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: How X-rays helped to solve mystery of floating rocks

Related Stories

Saving time in space

May 19, 2017

Working inside the International Space Station is sometimes like assembling complex furniture but with the tools and paper instructions continually floating out of reach. Astronauts also face situations unforeseen by the ...

Preliminary results of Breakthrough Listen project released

April 25, 2017

(Phys.org)—The team of researchers working on the Breakthrough Listen project (based at the University of California, Berkeley SETI Research Center) has released preliminary findings after sifting through several petabytes ...

Recommended for you

Camera on NASA's Lunar Orbiter survived 2014 meteoroid hit

May 26, 2017

On Oct. 13, 2014 something very strange happened to the camera aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which normally produces beautifully clear images of the lunar ...

SDO sees partial eclipse in space

May 26, 2017

On May 25, 2017, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, saw a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun. The lunar transit lasted almost an hour, between 2:24 and 3:17 p.m. EDT, ...

Jupiter's complex transient auroras

May 25, 2017

Combined observations from three spacecraft show that Jupiter's brightest auroral features recorded to date are powered by both the volcanic moon Io and interaction with the solar wind.

Methanol detected for first time around young star

May 25, 2017

Methanol, a key building block for the complex organic compounds that comprise life, has been detected for the first time in the protoplanetary disk of a young, distant star. This finding could help scientists better understand ...

New Neliota project detects flashes from lunar impacts

May 25, 2017

Using a system developed under an ESA contract, the Greek NELIOTA project has begun to detect flashes of light caused by small pieces of rock striking the moon's surface. NELIOTA is the first system that can determine the ...

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.