Microsoft gives 3D look at space shuttle

NASA partners with Redmond to give people a 3D photographic view of the space shuttle Endeavour before its launch this week. Images: A 3D view of Endeavour

NASA and Microsoft have teamed up to give people a 3D photographic look at the space shuttle Endeavour before its launch this week, in a public-private partnership that could lead to more use of digital imagery in future space-agency missions.

Microsoft on Monday will release a downloadable viewer that includes hundreds of photos of the space shuttle, NASA's vehicle assembly building and the shuttle's launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Endeavour is scheduled for flight Wednesday.)

The viewer, created with Microsoft's Photosynth technology, gives people a three-dimensional perspective on the space center, letting people zoom in for a close-up, high-resolution look at heat tiles on the shuttle, for example, or zoom out to see a panoramic of Cape Canaveral. The technology automatically knits together digital photos to give people a perspective from many angles.

"It's much like a 3D video game--people can explore, walk around or fly around the shuttle," said Adam Sheppard, group product manager for Microsoft Live Labs, which developed the viewer.

NASA said that the project could lead to more initiatives with the software giant. Chris Kemp, director of strategic business development at NASA's Ames Research Center, said that, for example, NASA could use the Photosynth technology on future space missions for activities such as inspecting the International Space Station and viewing landing sites on the moon.

To be sure, NASA has a partnership with Microsoft rival Google, in which it provides data to the Google Earth mapping technology.

With a digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera, a Microsoft software developer and photography enthusiast visited the Kennedy Space Center and took thousands of photos of the space shuttle, launch pad and its assembly facility, which is one of the largest buildings in the country. The result is a collection of four image libraries that people can explore.

"With zero taxpayer investment, we're getting a great return when we're able to show the shuttle in this new breathtaking medium," Kemp said.

 

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