NASA 3DV App
When it comes to astronomy apps, NASA’s 3DV is about as niche as they come. Far from your usual theoretical/star-chart-based offerings like SkyEye, Google’s Sky Map, or Stellarium, the 3DV app puts you right at the heart of some of NASA’s major space-exploration projects of recent years. It doesn’t just give you pictures, charts, and theoretical information however: it effectively makes your device’s screen a virtual window into the many vehicles and other hardware utilised by NASA. From viewing to-scale models of NASA’s space ships to breath-taking views from high altitude at rocket launch sites and full 3D models of various space exploration devices, NASA’s 3DV app is most definitely designed to excite even the most sceptical of astronomers out there.
Components of the App
NASA’s 3DV app isn’t the kind of astronomy app that the average star-gazer will find inherently useful to their pursuits. Instead, this app is comprised of several sections that put variations on the its main theme: the admiration of NASA’s impressive feats of space-vehicle engineering, as well as the education of the user in regards to the purpose, functions, and design of NASA’s multitude of space vehicles used in the launching and space exploration processes.
With the above purpose in mind, the app’s main menu is split into three distinct components. Firstly, you’ve got the straightforward, no-fuss Model View. No fuss is used as a describing phrase here because it’s essentially a mode that lets you select any one of the four vehicles on show, pulling up a model of the selected vehicle and allowing you to swipe and tap to get a closer look at the impressive to-scale renderings. The Augmented Reality Section leans a little more on the “frills” side of things, letting you select any one of the aforementioned models and have it appear the video captured by your device’s camera (provided you’ve downloaded and printed out a special NASA marker for the Augmented Reality models to utilise as a reference point).
The final component of the app is a little less hands-on, but at the same time is no less fascinating a component to experience. Select “Scene Viewer”, and you’ll be able to select from one of three high-resolution 3D scenes depicting some important components of NASA’s Human Space Exploration program. You’ll notice a lack of actual space exploration here, but this isn’t the purpose of the app – for this kind of experience, you’re better off checking out the Solar Walk app, or one of the many planetary education sites like this one: http://www.windows2universe.org/our_solar_system/solar_system.html.
Model Viewer and Augmented Reality
The 3DV app’s model viewer is a nifty little tool that’s somewhat light on any in-depth features, but still handy if you’re curious about the size and/or design of some of NASA’s main space-exploration vehicles/structures. Whether you choose to view the Space Launch System, The Crawler, the Launch Tower, or the magnificent Orion Spacecraft, the procedure to bring up each model is the same: simply click on its name, and the model will appear.
The Model Viewer underlays each model with a background of space, giving the whole experience a bit of a awe-inspiring feel to it. Some of the models can be tinkered with, such as “Unlocking” the Launch Tower or “Expanding” the Space Launch System to see its component parts pulled apart from closer inspection. Navigating the models is as easy as swiping in various directions or pinching the screen to zoom in and out.
The Augmented Reality component of the app is more of a novelty than it is a tool that will further the educational/information aspects of the app. If you fancy printing off the NASA 3DV Marker, you can use the Augmented Reality component to point your device’s camera at the marker, at which point the selected vehicle will be rendering in 3D where the marker is, allowing you to move your phone around it and get a closer look. It doesn’t allow you to do anything that the Model Viewer can’t achieve, but you can select to initiate a launch, which is probably the most impressive thing about this mode. Otherwise, it’s a little buggy, and doesn’t really add a whole lot to the experience aside from a bit of novelty.
Scene Viewer, Design, and Interface
The Scene Viewer section of the app is fascinating for different reasons. This allows you to use your phone’s screen as a window to three essential component areas/rooms at NASA itself. Using your phone to act as a fixed point in each of the high-resolution 360-degree panoramic photographs, you get to experience a close-up and comprehensive view from the Launch Platform, the MLP Catwalk, and the O&C building at NASA.
The design and interface of the app in general deserves a bit of praise, too. It’s simple to operate, consisting of general menus where you can tap on each option to drill down to further options. The Model Viewer allows for bug-free exploration of each of the included vehicles, too, and the additional information included about each vehicle and scene you see adds to the educational value of the app in general.
As far as Space Shuttle-themed apps go, NASA’s 3DV is a very impressive example for other apps of this kind to follow. It’s a largely reference-based app, however, with relatively little interactivity that one does expect to find in today’s apps. You might want to do a bit more exploration on the internet if you’re looking for some more hands-on or fun-to-play space shuttle launch apps such as the www.kerbalspaceprogram.com, which are plentiful on sites such as www.launchgames.org, as well as other space-launch-themed sites on the web. If the 3DV app managed to incorporate/include an actual space shuttle launch game, it’d be a soaring success on all fronts. As an educational/novelty experience however, it’s difficult to fault it.