It’s announcement day today in the Google Earth ecosphere. Announcement number one we were expecting, though the precise nature of its content we were not: A formal relationship between NASA and Google “to work together on a variety of challenging technical problems ranging from large-scale data management and massively distributed computing, to human-computer interfaces.” You can read the rest of the press release here. (Here’s another, on NASA.gov)
No mention of iEarth, though it is very much part of what is envisaged — it’s just that the agreement encompasses so much more, including “Real-time weather visualization and forecasting, high-resolution 3- D maps of the moon and Mars, real-time tracking of the International Space Station and the space shuttle”. (Excellent news about Mars and the Moon — I was certainly hoping for that.)
“NASA has collected and processed more information about our planet and universe than any other entity in the history of humanity,” said Chris C. Kemp, director of strategic business development at Ames. “Even though this information was collected for the benefit of everyone, and much is in the public domain, the vast majority of this information is scattered and difficult for non-experts to access and to understand.
And since Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information”, this is exactly the kind of challenge it excels at; namely “technical problems ranging from large-scale data management and massively distributed computing, to human-computer interfaces.”
A NASA World Wind developer’s blog, The Earth is Square, broke the news, though its take is that NASA World Wind already does most of what the agreement sets out to do. Indeed, current Mars and Moon imagery is available in NASA World wind, and some other features, like live positions of spacecraft, are available now as a plugin in both Google Earth and World Wind. But that leaves out terrabytes upon terrabytes of data that is just waiting to be processed and made usable. And that’s not something an open-source 3D viewer project is going to crack anytime soon.
Ultimately, this announcement is not about the client, but about the content, and I for one am very excited about the prospects. The Earth is Square is right, albeit graceless, when it writes, “But let Google spend its millions.. they do the hard work and because the data has to be in the public domain.. it will be in World Wind in no time.” Indeed, and users will then get to decide if they want to view the data on a souped-up atlas with social software skills and high resolution imagery as context, or in a realistic-looking, open-source virtual globe. There’s room for both.