There are few ways to connect with the world of astronomy, cosmology, and other extra-terrestrial pursuits better than turning to the NASA. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration have their own app, known simply as the NASA app, which is designed to keep the keen astronomical observer updated on the latest news NASA and general planetary and space-based news.
Most noticeable about the app is its easy-to-use interface, with a slick, almost glossy level of design. However, its main appeal is the content it provides, which ranges from thousands of images (depicting everything from nebulae to launches and beyond), up-to-date feeds, videos, twitter feeds, and other live information. This review aims to take a closer look at the NASA app’s features and content, as well as probing its design to see whether it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the more specialised star-mapping and star-gazing apps featured at Starmapping.co.uk.
What Is It?
The question needs to be answered: what would an app have to offer its users in order to be glorified with the mighty NASA name? The answer is not one specific thing in particular, but rather a host of features originally appearing individually in NASA’s other apps, wrapped up into one handy bundle intended to act as a resource to keep both adults and children on the pulse of the cosmos. This is what the app offers in simple terms, anyhow.
To give a little more detail, this app contains images. Lots of images to be more accurate; 14,000 of them to be precise (at the time of writing, anyhow – the app is being updated on a regular basis). These images range from stunning shots of Aurora Borealis/Australis events and images viewed from the International Space Station, through to images from outer space: galaxy clusters, Hubble Telescope images, endless Nebulae, planets of our solar system, mission photos, and so many more. These images are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the app’s content, though.
Also featuring heavily in the content of the app are thousands of videos. These videos contain official NASA footage of a massive number of their missions, often keeping users up to date with multiple video clips documenting various stages of one mission. For example, Expedition 47 (featuring on its crew the viral astronaut sensation Tim Peake) was documented with videos containing its various stages, from transferring command and on-board video logs to their recent landing in Kazakhstan – it’s all available at your fingers in the NASA app.
More than Just Images and Videos
Some may be quick to criticise how image and video-heavy the NASA app is, but you must remember that images and videos aren’t all that it has to offer. Its simple, professional interface (looked at in more detail below) also contains a host of other content features as well. In fact, though most will come to the app to simply browse photos and videos, it also offers an up-to-date section that documents its missions, past, present, and future. You can delve back to 2007’s AIM satellite mission, rewind a further 10 years to the Advanced Composition Explorer mission of 1997, or stick with missions from the present day. You can even drill down your view by filtering out things you don’t want, leaving categories like Earth missions, Solar System Missions, or Station and Shuttle missions.
Two of the most interesting sub-sections of the Missions section are the Launch Schedule and Sighting Opportunities section. The launch schedule section keeps you abreast of future launch events with brief descriptions of each, whilst Sighting Opportunities will tell you if you’ve got any chance of catching a glimpse of the ISS as it passes over the section of the night sky where you are, anywhere in the world!
Some of the more minor features of the app are also quite useful, though likely appealing only to the more avid fan of space and its goings on. If you fancy keeping up to date with NASA’s twitter feed, you can do so via the “Tweets” button on the main grid display.
There’s also the “TV and Radio” section, which allows you to access the NASA Television video feed as well as its own radio broadcasting station, Third Rock Radio. If the audio and visual news feed isn’t enough for you, there’s also the text-based “News and Features” section. If you happen to be in the USA, you can also see the ready-pinned locations of all the NASA Centres. Finally, you can check out the “Programs” section, which documents a number of NASA’s progams from its Launch Services Program to detailed information about each of the launch vehicles used by NASA, past and present.
Interface and Conclusion
The app’s interface deserves a mention here due to the high degree of simplicity it encompasses, whilst giving you the maximum amount of information possible. The interface is fast, clean, and simple, with additional options in the Settings menu allowing you to, among other things: set alerts for any passing of the ISS; set last viewed image as your mobile phone’s background; you can even use lower resolution images to save your data.
Based on the information above, it is difficult to conclude that this app is anything other than a resounding success. This is an app providing more information than any of NASA’s individual apps taken alone. It’s effectively like having thousands of space-based websites rolled into one easy-to-navigate interface.
One thing the app is definitely missing, however, is the opportunity to allow the user to experience virtual launches for themselves. It’s missing the kind of direct, user-controlled games and simulations you’ll find in titles such as Kerbal Space Program covered masterfully by www.rocketgame.org. It's one possible avenue that NASA's app could pursue in engaging more users in the excitement of space launch and exploration.