A NASA-created application that brings some of the agency's robotic spacecraft to life in 3-D now is available for free on the iPhone and iPad. Called Spacecraft 3D, the app uses animation to show how spacecraft can maneuver and manipulate their outside components. Presently, the new app features two NASA missions, the Curiosity rover that will touch down on Mars on Aug. 5 at 10:31 p.m. PDT (Aug. 6 at 1:31 a.m. EDT), and the twin GRAIL spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, currently orbiting the moon.
"With Spacecraft 3D and a mobile device, you can put high definition, three-dimensional models literally into the hands of kids of all ages," said Stephen Kulczycki, deputy director for communications and education at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Spacecraft 3D is among the first of what are known as augmented-reality apps for Apple devices. Augmented reality provides users a view of a real-world environment where elements are improved by additional input. Spacecraft 3D uses the iPhone or iPad camera to overlay information on the device's main screen. The app instructs users to print an augmented-reality target on a standard sheet of paper. When the device's camera is pointed at the target, the spacecraft chosen by the user materializes on screen.