From the Cloud to the Crowd: NASA and Microsoft Ask Citizen Scientists to “Be a Martian”
Built on Microsoft cloud services technologies, NASA’s interactive “citizen-science” Web service lets anyone explore the Red Planet up close, while also contributing to Mars missions.
LOS ANGELES — Nov. 17, 2009 —
For centuries, humans have been fascinated by Mars. Its reddish hue, relative proximity to Earth, and a mistaken notion that its surface was laced with “canals” have made it fodder for dramatists and science-fiction writers from Orson Welles (“The War of the Worlds”) to Ray Bradbury (“The Martian Chronicles”)
Now anyone with a Web browser can become a Martian explorer. That’s because NASA is launching a new citizen-science Web site, called “Be a Martian
,” that gives people a chance to view hundreds of thousands of images gathered over decades of exploration on the Red Planet.
Site visitors can pan, zoom and explore the planet through images from Mars landers, roving explorers and orbiting satellites dating from the 1960s to the present. Many of the images have never before been seen.
The site is also designed as a game with a twofold purpose: NASA and Microsoft hope it will spur interest in science and technology among students in the U.S. and around the world. It also is a “crowdsourcing” tool designed to tap visitors’ brains and help the space agency process volumes of Mars images.
“We really need the next generation of explorers,” says Michelle Viotti, director of Mars Public Outreach at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “And we’re also accomplishing something important for NASA. There’s so much data coming back from Mars. Having a wider crowd look at the data, classify it and help understand its meaning is very important.”