Thursday, February 24, 2011
Space buffs can blast off with these must-have NASA space exploration/launch apps
With NASA’s long-running space shuttle program winding down in the coming months, interest has peaked in attending one of the last few remaining launches at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
Shuttle Discovery’s final mission (STS-133, its 39th) is scheduled to roar off the launch pad this week (February 24). With a trio of KSC on-site viewing tickets and an ultra-rare parking pass in tow, my family and I will be there to see the historic launch.
These tickets have been burning a hole in our pockets since Discovery’s first launch attempt was scrubbed back in November. But that week of waiting, keeping close tabs on the shuttle and its astronauts, was made easier, and much more fun and informative, with the help of a few iPad/iPhone and Android apps for our mobile devices.
This set of cross-platform titles are a must-have for all serious space buffs, no matter where you’ll be watching these final launches from! (Don't miss high-res scans of the shuttle astronaut photos I collected in the 1980's. Good times.)
The irony isn't lost on me -- Discovery's 39th and final mission, in my 40th year. Been a NASA fan and avid shuttle follower since I was 10. Time flies. GO DISCOVERY!
NASA MOBILE APPS REVIEWED
NASA App HD (iOS)
All current NASA activity updates from their official website and social media channels are just a finger-touch away in this must-have app.
Buzz Aldrin Portal to Science and Space Exploration (iOS)
Look back to the golden years of the space agency, through the eyes, ears, and voice of Astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
GeoSkyWatch Planetarium – The Astronomy Star Guide (iOS)
Simply load this app app, tilt it towards the heavens, and you’re instantly presented with a real-time map of what’s above you. It’s a mobile planetarium, with information spread across your generous iPad screen!
Google Sky Map (Android)
At absolutely no cost, this is every night sky watcher’s dream app. Never be stumped about what’s above you again!
NASA News (Android)
One of several free, vital sources of NASA information while you’re on the go.
Don’t laugh – as a launch viewer (or everyday fan of space exploration) you’ll want to stay glued to one source of information via your cell phone – @NASA’s official Twitter feed. The official Twitter app handles this chore with great aplomb.
Read all of my Apple iPad and Google Android application reviews at Appolicious and Yahoo! Tech.
NASA App HD (FREE)
In the days, weeks, and months leading up to a launch, this app will keep you and your family connected to NASA’s primary communication channels. I used this app to watch regular NASA TV updates on the shuttle launch and its myriad of technical issues. (Hotel and McDonald’s free wifi, be praised!) All current NASA activity updates from their official website and social media channels are just a finger-touch away, along with thousands of images, countdown clocks, International Space Station (ISS) visible pass data and satellite tracking, plus maps and links to every major NASA center are clearly displayed. An all-in-one app that’s a must-have for every space buff.
Buzz Aldrin Portal to Science and Space Exploration ($1.99)
Old school NASA fans (think Mercury and Apollo) will be instantly “wowed” by this app. It’s all about looking back to the golden years of the space agency, through the eyes, ears, and voice of Astronaut Buzz Aldrin. There’s video, photos, personal stories, and full details of every major NASA initiative and program from the early days through 2011 and Obama’s robotic plans for our future in space. Also linked is NASA TV, JPL, and many other important news sources. Don’t miss the collection of must-check Twitter feeds from many space-centric sources. “It is… young people who are the generation that will take mankind’s next steps in exploring the frontiers of space,” said Aldrin in a recent interview. “This app is an amazing tool to both educate and entertain.”
GeoSkyWatch Planetarium – The Astronomy Star Guide ($3.99)
I’m always impressed when I come across an astronomy buff who can head outside at night and instantly point out the planets, constellations, and major stars hovering overhead. With GeoSkyWatch, your iPhone or iPad steps in to fill your knowledge gaps, and turns your phone into a mobile planetarium. Simply load the app, tilt it towards the heavens, and you’re instantly presented with a real-time map of what’s above you. The constellations are clearly drawn in handy stick-figure style, with a faint gray overlay of an artist’s impression. Major stars are labeled, along with dozens of other notable objects. Curious about a specific faint light in the sky? Just center it in the yellow circle. Text will pop up with all the relevant data. Want to go deeper? Tap the “i” button and even more information appears, along with a cross-link to Wikipedia. The icing on the cake? Search for any item in the sky, and the app will return you to the field view and show you how to find it in the sky.
Google Sky Map (Free)
Think of Google Sky Map as the free, stripped down version of GeoSkyWatch Planetarium. As a guide to the current night sky, it’s perfectly suited to small mobile phone screens. And at absolutely no cost, this is every night sky watcher’s dream app. Be sure to turn on the night view to display everything in red on a black background (your eyes will thank you!) Center objects in the red circle and Google will grab the latest data of what’s above for you, or conduct a search then follow the on-screen arrows to find any object, planet, or other bright object currently above you. I find Google’s app to be easier on the arms and eyes than GeoSkyWatch Planetarium, especially for quick viewing on the beach while waiting for NASA to get the shuttle off the pad.
NASA News (Free)
One of several free, vital sources of NASA information while you’re on the go. This free Android app captures the latest updates and news from several sources (including NASA itself), and displays it for easy reading on your DROID’s screen. There’s no bells and whistles here, but if you’re going to a launch with just a phone, this is a must-install app to stay in-the-know as the countdown approaches.
Don’t laugh – you’ll want to stay glued to one source of information via your cell phone: @NASA’s official Twitter feed, which is also available in any browser at http://twitter.com/nasa. The social media crew at the space agency are gaga about Twitter, and you’ll want to tap into their latest updates during the weeks, months, days, and hours before any launch is set to occur. In fact, reading NASA’s tweets inside the official Twitter app on my Android phone was the way my family and I learned of the final November setback (the full scrub of STS-133) as we were heading down the highway from our hotel to Kennedy Space Center. It’s also the way we’ve been keeping tabs on the many meetings, fixes, and rescheduling conferences leading up to this week’s launch. Go, Discovery!