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Google, NASA Offer Virtual Mars Tours

The search company and the space agency have teamed up to provide Web users with 3-D views of the Red Planet.

Google is working with NASA to give Internet users three-dimensional views of Mars.

NASA and Google announced Tuesday that they would release a new Mars mode in Google Earth to increase public understanding of the Red Planet and related scientific research. Google Mars 3D also provides researchers with a means of sharing data.

Internet users can virtually fly through gaping canyons and soaring mountains on Mars' surface and get views from Mars rovers. They can view satellite images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, learn about NASA's exploration of the planet, view archived photos, add their own 3-D content, and share their creations and discoveries with other users.

The Mars mode evolved out of a collaboration agreement signed by NASA and Google in November 2006. Google agreed to make NASA's data public under the Space Act Agreement. NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., contributed to the project. Carnegie Mellon University, SETI, and other groups also contributed data.

Public interest in Mars soared last May when the Phoenix Mars Lander touched down on the Martian surface and began unprecedented exploration in its search for signs of life on Mars.

Scientists believe that if there ever was life on Mars, it was most likely in the form of microbes. Cameras aboard the lander provided never-before-seen glimpses of Mars. Soils samples, evidence of water, and methane pointed toward the possibility that the planet has harbored life in the past or could do so in the future.

The Phoenix lost power and shut down last November, long after the three months of operations that NASA had expected.

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