Microsoft and NASA Bring Mars Down to Earth Through the WorldWide Telescope

Today, Microsoft Research and NASA are providing an entirely new experience to users of the World Wide Telescope, which will allow visitors to interact with and explore our solar system like never before. Viewers can now take exclusive interactive tours of the red planet, hear directly from NASA scientists, and view and explore the most complete, highest-resolution coverage of Mars available.

Dan Fay, director of Microsoft Research’s Earth, Energy and Environment effort, works with scientists around the world to see how technology can help solve their research challenges. Since early 2009, he’s been working with NASA to bring imagery from the agency’s Mars and Moon missions to life, and to make their valuable volumes of information more accessible to the masses.

“We wanted to make it easier for people everywhere, as well as scientists, to access these unique and valuable images,” says Fay. “NASA had the images and they were open to new ways to share them. Through the WorldWide Telescope we were able to build a user interface at WWT|Mars that would allow people to take advantage of the great content they had.”

To create the new Mars experience in the WorldWide Telescope, Fay worked closely with Michael Broxton of the NASA Ames Research Center’s Intelligent Robotics Group . Broxton leads a team in the IRG informally called the Mapmakers, which applies computer vision and image processing to problems of cartography. Over the years, the Mapmakers have taken satellite images from Mars, the moon and elsewhere, and turned them into useful maps. Broxton says that getting the results of NASA’s work out to the public is an important part of his mission.

“NASA has a history of providing the public with access to our spacecraft imagery,” he says. “With projects like the WorldWide Telescope, we’re working to provide greater access so that future generations of scientists can discover space in their own way.”