With NASA’s manned space flight program in tumult, it’s an open question when/if human boots will tramp on Martian soil. But the space agency has provided a virtual way for humans to explore the red planet, with its new “Be a Martian” program.
The online project, a collaboration between NASA and Microsoft, enlists the power of crowdsourcing. Users are invited to sort through the hundreds of thousands of photos of Mars that have been sent back by rovers and orbiters. To convince people to spend hours pouring over pictures of dusty Martian landscapes, two tasks have been set up as games where participants can win points and badges. One game asks people to count craters in photos of Mars; the other asks people to match small, high-res photos of the Martian surface with their corresponding locations on a low-res photo taken from a higher altitude [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]. (You’ll need to have Microsoft’s Silverlight application for the games and videos on the site to work.)
By enlisting citizen scientists, NASA hopes to both interest students in space careers and to make real progress in Martian research. “We really need the next generation of explorers,” says Michelle Viotti, from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees Mars missions. “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” [BBC News].
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Image: JPL / Microsoft