Editor’s note, May 18, 2020: This app is no longer available.
Smartphone and tablet users can experience the excitement of standing on the launch pad beneath NASA’s massive new rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS, with a new interactive app from NASA that previews the starting point for the nation’s journey to Mars. Point the device up to see to the top of the rocket, or hold level to see the details of the solid rocket boosters and engines.
No matter where the user is, opening the scene viewer portion of the app shows what the device’s camera would see if it were at the launch pad with the huge SLS rocket setting up for liftoff. Take a look at the scene from a catwalk on the mobile launcher, too. These views won’t exist in real-life until NASA sends SLS carrying an Orion spacecraft to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon as the agency pioneers deep into space, but gives users a taste of what the powerful launches will entail.
“As soon as I saw that scene viewer, I think that’s when we all knew we had something that people would enjoy and would be pulled into,” said Andres Adorno, NASA’s project manager for the app. “It gives people the perspective of being at the launch pad.”
Called NASA 3DV, for 3-D view, the inventive app shows viewers 3-D models of the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System, the fixtures of NASA’s push to send astronauts on deep space exploration missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars. The app also shows virtual models of the crawler transporter that carried the Saturn V moon rockets and space shuttle to the launch pad and is on tap to take the SLS and Orion on the same trip.
“It gives a true feeling of the things being built that are to come in the future,” Adorno said.
Media Fusion of Huntsville, Alabama, produced the app in conjunction with NASA.
“With the Scene Viewer, we are using the device accelerometer to determine the direction a person is facing and then orient a camera inside of a photosphere to emulate that action,” said Jason Click, digital project manager with Media Fusion. “Because we also do our own 3-D modeling for certain scenes or use photosphere pictures provided by NASA, putting together the parts was a snap.”
Users can even launch the SLS from the top of their desk, or off the floor, following the flight path with their phones. It’s a unique look and approach for hardware that is under development across the country.
“The main focus was to show people where we’re going in terms of human missions to deep space,” Adorno said.
For a contemporary scene, the high bay of the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, also is available, complete with the Orion spacecraft and service module as they were readied for the flight test that took place in December to test Orion.
“With a NASA app, there is a much wider possible audience than many other apps,” Click said. “Anyone with an interest in space exploration, in the USA or across the globe, is a potential user.”
The app is available for iOS and Android-based devices. Future versions also could expand the views available in the scene viewer to take on more aspects of NASA’s plans for human space exploration.
“At NASA, this is the first of its kind with the scene viewer and it offers all kinds of options for showing different rockets and spacecraft that the agency is working on,” Adorno said. “So we’d like to take advantage of this to show people a closer look at everything NASA is doing in human space exploration.”