A NASA-created application that brings some of the
agency’s robotic spacecraft to life in 3D now is available for free on the
iPhone and iPad.
Called Spacecraft 3D, the app uses animation to show how
spacecraft can maneuver and manipulate their outside components. Presently, the
new app features two NASA missions, the Curiosity rover that will touch down on
Mars on August 6, 2012, and the twin GRAIL spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, currently
orbiting the moon.
“With Spacecraft 3D and a mobile device, you can put
high definition, 3D models literally into the hands of kids of all ages,”
said Stephen Kulczycki, deputy director for communications and education at
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Spacecraft 3D is among the first of what are known as
augmented-reality apps for Apple devices. Augmented reality provides users a
view of a real-world environment where elements are improved by additional
input. Spacecraft 3D uses the iPhone or iPad camera to overlay information on
the device’s main screen. The app instructs users to print an augmented-reality
target on a standard sheet of paper. When the device’s camera is pointed at the
target, the spacecraft chosen by the user materializes on screen.
“Let’s say you want to get an idea what our
Curiosity Mars rover is all about,” said Kevin Hussey, manager of
visualization technology at JPL. “Like Hollywood directors sizing up their
next shot, you move your camera-equipped iPad or iPhone in and out, up and
down, and the spacecraft perspective moves with you. It is a great way to study
the 3D nature of NASA spacecraft.”
Spacecraft 3D also has a feature where you can take your
own augmented-reality picture of the rover or GRAIL spacecraft. You can even
make a self-portrait with a spacecraft, putting yourself or someone else in the
“In the near future, we will incorporate the Cassini
spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn, the Dawn spacecraft, which is deep in the
heart of the asteroid belt, and the Voyagers, which are right now at the very
edge of our solar system,” said Hussey. “Looking down the road, we’ve
got a veritable solar system full of spacecraft to work with.”
Spacecraft 3D currently is available only for Apple
formats, but should be available on other formats in the near future.
The detailed computer models of the spacecraft used in
Spacecraft 3D originally were originally generated for NASA’s “Eyes on the
Solar System” Web application. “Eyes on the Solar System” is a 3D
environment full of NASA mission data that allows anyone to explore the cosmos
from their computer.