I was curious, so I went to my app store and typed NASA in the search box. I could not believe the number of apps that came up. Looking at them, I realized that there are a lot that belong to NASA, a lot that pretend to be from NASA and a lot that have almost nothing to do with NASA, but still come up. Since this can be very confusing and my job is to help educators not be confused by NASA, I decided to write about some of the newer apps that actually belong to NASA and are really fun and provide you with some tips for finding others.
Let me start by saying that there is no cost for a true NASA app. That helps narrow them down very quickly. You can also rule out any that have someone’s name attached or are not complementary to NASA. That still leaves quite a few, so another very easy way to check is that there is a NASA site all about apps that NASA has developed. (http://www.nasa.gov/connect/apps.html#.UiefdXdil8F) The site highlights a few apps and then lists others by categories.
Even narrowing down by going to the site gives 48 options. At least at the time I wrote this, it did. I want to highlight some of the new ones that are fun, educational and not too difficult to figure out.
NASA 3DV – This app is one of the newest with an update to version 1.1 in January of 2015. The main purpose of the app is to get people aware of and excited about NASA’s Deep Space Exploration projects intended to take us to asteroids, Mars and beyond. I have to admit, that I thought the Model Viewer and Scene Viewer were nice, but was not really blown away by them. These Model Viewer lets you look at the Space Launch System, Crawler, Launch Tower, and Orion Spacecraft vehicles from all angles with exploded views and details about each. The scene viewer gives you 360 degrees views as you move your screen around from a point on the Launch Platform, Mobile Launch Platform Catwalk and the Armstrong Operations and Checkout building. Then I opened the Augmented Reality feature and WOW! This feature requires a NASA logo target (the blue circle with the red swoosh) which you can download and print from the app or use if you happen to have one already. You select a vehicle, point the camera at the target, and a 3D model appears on the target. If you choose Launch the Rocket, you can get a miniature SLS to actually take off from the pad. That got my attention and put this app firmly on the list.
Images of Change – This app is a bit older with an update to version 1.12 in October of 2014. The main goal is to show how environmental change is changing the face of the planet by giving image pairs of some key points on Earth at two different times. You can select an image from pins located on a world map to get a quick description then tap the description window to open the image pair. Once opened you ca show the images with a curtain that you can swipe across to switch views, do a tap toggle between images or show them side by side. They also include descriptions to explain what you are seeing and where on Earth it happened. I would say that this app is one of the best ways I can think of to start the global climate change discussion in any classroom.
NASA Visualization Explorer (left) – An older app renewed with and update to version 1.9.3 in March of 2015. This app grabs stories about advanced, space-based research and puts them on your device in an easy to read, engaging format. You and your students can see places that you’ve never been to, study global phenomena, and look at other bodies in the solar system with information directly from the NASA scientists doing the research.
Satellite Insight (right) – A relatively recent app with an update to version 1.6 in March of 2014. This is a candy-crush meets tetris game based exploration into the challenge of data bundling for transmission on the GOES-R satellite. Along with the fun is a great explanation of the satellite and the need for data management to keep from losing vital information. I have to admit that this one has eaten way too much of my time!
NASA App – While not new, it has been updated to version 3.21 in February of 2015. No app review of NASA would be complete without this gem. This app accesses images, videos, news stories, tweets, launch schedules, NASA TV and just about anything else that you want related to NASA current events. This is where I go to find out what’s going on right now at all of the NASA centers.
There are a lot more apps that I love, but don’t have the space in this blog to talk about. I hope that this gives you something to help you inspire you and your students to join NASA as we reach for the stars!
Educator Professional Development Specialist
Marshall Space Flight Center