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Are you a fellow space explorer? If you had the opportunity to experience what’s it’s like to be an astronaut, or even one of the many technical support crew that support space exploration, would you jump for it?
The amazing thing about NASA, besides all of the mind-bending missions into outer space, is just how hard the space agency works to educate, and sometimes even entertain, the general public about space. Space truly is the final frontier. With each stage of human progress, from the confines of this planet, into orbit, to our neighboring planets and eventually beyond, NASA develops webpages, mobile apps and even games meant to keep you up to speed with the latest technologies and discoveries of space exploration.
We’ve covered a lot of the things NASA offers to the public, so I was surprised recently when I was browsing the NASA website and found something new – the 3D NASA Visualizations area.
Exploring NASA Missions in 3D
At the bottom of the 3D resources page, NASA offers an area called 3D Visualizations. There are three web apps here that really deserve a mention. One is meant to show you the complexity (and coolness) of being a NASA network manager, and keeping all of the critical communications alive and flowing for NASA’s critical missions.
Be A NASA Network Manager
To start off in your virtual NASA Network Manager career, choose a name for your character as well as the profession. The profession you choose determines what “bonus” points you get when you get started.
Once you enter into your new career as a NASA network manager, it won’t be long before you realize that this isn’t your typical network manager job. Instead of managing the infrastructure of corporate networks spread across the earth, your job with NASA is to manage the infrastructure between ground stations as well as all of the satellites that are hurtling through space in orbit above the earth.
The learning curve is a little steeper than other NASA virtual simulations, but once you play around with the large colored images a few times, you’ll get the hang of it. Essentially, through each level you need to launch satellites up to the capacity displayed at the bottom of the screen. Don’t go over capacity – but also don’t stay too far under or you’ll never reach the next levels. In my opinion, the coolest part of this simulation is the rotating planet with glowing base stations, and the multicolored tracks of each satellite you’ve launched.
Station Spacewalk Game
Next up is the “Station Spacewalk Game“. In this game, you get to virtually experience conducting a full space walk outside the International Space Station. There are multiple missions that you can attempt to complete. The skill with which you complete those missions will determine your overall score, as well as what badges you unlock along the way.
It takes a lot to impress me when it comes to 3D graphics. I’ve seen far too many attempts at computer 3D graphics that are not very realistic at all. I have to say, NASA did a pretty impressive job with this one. This was the view immediately after I exited the Space Station airlock. The controls are simple enough to use once you get the hang of it.
As you explore the space station, you’ll see just how painstakingly the programmers worked on this 3D model of ISS. As you approach different areas of the space station, you’ll see some of the most minute details of the hardware. As you progress through the levels, you’ll have to take tools with you and actually repair some of these devices.
If you’re at all gadget-obsessed like I am, you’ll find the hours slipping away as you work through these missions and explore the impressive machinery that makes up the International Space Station.
Real NASA Satellite Visualizations
The NASA Eyes on the Earth 3D web app takes computer 3D to a new level.
NASA satellites have been collecting volumes of data about the planet Earth for many years. Now, you get to see actual visual representations of that data overlaid on top of the Earth itself. Of all of the 3D features NASA has offered, I have to say this one impressed me the most.
As the application launches, you’ll see a 3D visualization of the track of the satellites over time. If you click the menu item at the upper left, you can actually change the view to “real” 3D – meaning if you have a pair of 3D glasses handy, you’ll be in for a really cool treat.
The “Vital Signs” at the top of the screen let you see real information over the last couple of years or so, regarding the planet’s temperatures, gas and water levels, and even an Ozone level map.
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by the Earth’s gravity field, so the GRACE Gravity Field Map with real data from 2010 completely blew my mind. I love the view of the field as viewed in 3D.
You also get to travel along right beside each satellite, as it hurtles through space in orbit around the planet. You’ll see just how fast these devices travel, and the impressive view they have of the planet. When you read the descriptions to the left, you’ll learn all about the purpose and function of these impressive satellites.
3D in the movie theater is one thing, but NASA has taken the concept and made use of it for educational purposes. And, in my opinion, NASA’s use of 3D is pretty entertaining as well.
Give NASA’s 3D visualizations a shot and let us know what you think. Did you learn anything new about NASA’s missions and space exploration? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.