NASA global-view program sparks 6 million downloads

World Wind screen shot of Australia.


World Wind screen shot of the Andes in South America.


A NASA planetary visualization program has proved to be a hit with the public. Despite its voluminous size, World Wind has been downloaded more than 6 million times since September 2004, according to Patrick Hogan, program manager of NASA Learning Technologies, which developed the software.

'We've built a pipeline into NASA data,' said Hogan, who works at Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. 'You can build learning experiences with this tool.'

When starting the program, the user is presented with a view of the Earth, which they can spin to find an area of interest. When the user zooms to a location, the program displays the appropriate NASA satellite-generated Earth imagery, Geological Survey topological maps and other geospatial records, which it fetches from the Web.

The program can also overlay weather and national disaster information. Users select a date and time range, and location of the data, and the program will map the data to specific locations. The development team also is building a scripting program that will let users view sequences of imagery and data associated to these locations, as if they were watching a movie.

Hogan started work on the program two years ago, calling on the noted graphics programmer Tom Gaskins to build the basic application kernel. Student interns Chris Maxwell and Randy Kim furthered the design. Since the agency released the program under its NASA Open Source Agreement, volunteers have also contributed their own modifications to the program.

The first version caught the attention of the public shortly after its release last summer, thanks to a mention on the Slashdot News Web site last September. More recently, Wired magazine ran a photo feature on the program in its March 2005 issue. The article spurred three million downloads in the past three weeks alone, Hogan said.

Hogan doesn't have an exact count of users, since the program is also available from other outlets not monitored by NASA'a move encouraged by Hogan, since multiple downloads of the 170M program can tax Ames' server capabilities. Several computer magazines have distributed the program in promotional CDs. [IMGCAP2]The open source program repository SourceForge also hosts the program. It can even be downloaded from other users using peer-to-peer file-sharing software called BitTorrent.

Volunteers will host the data. Microsoft Corp. has agreed to host the imagery for the program as part of its TerraServer project, a collection of U.S. maps and aerial imagery.

In addition to being enjoyed by the general public, other NASA offices have also found the program useful. NASA's Geospatial Interoperability Office will deploy World Wind as the basis for a portal that will let users access satellite imagery hosted on NASA's digital archive centers. Goddard Space Flight Center's Scientific Visualization Studio also uses World Wind to present its combined imagery sets.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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