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Washington, D.C. – Microsoft is catching up with Google and said it has signed an agreement to make planetary images and other data available to the public via the WorldWide Telescope website. The data is expected to become available later this year and eventually top a volume of 100 terabytes (TB).
Surface data of the Earth has become, it seems, a commodity and has lost some of its excitement. More and more interest of imagery and maps is shifting toward space and Microsoft’s latest announcement may be proof for that trend. The company said it will develop with NASA “the technology and infrastructure necessary to make the most interesting NASA content” available for the WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft’s online virtual telescope for exploring the universe. Under the joint agreement, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will process and host more than 100 TB of data, enough to fill 20,000 DVDs. Microsoft’s site will incorporate the data later in 2009 and provide images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which was launched in August 2005. Also available will be images from a camera aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, when publicly released starting this fall. Scheduled to launch this May, LRO is expected to spend at least a year in a low, polar orbit approximately 30 miles above the lunar surface collecting information about the lunar environment.
NASA said that it will make the data available under a Space Act Agreement and builds on a prior collaboration with Microsoft that enabled NASA to develop 3-D interactive Microsoft Photosynth collections of the space shuttle launch pad and other facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. However, NASA signed a similar agreement with Google back in December 2006, which enabled Google to publish images and data about the moon and Mars and indicated the two companies were working on providing tools for 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.
In September of 2005, NASA and Google announced plans to collaborate on a number of technology-focused research-and-development activities at Moffett Field as well as a cooperation on large-scale data management, massively distributed computing and bio-info-nano convergence.