Students and astronauts use powerful new tool to explore Earth fom space

September 24, 2008

Imagine being able, with a click of a mouse, to see the world, in all its beauty, just like astronauts on the International Space Station do.

That's exactly what will happen when Richard Garriott – a citizen astronaut and son of former astronaut Owen Garriott -- takes his trip to the International Space Station on October 12 aboard the Soyuz. He will be carrying with him special software – "Windows on Earth" -- developed by TERC (an educational non-profit) and the Association of Space Explorers to help him identify targets on the Earth to photograph for scientific research and educational exploration.

Anyone interested in seeing what Garriott will see can use the SAME software to simulate the views from the space station window by going to winearth.terc.edu. This software, funded by the National Science Foundation, was originally developed for use in museums and the web. It is currently installed at Boston's Museum of Science, the National Air and Space Museum, and St. Louis Science Center.

It has been adapted for use by astronauts because of its very realistic simulation of Earth as seen from space. (Usually the reverse is true – the technology is developed first for scientists and then adapted for public and educational use.)

Watching Earth Change over 35 Years

Richard Garriott's flight, and this software, offer an historic opportunity to see how Earth has changed over the 35 years since his father Owen, one of NASA's first scientist astronauts, flew on Skylab II in 1973.

"I am very excited to be using the TERC Windows on Earth software to aid in my Earth observation experiments. I can say with confidence that the tool will prove to be essential in helping me get the most out of my time on orbit, as well as give me and students the same extremely high quality presentation of what I will see out the window as I fly past at 17,210 miles per hour and an altitude of about 250 miles," Garriott said.

The Windows on Earth digital system

The Windows On Earth software at the heart of this Earth observation system, is a state-of-the-art technology that simulates the view of Earth as seen from the International Space Station. Visitors see the Earth in high-resolution, photo-realistic color and 3-D, passing by under them. They can explore where they wish, with sites of interest marked in many locations around the world, including animations of how various features were formed. The system includes clouds, night lights, and other data to make the experience as realistic and interactive as possible. Richard's photographs (and those of his father) will be integrated into the system, with each photo marked and clickable, on the Earth imagery.

"The ramifications for students and the public is profound," according to Dan Barstow, director of the Center for Science Teaching and Learning at TERC. "Their view of the Earth is no longer restricted to glossy photos in a book but they can actually see what is happening on Earth with a space-age perspective, and with it their understanding of Earth is transformed," he said.

Windows on Earth web site

In addition to the Windows on Earth simulator, the site also includes links to educational activities for use in schools, and by anyone interested in Earth and space exploration.

Source: TERC

Explore further: Exploration and collaboration are taking gaming to the next level

Related Stories

Looking from space for nuclear detonations

August 18, 2016

Sandia National Laboratories' Jaime Gomez was too busy to celebrate the successful launch of the latest nuclear detonation detection system—he was already deep into the next generation.

Gaia's second anniversary marked by successes and challenges

August 17, 2016

Operating in the depths of space, far beyond the Moon's orbit, ESA's Gaia spacecraft has now completed two years of a planned five-year survey of the sky. Despite a series of unexpected technical challenges, the mission is ...

New white paper showcases the future of space robotics

July 22, 2016

Autonomous robots capable of walking, swimming and climbing, will replicate insects, birds, animals and even humans on future missions of space exploration within decades, according to a new UK-RAS Network white paper led ...

Recommended for you

Rosetta captures comet outburst

August 25, 2016

In unprecedented observations made earlier this year, Rosetta unexpectedly captured a dramatic comet outburst that may have been triggered by a landslide.

Rocky planet found orbiting habitable zone of nearest star

August 24, 2016

An international team of astronomers including Carnegie's Paul Butler has found clear evidence of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System. The new world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

bredmond
not rated yet Sep 24, 2008
How is this different from Google Earth? is it because Google's view is closer to the ground and this all at a distance?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.