NASA Unveils ‘Vesta Trek’ App, Allows Virtual Tour & 3D Printing of Enormous Asteroid

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LMMP_5-13-268x150Although Vesta, a minor planet and the second largest object in the asteroid belt, is able to be viewed by the naked eye intermittently, NASA is making it easy for you to get up close and personal with this enormous celestial body in a new web-based app called ‘Vesta Trek,’ which is space age in itself. If that isn’t quite enough, and if you possess the technological savvy and the equipment, you can also use the app to 3D print Vesta yourself for further long-term topographical inspection. A 3D printed Vesta topography is also an excellent memento of your ‘trip’ through space, as well as a cool model to share with friends and family who will want to get in on the action also, undoubtedly.

This image shows a global view of Vesta as imaged by NASA's Dawn spacecraft and viewed using Vesta Trek's 3D view. - image by NASA

Vesta global view from Dawn spacecraft – image by NASA

Vesta has been fairly thoroughly explored, as in 2011 NASA sent the DAWN spacecraft there. For one year, data was collected. With the virtual tour provided by NASA, you can sit comfy at home and have all the benefit of the hard work NASA put forth. As virtual reality tours like this become more and more available, some of us may lose that childhood ambition to don an astronaut suit and shoot off into space. After all, why go to all that trouble when we can sprawl out on the couch, kick back with a warm mug of coffee or cocoa, and see all the details from our living room, rather than worrying about surviving in temperatures of 27 °F to a terrifying -306°F?

The Vesta Trek application is quite an awe-inspiring and almost eerie journey as you get to explore in every direction, checking out craters established billions of years ago. Viewers can check out all the general details of Vesta, as well as changing between the north pole or south pole view.

The app is very simple to navigate through and not only did I enjoy it greatly, but it’s user-friendly enough for younger kids and students, who will also be stoked about the gaming controls which allow them to glide across Vesta in virtual reality mode. The engaging app is designed to draw you in, literally, allowing you to check out and ‘overlay data sets’ regarding:

  • Topography
  • Mineralogy
  • Elements and geology
three - Vesta Trek's interface allows explorers to fly around and even skim the surface of Vesta.

Vesta Trek app and toolset

Vesta Trek provides tools that you can use for analyzing data collected by DAWN for yourself. You can take measurements of surface features from every direction.

“There’s nothing like seeing something with your own eyes, but these types of detailed data-visualizations are the next best thing,” said Kristen Erickson, Director, Science Engagement and Partnerships at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We’re thrilled to release Vesta Trek to the citizen science community and the public, not only as a scientific tool, but as a portal to an immersive experience that, just by the nature of it, will allow a deeper understanding of Vesta and asteroids in general.”

The 3D printing tool is not only user-friendly for all age levels, but NASA has streamlined 3D printing of Vesta with pre-generated files that allow you to choose from several resolution options. Nasa_logo-4Many space enthusiasts as well as 3D printing hobbyists are interested in 3D printed topography, and the Vesta Trek app offers a wonderful and free way to practice that, while exploring the vast asteroid belt. Within the 3D printing option, you can also draw a square around any area of topography, generate a file, and then 3D print what you specifically chose, as well as taking the opportunity to print all of Vesta in two 3D printed halves.

The project was developed by NASA’s Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project (LMMP). While the app is fun for all of us to check out and use for 3D printing and educational purposes, it was meant also with serious intent for those planning missions and for scientists to have analysis and visualization tools, with Vesta Trek being LMMP’s first attempt at showing areas beyond the moon. The success of the app is spurring them on to develop tools for other celestial bodies, and those involved in LMMP are currently collaborating on gathering analysis tools as the DAWN mission continues exploring the asteroid belt, with dwarf planet Ceres — the largest object in the asteroid belt — in its sights currently.

Have you checked out the Vesta Trek app or made a 3D print yet? Share your thoughts and results with us in the Vesta Trek forum thread over at 3DPB.com.

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“A color hillshade view of Vesta’s South Pole provides a clear view of topography and makes it easy to pick out the giant Rheasilvia crater, which about 310 miles (500 kilometers) in diameter.” Image credit: NASA

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