It will be decades before we send humans to Mars. This app is here to hold you over.
If you are one of the thousands of people who would like to start a new life on Mars, you might want to get an early start on scouting out some premium real estate options. Fortunately, NASA has created a new Google-Earth-style web app for the red planet, providing the Mars-eyed among us with a way to virtually explore their fantasy destinations in stunning detail.
"Working with our expert development team at [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory], we have just released our latest product, Mars Trek," said NASA project manager Brian Day in a video about Mars Trek released today. According to Day, this "web-based portal allows mission planners, scientists, and the general public to explore the surface of Mars in great detail as seen through the eyes of a variety of instruments on a number of spacecraft."
He's really not kidding about the variety of viewing options on Mars Trek. Not only does the app allow users to zoom into traditional true-color images of the planet, it also provides visual filters corresponding to instruments on the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellites.
These aren't your standard Instagram filters, not the least because Mars is adequately sepia-toned as it is. Instead, Mars Trek gives users the option of seeing the planet from the perspective of the many specialized tools onboard NASA's Mars orbiters.
Curious about the topographic details of Olympus Mons? Apply the "Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter" layer. Want to get a sense of Arabia Terra's surface composition? Look at it from the perspective of the Thermal Emission Spectrograph onboard the Mars Global Surveyor.
Beyond these experiments, you can also calculate the trip time between two points on Mars, explore the adopted homes of NASA rovers and landers, and, if you are feeling really ambitious, 3D-print full sections of the online map. Day and his team also plan to add more features soon, including speculations about landing sites for future projects like the Mars 2020 rover.
"In a couple of decades, the first humans will set foot on Mars but right now we all have the capability of exploring the surface of Mars and preparing for this great adventure," he said.
Mars One has proved that a huge number of civilians would ditch Earth in a hurry for an opportunity to kick it Mars-side, though the vast majority will never actually make it there. Mars Trek may prove to be a handy stopgap for these would-be voyagers—and perhaps even a roadmap for the future astronauts who do finally set foot on this tantalizing world.