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Transcript: NASA Curiosity Mars Rover Landing Event: Doug Ellison - Eyes on the Solar System


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Gay Yee-Hill: With us now is Doug Ellison, one of JPL's visualization wizards who's going to tell us more about Eyes on the Solar System and some of the other great applications we have. So give us a tour, Eyes on the Solar System.

Doug Ellison: Thanks, Gay. What Eyes on the Solar System is, it's a tool that lives on people's computers via their web browser. It lives at eyes.nasa.gov. Any reasonably modern PC or Mac can go and use it. And it puts the planets, their moons, asteroids, comets and loads of our robotic envoys that have been exploring them over almost 50 years of exploration right at your fingertips. And you can go and ride on board these spacecraft. You can recreate flybys of places like Saturn with Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. You can ride on board Juno as we fly across the solar system toward Jupiter. Loads of different missions are all in there for the user to try.

Gay: So we have actual footage of it so you can demonstrate some of the things it can do. Here it comes.

Doug: So this is what Eyes on the Solar System looks like when you first load it. It's just like using Google Earth but it's inside out. It's everything else. You can use bookmarks and go straight to Voyager 1 flying past Saturn. This is way back in 1980. Here's Cassini arriving at Saturn. You can see the spacecraft turning around firing its main engine, putting itself into orbit. All of this is actual real reconstructed engineering data. This is Juno orbiting Jupiter in 2014, ready to do all of its science. All of these things are right there in Eyes on the Solar System.

Gay: But everyone tonight is worried and thinking about EDL and Curiosity's landing. What can you do with that?

Doug: We've had some amazing help from the navigation team and they've given us some beautiful predicted trajectories, some simulation data that takes us all the way from as we are now, about 13,000 miles away from Mars all the way to the surface. And people going to eyes.nasa.gov can use that themselves as well. We don't just have a live mode for people to enjoy, we can also fast-forward and preview the rest of this evening's events as well. In fact if we go to Jon's feed, actually Jon is using Eyes on the Solar System right now. And that's a live view right now of where Curiosity is, but if we can skip through to the preview mode, you'll actually see this is MSL in just about an hour and a half's time, just before it hits the top of the Martian atmosphere. And we're speeding up time and making our '7 minutes of terror' much, much shorter.

Gay: We'll be cutting to it throughout the evening but people can load this on their computer right now?

Doug: They can do it right at home and we've had something like 400,000 people use it today already and we're ready for a whole lot more people to come along and enjoy the ride as well.

Gay: Alright, so what else do you got?

Doug: Well we don't just stop with the whole solar system, we look at the Earth as well. A lot of what JPL does is in fact Earth sciences and not a lot of people know that, so we have a tool called Eyes on the Earth. It's like a sister product to Eyes on the Solar System and in there you can look at real-time climate data. Every single day we update data sets from a variety of different missions and you can put them right on your desktop. You can bring in carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, air temperature, loads of different data. And it lets people understand exactly how much work we're doing to understand what this planet is up to.

Gay: And there's still more applications!

Doug: Of course. Eyes on the Earth has a twin sister on mobile phones called Earth Now, it's on iOS already and Android very soon. And I think the most popular application we've done recently is called Spacecraft 3D.

Gay: And this is the one, this is the one I wanted to see.

Doug: So Spacecraft 3D is an augmented reality application, which means it uses an image, in fact you print out when you install the application. You can print out this image at home. And it uses this image, which as happens is a test image from Curiosity's microscope of some sand grains. We just use it as a reference. And then your mobile phone or your iPad sees this image and knows where you are and can start drawing a 3-D model of what Curiosity looks like.

Gay: OK, so you have to have this in order to do this?

Doug: Yes. You print this image out and what you get ... hopefully we can show it to people at home ... Here's my iPad live and it's just seeing the image. We hide the image, it goes away. And there Curiosity drawn over the top and this is actually how Curiosity will look when we land on the Martian surface. You can see the camera mast right here is actually stowed. We can animate various parts of the rover. So I can hit this button here and deploy the mast and there it goes. This is what Curiosity will look like after a few days on the surface. And I won't move the AR pad too much otherwise the camera man will get angry with me, but we can move the image instead. You can actually see the image right behind this here.

Gay: Come on Curiosity! Let's see you spin. There you go.

Doug: And we can animate other things. We can even bring the robotic arm out as well. Here it goes. There's the robotic arm coming out. we can get really close and look at the instruments on-board the rover. End of the robotic arm. You can see things right on the deck of the rover all the way up to the top of the camera mast. See the two Mastcams and ChemCam right there. Gay: This is something that people can do in their own homes, with their own iPhones, with their own iPads.

Doug: It's iPad and iPhone right now. We're going to be doing an Android version in just a few weeks time.

Gay: What a lot of fun. This is a blast. See? And it's magic.

Doug: Yes, we have been accused of magic. It is incredible just how much fun it can be to have Curiosity sat right on top of your table, on your floor. We've even had some friends take screenshots of this with it sat on their dogs head.

Gay: And I understand there will be other spacecraft besides Curiosity.

Doug: Right now there's Curiosity and the GRAIL spacecraft. We have two GRAIL spacecraft orbiting the moon. And in a few weeks time we're going to update this to include Cassini, which is at Saturn, Voyager at the edge of the solar system and the Dawn spacecraft, which is on its way away from the asteroid Vesta right now.

Gay: Sounds a lot of fun and you can impress your friends. Thanks Doug.