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This article was published on September 20, 2021

Explore Mars in 3D with NASA’s new interactive tools

Probably more enjoyable than visiting Mars IRL

Explore Mars in 3D with NASA’s new interactive tools

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NASA has added a pair of interactive experiences to the enthralling array of sights and sounds generated from the Mars 2020 mission.

The new tools let you explore the planet from the comfort of your home.

In one, calledExplore with Perseverance,” you can follow the voyage of NASA’s car-shaped rover through a 3D simulation of the planet.

You can find, for instance, the spot where Perseverance landed on Mars and the flight zone of the Ingenuity helicopter.

The system is a modified version of NASA’s Advanced Science Targeting Tool for Robotic Operations (ASTTRO), which is used to select points of interest for Perseverance to study.

The landscape it depicts was built by stitching together images captured by the buggy and a NASA Orbiter flying over the red planet. As the rover rolls across the rugged Martian surface, the pictures it takes are mapped onto the terrain. Additional data collected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera then fills in the gaps.

Parker Abercrombie, who leads the software development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the team plans to add new sights as they’re discovered by the orbiter and rover:

We can highlight scientifically interesting rocks and other features, or the Ingenuity helicopter flight locations.

NASA’s second new interactive experience is “Where Is Perseverance?” As the name suggests, the tool shows the current location of the rover. It also tracks the position of Ingenuity, which hitched a ride to the red planet under the belly of Perseverance. The map is updated after every drive and flight taken by the robotic duo.

The tool traces Perseverance’s route across the Martian surface. Along the path, geologically interesting spots that it discovers are highlighted, as well as the Martian days (sols) on which it arrived.

You can track the Perseverance rover's daily location using “Where is Perseverance?"
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Blue icons of a helicopter and buggy display, respectively, the positions of Ingenuity and Perseverance.

Both tools provide immersive ways to learn about Mars and follow NASA’s mission. They don’t feel immensely realistic, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. A virtual trip across Mars will likely be more pleasant than the real experience awaiting human visitors to the planet.

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