Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk around on Mars? For 99.99999 per cent of us, this may be as close as we ever get. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has given us the honor of taking the lid off of this awesome, interactive eye-candy. Basically it's Google Earth, for Mars.
First up is the an explorational guide to Gale Crater. After installing a plugin you can use your browser to swoop across a beautiful Martian landscape, zooming in and out, adjusting angles, and clicking on points of interest to get more info on them. NASA's Curiosity rover is currently en route to Mars and the Gale Crater is one of the focal points of its mission. Scientists think that those canyons you see may have been made the same way canyons on Earth are made: with flowing water. You can investigate for yourself and speculate on what they'll find when they get there in August. Follow this link to check it out now.
The other interactive site is called Spirit's Journey. No, it's not about unicorns. It's about the journey of of the NASA's Spirit rover which landed on Mars in 2004. You can pull the throttle down to drive and watch spirit traverse the exact same patch it took. From its landing site to the Bonneville Crater, to the Columbia Hills (named after the shuttle and its final crew and beyond). The scope of the mission was really incredible, but I've never really been able to visualise it until now. It's an incredible ridealong. Follow this link to glory.
This is all part of NASA JPL/CalTech's outreach program. It's one thing to tell us what a rover saw and how far it went. It's quite another to drive along its tracks. It's more visceral and infinitely more engaging. It inspires you to want to know more about these, some of the most incredible expeditions the human race has ever undertaken. It's downright inspiring.
Oh and speaking of rovers, today is the 8th anniversary of the day the Martian rover Opportunity first landed on Mars. It was schedule to have a three-month mission. Eight years later it's still alive and scurrying around the red planet. Pretty incredible. Happy birthday, Opportunity, ya big lug! [NASA JPL]