Users of iPhones and iPads can get a glimpse into the world of space exploration with a free application announced by NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory that puts a 3-D version of some robotic spacecraft into people's hands.
The application, called Spacecraft 3-D, uses animation to show how spacecraft can maneuver and manipulate their outer components.
"With Spacecraft 3-D and a mobile device, you can put high-definition, three-dimensional models literally into the hands of kids of all ages," said Stephen Kulczycki, deputy director for communications and education at JPL in Pasadena.
According to the agency, the new app features two NASA missions, the Curiosity rover that will land on Mars on Aug. 5 and the twin GRAIL spacecraft, called Ebb and Flow, that are orbiting the moon.
The app is among the first of what are known as augmented-reality apps for Apple devices, according to NASA and JPL. Augmented-reality apps provide users a view of a real-world environment where elements are enhanced by additional input.
Spacecraft 3-D works by using the device's camera to overlay information on the device's main screen. The app then instructs users to print an augmented-reality target on a standard sheet of paper, and when the device's camera is pointed at the target, the chosen spacecraft materializes on screen.
The app also allows users to take their own augmented-reality picture of the rover or GRAIL spacecraft, and make a self-portrait with a spacecraft.
The agency plans to eventually incorporate the Cassini spacecraft, the Dawn spacecraft, and the Voyagers into the app.