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5/28/2010
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Gov 2.0: NASA, Microsoft Ready Mars 3D Views

Users of Microsoft's virtual WorldWide Telescope will soon be able to zoom in on the surface of the red planet and take tours of areas of interest.

A partnership between NASA and Microsoft to bring high-resolution images of Mars to Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope is almost ready for public viewing.

The Web-based application will show the surface of the red planet in such detail that viewers will be able to see "little rocks" and tracks left behind by NASA's Mars rovers, according to Chris Kemp, NASA's recently named CTO for IT.

Kemp provided a preview of the new capability this week at the Gov 2.0 Expo show in Washington, D.C. He said the Mars imagery would become available on WorldWide Telescope "very soon."

NASA and Microsoft announced plans to work together on the Mars mapping project in March 2009, and in November they introduced an educational Web site called "Be A Martian" that lets students and other users view Mars imagery in an interactive, educational environment.

WorldWide Telescope is a virtual telescope that makes available images of the Sun, Moon, and other stars and planets that are generated by telescopes on Earth and in space, including Hubble. Users are required to download a client application to their PC or Mac to fully exploit WorldWide Telescope. Google provides similar capabilities, including Mars imagery, via Google Earth.

In the demo at Gov 2.0 Expo, Kemp showed how users will be able to "fly" over the surface of Mars in Google Earth fashion and zoom in on specific areas for closer viewing. Kemp said image resolution can sharpen to a half meter and that objects will be 3D in appearance. "This is the highest resolution data available," he said. Users will be able to take virtual tours of areas of interest on Mars.

NASA is sharing more than 100 Terabytes of high-res imagery and related data from Mars and the Moon with Microsoft under a Space Act Agreement announced in March. That data, previously stored in a dedicated server cluster, is now processed on and served from NASA's Nebula cloud computing environment, Kemp said.

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