Mission Mars, from home
Nasa and Google have come together to give you a virtual taste of Mars
Remember astronaut Mark Watney and the way he was stranded alone on Mars in the 2015 science fiction movie The Martian? Now, you can experience the planet yourself. Google and the US space agency Nasa have come together to create a web virtual reality experiment called Access Mars that lets users see a 3D replica of the planet’s surface as captured by the Curiosity rover.
During its mission so far, Curiosity has travelled to different sites on the planet and collected digital photographs with its two camera systems. With the help of these photographs, scientists at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) created a 3D model that is used to study the planet further. It is this 3D model that has been made available on the website so that users can experience it with the help of WebVR.
The introduction on the website (Accessmars.withgoogle.com) describes how Nasa launched the rover in November 2011 to find out if Mars could sustain life. More than eight months and 352 million miles later, it landed on Mars.
Your VR experience starts from Curiosity’s landing site. You can move from one point to another by clicking on it and learn more about the mission by clicking “points of interest" on the terrain.
Using the map icon, you can see the 3D terrain of different sites: Pahrump Hills, Marias Pass (where Curiosity clicked a selfie in August 2015) and Murray Buttes. These are sites on Mars where the rover not only collected photographs and soil samples but also conducted tests to understand more about the Martian environment.
The website is also a good way to understand more about the components of Curiosity, created by Nasa’s JPL, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Take your cursor towards the rover, and its various components and parts will be highlighted. Like Curiosity’s UHF (ultra-high frequency) antenna that sends data to satellites orbiting Mars which, in turn, transmit the information to earth. According to the website, on a typical day, Curiosity can return around 50 MB of data. The rover’s mobility system gives it a top speed of 4cm per second on a flat surface. The most interesting component is the rover’s robotic arm, which has instruments to measure soil and rock composition, and for drilling.
If you have a fast internet connection, then the image rendering shouldn’t take much time and the website should run smoothly enough for you to get a virtual feel of the planet.