NASA, Google in deal to make space images widely available

In first fruit of collaboration, Google technology will make a wealth of previously hard-to-find images available to average users.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

NASA is the greatest collector of space imagery, without a doubt. But their websites were never quite satisfying, many of which seemed to be targeted to scientific experts not to average users looking for an outer-space thrill. Google on the other hand has created a multibillion business out of improving access to the millions of documents and images out on the Web. Thus, the agreement Google and NASA announced today is a natural - Google will use its search engine expertise to make much more of NASA's archive available over the Web, The Washington Post reports.

"This agreement between NASA and Google will soon allow every American to experience a virtual flight over the surface of the moon or through the canyons of Mars," NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin said in a statement. He called the effort one "to make NASA's space exploration work accessible to everyone."

"NASA has collected and processed more information about our planet and universe than any other entity in the history of humanity," said Chris C. Kemp, director of strategic business development at Ames. "Even though this information was collected for the benefit of everyone, and much is in the public domain, the vast majority of this information is scattered and difficult for non-experts to access and to understand."

While Google and NASA have plans to share research space at NASA's Ames Research Center, the deal is not exclusive to Google. Other portals will also have access to the images. But Google is there first.

Ames chief S. Pete Wardon said that NASA has also converted video from the Apollo missions to the moon into digital form, and in the future those images could also be available for viewing online. "The goal is to allow the public to feel they are virtually there," Wardon said, likening the Internet initiative to the fictional "holideck" virtual-reality chamber of the "Star Trek" television series. "In the next decade, we're looking at the kind of technology that would enable people to feel the crunch of Martian soil as they move around, to feel the Martian wind on their faces. This is a step in that direction," Wardon said.

Google will use NASA images in Google Earth and financially support several related projects at NASA. The agency for its part is excited about getting top-notch help in making NASA images, animations and videos available. Public access is part of their mission but of course it also helps with marketing the agency's work.

"The data already exists, from dozens of human and robotic missions," Wardon said. "The taxpayers have already paid for the data, and it should be available."
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