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New NASA app brings spacecraft to life in 3D

NASA is no stranger to 3D. It has done some impressive CGI trips into galaxies and nebulae, and of course it has offered some stunning 3D images from the Mars spacecraft.

NASA has just released a free iPad and iPhone app called Spacecraft 3D. Here's how it works. You launch the app and then print out a target that you put on your desk or a table. The target allows the app to construct a spacecraft that you can see in three dimensions as your walk around it or change your elevation. Currently, the app features the Curiosity rover that will set down on Mars August 6, and the twin GRAIL spacecraft that are currently in orbit around the moon.

"Let's say you want to get an idea what our Curiosity Mars rover is all about," said Kevin Hussey, manager of visualization technology at JPL. "Like Hollywood directors sizing up their next shot, you move your camera-equipped iPad or iPhone in and out, up and down and the spacecraft perspective moves with you. It is a great way to study the 3-D nature of NASA spacecraft."

"In the near future, we will incorporate the Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn, the Dawn spacecraft, which is deep in the heart of the asteroid belt, and the Voyagers, which are right now at the very edge of our solar system," said Hussey. "Looking down the road, we've got a veritable solar system full of spacecraft to work with."

The app works as advertised. If you are equipped for it, you can print out the target sheet directly from your iPhone, or the app allows you to email the target and then print it out from your computer. It's a pretty slick augmented reality app, and I think young people especially will enjoy it.

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