the images must be made available “on demand” as users fly across the Martian surface, only loading terrain data when necessary. To accomplish this, the intelligent robotics group at Ames Research Center turned to NASA’s Nebula cloud computing platform. Nebula provides flexible and efficient science-class compute and storage services that easily scale to meet the needs of NASA scientists and researchers. Nebula was one of three Flagship Initiatives in NASA’s Open Government Plan and is one of the primary tools that is enabling NASA to more easily collaborate with private industry, academia and engage with the public in ways never before possible.
Nebula turned the 13,000 images from HiRISE into half a billion smaller images that can be served in real-time to a broadband connection. Creating this huge mosaic took two weeks of number crunching on 114 of Nebula’s central processing units. The project demonstrated the powerful capabilities of Nebula, which has been utilized in situations as diverse as hosting federal spending data on USAspending.gov to providing a mechanism for amateur astronomers across the globe to upload their images of the LCROSS impact on the lunar south pole.
Technology innovations like Nebula are integral in NASA’s efforts to partner with industry to create products and services that make NASA’s data more easily consumable to public audiences. As we move forward in creating an environment of even greater transparency and participation at NASA, we hope to deliver even more engaging experiences that provide the American public with better insight into the cosmos, planet earth, and the work going on at NASA.
Thanks to Gretchen Curtis for providing input on this post!