NASA and Microsoft Allow Earthlings to Become Martians

NASA and Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., have collaborated to create
a Web site where Internet users can have fun while advancing their
knowledge of Mars.

Drawing on observations from NASA’s Mars
missions, the "Be a Martian" Web site will enable the public to
participate as citizen scientists to improve Martian maps, take part in
research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the
Red Planet.

"We’re at a point in history where everyone can
be an explorer," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration
Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "With so much data coming
back from Mars missions that are accessible by all, exploring Mars has
become a shared human endeavor. People worldwide can expand the
specialized efforts of a few hundred Mars mission team members and make
authentic contributions of their own."

Participants will be
able to explore details of the solar system’s grandest canyon, which
resides on Mars. Users can call up images in the Valles Marineris
canyon before moving on to chart the entire Red Planet. The
collaboration of thousands of participants could assist scientists in
producing far better maps, smoother zoom-in views, and make for easier
interpretation of Martian surface changes.

By counting
craters, the public also may help scientists determine the relative
ages of small regions on Mars. In the past, counting Martian craters
has posed a challenge because of the vast numbers involved. By
contributing, Web site users will win game points assigned to a robotic
animal avatar they select.

With a common goal of inspiring
digital-age workforce development and life-long learning in science,
technology, engineering and mathematics, NASA and Microsoft unveiled
the Web site at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los
Angeles this week. The site also beckons software developers to win
prizes for creating tools that provide access to and analysis of
hundreds of thousands of Mars images for online, classroom and Mars
mission team use.

"Industry leaders like NASA and Microsoft
have a social responsibility as well as a vested interest in advancing
science and technology education," said Walid Abu-Hadba, corporate vice
president of the Developer and Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft.
"We are excited to be working with NASA to provide new opportunities to
engage with Mars mission data, and to help spark interest and
excitement among the next generation of scientists and technologists."

To encourage more public participation, the site also provides a
virtual town hall forum where users can expand their knowledge by
proposing Mars questions and voting on which are the most interesting
to the community. Online talks by Mars experts will address some of the
submitted questions. Other features include interactive tools for
viewing Martian regions and movies about people who study Mars in
diverse ways.

"Mars exploration inspires people of all ages,
and we are especially eager to encourage young people to explore Mars
for themselves," said Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We are delighted to be involved in
providing the creative opportunity for future explorers to contribute
to our understanding of Mars."

"The beauty of this type of
experience is that it not only teaches people about Mars and the work
NASA is doing there, but it also engages large groups of people to help
solve real challenges that computers cannot solve by themselves," said
Marc Mercuri, director of business innovation in the Developer and
Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft.

The Mars Exploration Program is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.


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