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AstronautThe idea on which NASA is based is a fairly simple one and one which many of us understand. Space exploration and discovery isn’t too hard of a concept to get your head around.

However, there are hundreds of day-to-day NASA activities and even bigger achievements that we know nothing about either because it doesn’t make the news or because we simply do not understand what those achievements are and what they could mean. I was in the same boat until I came across the more “Interactive” side of the NASA website.

There I was just browsing the other day when I remembered it was 40 years since man first set foot on the moon. I went onto the Wikipedia page to read up on the subject before I clicked on one of the sources which was NASA’s website. First it was all just news, announcements and galleries of that historic day but when I sifted past all that I was greeted by dozens of interactive features that would keep the average adult or indeed the average ten year-old, entertained for hours and educate them whilst they have some fun.

NASA TV clear

First of all, I discovered that you can watch a live video feed from inside the International Space Station called NASA TV. Upon clicking the link I assumed that I would get a fuzzy picture refreshed every two seconds or so.

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What I did get was a flowing video with commentary from Houston and the ability to listen to the people working in the Space Station conversing with one another. I now fully understand how the American’s toilet broke and why they all had to use the Russian one.

A point to note is that you may have to install a Windows media plug-in to watch the video feed. IF you don’t have it, your browser will let you know how to get it.  It’s also best to keep the video at it original size. Blowing it up to full screen just distorts things; after all, it is coming from space!

You can also download a NASA TV widget for “˜Windows Sidebar’ so you can keep yourself up to date with all the action in space right here . Simply follow this link and download it. Then, you must right-click on the Windows Sidebar and select “˜Add Widgets’. From the list select NASA TV and you’ll have a live feed from the International Space Station showing on your desktop. There are also tons of other widgets available from NASA such as RSS updates and weather.

After half an hour of watching Canadians, Russians and Americans floating upside-down I decided enough was enough and I had to check out some of the other interactive features NASA had to offer.

Given the anniversary of the lunar landing has just come, a walk around on the surface of the moon seemed appealing and with the Apollo Interactive feature you can do numerous things on the virtual lunar landscape. It was created from film taken by the two pioneering astronauts 40 years ago and as such everything is an exact digital copy of what the surroundings were after the first landing.

You can move to different positions around the lunar landing site, see inside the landing module, watch videos of the American Flag being planted and read the actual transcript of the conversation between the men on the moon and Houston. I thought this was one of the best features; it requires no download and is easy to use. It’s also really fun.

NASA - walk on the moon

There are other features too which let you see the recent mission to the Hubble telescope and even repairs being made to a Japanese space structure.

It’s all very informative and at this point I was getting a good idea of what NASA and their international counterparts actually do after the countdown is over and the camera crews have packed up and gone home. I was also enjoying myself; two hours had passed since I first started using the site.

Then things kind of went off on a tangent as I took a more educational turn. Whilst everything else before this point was enlightening, I was always fully aware NASA went to the moon. I wasn’t aware that they had so much to do with the aircraft industry. Their interactive feature called “˜NASA Aeronautics Features Onboard‘ gives you an account of what contributions they have made to air travel – and they are plenty in number.

First, you’re guided around the airport before being given a selection of aircraft; commercial, general, military and helicopters. When you click on each one you’re shown the aircrafts and the airport and told, by way of bullet points, how NASA has improved the industry such as inventing new rotor blades, developing fighter jet thrusters and communication and navigation systems for commercial jetliners. On each one I saw it had at least a dozen facts that made me go “˜Huh!’.

Nasa - Airplanes

Finally, we get down to the basics – but the NASA basics are still brilliant. The website’s multimedia section offers you podcasts, images, videos, news updates and a host of RSS feeds. I subscribed to a few because I was actually taken in by all the facts, figures and the general appeal of the NASA story. For anyone who is interested in NASA or who wants to learn more they are well worth a look.

In my opinion, the best podcast is “˜This Week @ NASA‘. You are given the full run down on what has been happening while you have been pursuing our own life during the week. From interviews with the top dogs down to simply summarising the work done by the little guys, it’s a great show. It’s also available in either video or audio format which I liked a lot. They use all the major podcast feeds such as Yahoo!, Podcast Alley and iTunes to name but a few.

All in all, the NASA interactive and media website is a great resource for everyone right around the world especially when there are big missions or anniversaries coming up. You can learn, be entertained and at points, dazzled by what the men and women, both in the spacesuits and behind the scenes, actually do every single day.

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