NASA and Microsoft want YOU to help research Mars

NASA wants you to do its busywork. But NASA’s busywork is just about the coolest work out there.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Microsoft partnered up to create a Web site that, through crowdsourcing, will help NASA research Mars. On the “Be a Martian” site, anyone can play two simple games to give NASA valuable data about Mars’ landscape.

Plus, there’s a ton of fascinating videos, photos, forums and other information about Mars and the satellites, probes and rovers NASA has sent there.

“We really need the next generation of explorers,” Michelle Viotti, director of Mars Public Outreach at the JPL, said in a Microsoft announcement. “And we’re also accomplishing something important for NASA. There’s so much data coming back from Mars. Having a wider crowd look at the data, classify it and help understand its meaning is very important.”

Crowdsourcing is a relatively new phenomenon that harnesses the power of the Web to collect data via the masses. It’s already at work in Google Maps, for example – GPS-enabled devices can sense how fast a person is driving and send that data to Google, which synthesizes it and data from thousands of other devices into real-time traffic information.


The “Count Craters” game gathers user-inputted data for NASA about approximate crater size and location on Mars.

Microsoft pointed to a successful crowdsourcing project from Oxford University, which used public input to build a database called “Galaxy Zoo.” Because of crowdsourcing, Oxford researchers were able to cut a job that normally takes two years down to four months.
On the NASA site, crowdsourcing is part of two games. One asks people to count craters in photos of Mars; the other asks people to match small, high-res photos of the Martian surface with their corresponding locations on a low-res photo taken from a higher altitude.

To liven things up, NASA and Microsoft included a points and rewards system.

The “Be a Martian” site incorporates Microsoft Silverlight technology for the games and high-definition video. There are videos about some of NASA’s more exciting Mars missions and mini-documentaries about Mars.

There’s also a forum at which people can ask questions about Mars, vote for their favorite questions, and eventually receive responses (to the best questions) from NASA experts. The site also features a Mars atlas that is simpler but less impressive than the Mars section of Google Earth, but includes a bunch of information from NASA.

So, if you’ve got some free time available, join the team and have some fun. This could be a great project for the classroom or even for your family to do at home.

Here’s a link to the “Be a Martian” website:

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