NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System

“Hey waiter! What’s this school bus doing next to my space telescope?” (Hint: not the backstroke.)

I came across this TED talk today and it looked very promising. It’s a program run by NASA to bring the solar system to your browser.

The speaker, Jon Nguyen, made some good points. First of all, NASA would like you to know that, contrary to popular belief, they are not dead. It comes as a surprise to some people that even though we are officially in the post-Shuttle era, there are still Americans living in the International Space Station. Beyond this there are dozens of robotic space probes crawling all over our curious corner of the galaxy. Freakin’ space robots! Taking awesome snapshots for their Facebook pages! What could be cooler than space robots? Why don’t people know about this?

That was the attitude of the JPL team that built Eyes on the Solar System, a sort of Google Not-Earth. As Nguyen points out, what they do is the reverse of Google Earth. You start with the earth in front of you, but instead of zooming in, you zoom out to look at other worlds. You can also look in detail at many of NASA’s space robots. At one point Nguyen said something like “everything I’m showing you, you can go to your browser and do it too.” And I’m here to tell you that it’s true. This is an impressive piece of work. Try it!

Here’s the TED talk.

And now for the answer to my question at the top of the post. If this is such a realistic simulation of outer space, then why is there a school bus next to the Hubble Space Telescope? Well, the school bus is real. It got there by following errant GPS instructions on the way back from a field trip to the St. Louis Zoo. Okay, I take it back. The school bus is part of a feature that lets you compare space robots to well-known objects. Although it seems like a waste of taxpayer money for NASA to send buses up there for that purpose…