NASA today unveiled an interactive computer simulation that allows virtual explorers of all ages to dock the space shuttle at the International Space Station, experience a virtual trip to Mars or a lunar impact, and explore images of star formations taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. In the Deep Space Network demonstration, visitors learn how NASA communicates with the Mars Exploration Rovers, Sprit and Opportunity, by using the Madrid Deep Space Network antenna to send data to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which then relays the data to the rover.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration originally hoped that its rovers Spirit and Opportunity would survive long enough to travel at least half a mile each. Now the space agency has awarded Ohio State engineer Ron Li and his team nearly $900,000 to develop tools that will enable the next-generation rover to travel at least three miles. Other research teams around the country have received an initial round of funding as well. Future field tests will determine which team will help build the control system for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), set to launch in 2009.