HOUSTON, Texas — 21 Oct 10
University of Oklahoma Student Tries to Put the Moon Back on the Map
By: Heather L. Ogletree
The Moon was once synonymous with space exploration. Winning the highly publicized “Space Race” against Russia put the Moon in the forefront of American media and American minds. Now, Americans have moved on to thinking about the International Space Station, Mars, and even Venus. However, projects like Google Moon hope to put the Moon back on the map.
Melissa Dawson, a summer intern with the NASA Undergraduate Student Research Project (USRP) at Johnson Space Center, said, “It has been almost 40 years since we have last set foot on the Moon, I feel that we have begun to forget how fascinating it can be.”
Google Moon is a service similar to Google Maps and Google Earth that depicts satellite images of the Moon. Currently, the application has four layers: visible, elevation, Apollo, and charts.
During her 10 week internship, Dawson worked with NASA mentor Nancy Todd on the development of new features on the Apollo layer.“The Google Moon project involves a great deal of computer coding, noted Dawson.“Being a Meteorology major [at the University of Oklahoma], we did not learn a lot of coding, but we have used languages like HTML, KML, and Java.” Through the course of her project, she was able to strengthen her coding skills exponentially.
“My role in Google Moon is to compile all available resources from the Apollo missions into one application. I have been in the process of making interactive station maps, which give the user an overview of each...mission,” said Dawson.
Additionally, she created buttons that users can click on to learn more information about lunar samples collected from landing sites, and she stitched together 360 degree panoramic views to allow users to “sit” in the location of the Apollo astronaut to view the topography of the Moon. Other enhancements include the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, which contains astronaut commentary, and video footage.
Todd remarked, “Our goal in offering our resources on Google Moon is to reach out and engage a new generation of scientists and explorers. Melissa's involvement in this project brings in the unique perspective of the younger generation."
Dawson added,“I hope that the Google Moon project will remind people how different our world is from our Moon, and how much more we have to learn from it.”
Dawson noted that her “fascination with NASA” began in the third grade when her elementary school class took a class trip to see a shuttle launch. This fascination was then nurtured by her USRP internship. “My absolute favorite thing about being a NASA USRP intern,” said Dawson, “is the opportunities we are given. It was great to get this learning experience before I graduated, because I feel that it will make the transition from school to the work force a bit easier.”
According to Todd, "Melissa's contributions to this project have been invaluable to NASA. I truly enjoyed watching her develop a growing interest in the science being done at the Astromaterials Curation department and sharing her enthusiasm in this fascinating field.”
For more information on the Google Moon Project, you can visit the website at www.google.com/moon.