In this case study, you can read about how the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) collaborated with Microsoft in developing an interactive application to engage citizens in the exploration of Mars.
Engaging citizens in the exploration of Mars
Beginning with its own launch in the late 1950s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been at the forefront of efforts to explore and understand what lies beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The agency’s Martian ventures have generated extraordinary information gathered and transmitted by its Mars Exploration Rovers which have traveled over the planet’s surface with cameras, sensors, and other instruments.
Researchers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA/JPL) wanted to solve two different challenges—providing public access to vast amounts of Mars-related exploration images, and engaging the public in activities related to NASA’s Mars Exploration Program in order to encourage learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Using a variety of technologies, NASA/JPL created its BeAMartian website
with contributions from Arizona State University and — through a grant from Microsoft Research — Oxford University.
Original image available on NASA website
Microsoft and NASA used cloud-computing and Silverlight, a cross-platform web browser plug-in that delivers rich content and interactivity, to build an interactive application that can run on any major browser. The images number in the hundreds of thousands — decades of research represented by terabytes of information, all free for the public to peruse and comment on.
The site provides entertaining and engaging ways to view and interact with information delivered by Mars-based rovers and orbiters, letting the public participate in exploration, making contributions to data processing and analysis. Furthermore, users of the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope
, can also take interactive tours of the red planet, hear directly from NASA scientist and view and explore the most complete, highest-resolution coverage of Mars available.
On this screenshot of the WorldWide Telescope, a wide-angle image of Mars from NASA’s Viking orbiters and the Mars Orbiter Camera provide a fascinating view of Valles Marineris, commonly known as the Grand Canyon of Mars.
By using a “crowdsourcing” tool, NASA taps their visitors’ brains to help process volumes of Mars images. A game called Mapping Mars lets users align images with the same geo-coordinates to build a global map of the planet. Another game has visitors count craters to help scientists understand the relative age of rocks on Mars’ surface. Using crowdsourcing, NASA is able to exponentially increase the volume of data it is able to analyze and classify, helping it to move critical research forward more quickly and efficiently.
Original image available on Microsoft News Center
By counting craters, site visitors can help NASA scientists understand the surface of Mars.
Such “citizen science” initiatives are a great way to both engage the public and create useful metadata that helps scientists organize and prioritize their research.
This approach can be a challenge, though. The tactical problems of crowdsourcing are twofold. On the one hand, the experience must be interesting and engaging enough that people will want to participate. On the other hand, you need to have enough servers to keep the site alive during peak traffic.
“The hardware question represents a problem for a lot of organizations. If you invest in the servers to handle your launch traffic, what do you do with them when it cools off? A lot of organizations don’t want to make that huge up-front investment.”
Marc Mercuri, Director of Business Innovation for Microsoft’s Developer Platform Evangelism Group
The ability to scale for any situation is one of the most compelling reasons that more and more companies are moving their IT infrastructures to the cloud. The same ability to scale and serve any number of users in the business world also enables the educational power of crowdsourcing and citizen science to be realized.
“The real power of this approach is the same as it always is with technology — putting information into people’s hands and seeing what they do with it.”
Tim Harris, product manager for Microsoft’s Developer Platform Evangelism Group
Read the full case study here
Small & Medium Enterprises are the backbone of Europe’s economy. We work hard with governments and industry to ensure that SMEs get the most out of technology. Thanks to cloud computing that has pervasive benefits throughout the economy, SMEs can now exploit economies of scale, to rapidly expand their business and offer innovative solutions with less risk. This space on our website is dedicated to innovative European SMEs and the added-value of cloud computing to their businesses.
- From the Cloud to the Crowd: NASA and Microsoft Ask Citizen Scientists to “Be a Martian”
- Microsoft Research Illuminates Night Sky and Mars in 3-D With WorlWide Telescope
- Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope
- Catalonian centre driving innovation through ICT
- Wanted: new pilot project for cloud computing research