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As the leader of space exploration, NASA has a unique perspective on the world. The key for us, as regular folk, is to gain some of that perspective. And NASA has some ways to do that.
The geeks at NASA made some educational and entertaining sites with interactive features. The aim of these is to tell people what’s happening on the earth and in the great beyond.
Importantly, many of these try to spark a love for space in children. Who knows, your child might become an astronaut for real.
1. NASA’s Eyes (Windows, Mac): “Google Earth” for Space
How would you like to view the real-time simulations that NASA engineers see? What about getting access to all the video and animation that NASA makes? Take a look at a whole new world through NASA’s Eyes.
— NASA Solar System (@NASASolarSystem) September 21, 2017
There are three aspects of Eyes: Earth, solar system, and exoplanets. You can scroll through the solar system and follow along live with the Juno probe as it checks out Saturn. Or take a bird’s-eye-look at raging wildfires in India and Pakistan. I’d highly recommend the immersive journey they created for Voyager’s 40th anniversary.
From visualizations of data to animations of outer space, NASA Eyes is as important for space explorers as Google Earth is for those bound to gravity.
2. Images of Change (Web): “Before and After” Satellite Photos
NASA has several satellites flying around the globe, and these periodically relay images of the Earth. The Climate Change unit of NASA uses this data to show how natural events cause massive change.
The images are presented as before and after some event. For example, the Virgin Islands before and after Hurricane Irma hit. Or the fascinating color-changing lake Urmia in Iran, which turns from green to red. Each photo has a caption explaining the phenomenon. You can also see the before-after pictures in multiple ways: as a curtain, a toggle, or a side-by-side comparison.
Images of Change isn’t about the fight against global warming or other hot-button issues. It’s about seeing the evolution of our planet like you’ve never seen it before.
3. NASA Image Library (web): Finally, One Place for NASA Photos
NASA captures some of the most jaw-dropping photos you’ll ever see. They’re inspirational, they’re gorgeous, and they’re frustratingly hard to find. Because NASA is a massive organization, its smaller arms often run independently of other arms. This led to everyone creating their own image libraries and no one place to find them all. Until now.
NASA has finally brought all those image libraries under one place. You can find any photo or video at NASA’s Image and Video Library with a simple search. Newest uploads are shown by default, and the Most Popular section is even better to browse a gallery of iconic NASA images. Some of the photos from the Hubble telescope have to be seen to be believed.
Historically, APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) and NASA’s Image of the Day always feature on collections of sites to find great wallpapers. Now you can just pick what you want from the Most Popular section, or search for anything specific you want.
4. WTF NASA (Web): How NASA Helps the World
Some people think we shouldn’t spend money on NASA when there are so many problems in the world. Direct such people to WTF NASA, a site that shows how NASA has made the world a better place.
Over the course of its years of innovation, NASA has helped the world advance in ways you never knew. WTF NASA highlights how NASA benefitted mankind practically, with a single line. If you want to know more, there’s a longer description as well as a link to find more details.
Click “That Rockets” or “Fail To Launch” if you like or dislike the factoid, respectively. There’s a whole bunch of cool NASA stuff on offer here. And yeah, there’s some harsh language here as the site’s name would suggest.
For a kid-friendly version, try the iPad app NASA Spinoff. An official NASA app, it shows all the ways that technology from the space agency is used in our daily lives.
Download: NASA Spinoff for iPad (Free)
5. NASA Prospect (Web): For Kids to Explore the Solar System
Like we said, NASA tries hard to get kids interested in space and astronomy. Prospect is one such tool, developed by a group of student designers.
It is the interactive story of a planet “prospector” named Nicholas. After a global disaster, Nicholas is trying to retrieve golden audio records left behind from Earth. Along the way, Nicholas meets the planet jumper robot Ema, who takes him through the solar system quickly.
Press the down arrow to take the story forward, and click any golden records you spot on the way. Nicolas and Ema will explore new planets, overcome great odds, and make unexpected friends along the way.
Should NASA Get More Funding?
NASA has some good news with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announcing that the administration will send astronauts back to the moon by 2020. It’s part of a larger effort to build a base to eventually explore Mars.
But that means more funding, which takes us back to that ages-old raging debate: do you think we should be spending money on space exploration? Is that money better spent elsewhere?