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TEDxSanDiego

Jon Nguyen: Tour the solar system from home

Filmed:

Want to navigate the solar system without having to buy that expensive spacecraft? Jon Nguyen demos NASAJPL's "Eyes on the Solar System" -- free-to-use software for exploring the planets, moons, asteroids, and spacecraft that rotate around our sun in real-time. (Filmed at TEDxSanDiego.)

- Engineer
Jon Nguyen is an award winning aeronautics and graphics engineer at NASA. Full bio

As a kid, I was fascinated with all things air and space.
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I would watch Nova on PBS.
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Our school would show Bill Nye the Science Guy.
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When I was in elementary school, my next door neighbor,
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he gave me a book for my birthday.
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It was an astronomy book,
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and I poured over that thing for hours on end,
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and it was a combination of all these things
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that inspired me to pursue space exploration
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as my own personal dream, and part of that dream was,
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I always wanted to just fly around the solar system
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and visit different planets and visit moons and spacecraft.
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Well, a number of years later, I graduated from UCLA
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and I found myself at NASA,
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working for the jet propulsion laboratory,
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and there our team was challenged
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to create a 3D visualization of the solar system,
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and today I want to show you what we've done so far.
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Now, the kicker is, everything I'm about to do here
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you can do at home, because we built this
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for the public for you guys to use.
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So what you're looking at right now is the Earth.
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You can see the United States and California
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and San Diego, and you can use the mouse
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or the keyboard to spin things around.
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Now, this isn't new. Anyone who's used Google Earth
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has seen this before, but one thing we like to say
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in our group is, we do the opposite of Google Earth.
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Google Earth goes from this view down to your backyard.
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We go from this view out to the stars.
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So the Earth is cool, but what we really want to show
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are the spacecraft,
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so I'm going to bring the interface back up,
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and now you're looking at a number of satellites
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orbiting the Earth.
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These are a number of our science space Earth orbiters.
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We haven't included military satellites and weather satellites
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and communication satellites and reconnaissance satellites.
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If we did, it would be a complete mess,
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because there's a lot of stuff out there.
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And the cool thing is, we actually created 3D models
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for a number of these spacecraft, so if you want to visit
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any of these, all you need to do is double-click on them.
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So I'm going to find the International Space Station,
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double-click, and it will take us all the way down to the ISS.
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And now you're riding along with the ISS
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where it is right now.
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And the other cool thing is, not only can we
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move the camera around, we can also control time,
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so I can slide this jog dial here
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to shuttle time forward, and now
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we can see what a sunset on the ISS would look like,
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and they get one every 90 minutes. (Laughter)
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All right, so what about the rest of it?
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Well, I can click on this home button over here,
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and that will take us up to the inner solar system,
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and now we're looking at the rest of the solar system.
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You can see, there's Saturn, there's Jupiter,
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and while we're here, I want to point out something.
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It's actually pretty busy.
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Here we have the Mars Science Laboratory
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on its way to Mars, just launched last weekend.
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Here we have Juno on its cruise to Jupiter, there.
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We have Dawn orbiting Vesta,
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and we have over here New Horizons
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on a straight shot to Pluto.
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And I mention this because
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there's this strange public perception that
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NASA's dead, that the space shuttles stopped flying
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and all of the sudden there's no more spacecraft out there.
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Well, a lot of what NASA does is robotic exploration,
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and we have a lot of spacecraft out there.
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Granted, we're not sending humans up at the moment,
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well at least with our own launch vehicles,
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but NASA is far from dead,
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and one of the reasons why we write a program like this
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is so that people realize that there's so many other things
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that we're doing.
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Anyway, while we're here, again,
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if you want to visit anything,
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all you need to do is double-click.
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So I'm just going to double-click on Vesta,
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and here we have Dawn orbiting Vesta,
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and this is happening right now.
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I'm going to double-click on Uranus, and we can see
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Uranus rotating on its side along with its moons.
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You can see how it's tilted at about 89 degrees.
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And just being able to visit different places
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and go through different times,
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we have data from 1950 to 2050.
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Granted, we don't have everything in between,
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because some of the data is hard to get.
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Just being able to visit places in different times,
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you can explore this for hours,
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literally hours on end,
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but I want to show you one thing in particular,
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so I'm going to open up the destination tab,
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spacecraft outer planet missions, Voyager 1,
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and I'm going to bring up the Titan flyby.
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So now we've gone back in time.
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We're now riding along with Voyager 1.
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The date here is November 11, 1980.
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Now, there's a funny thing going on here.
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It doesn't look like anything's going on.
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It looks like I've paused the program.
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It's actually running at real rate right now,
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one second per second, and in fact,
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Voyager 1 here is flying by Titan at
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I think it's 38,000 miles per hour.
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It only looks like nothing's moving because, well,
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Saturn here is 700,000 miles away,
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and Titan here is 4,000 to 5,000 miles away.
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It's just the vastness of space makes it look like nothing's happening.
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But to make it more interesting,
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I'm going to speed up time, and we can watch
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as Voyager 1 flies by Titan,
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which is a hazy moon of Saturn.
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It actually has a very thick atmosphere.
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And I'm going to recenter the camera on Saturn, here.
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I'm going to pull out, and I want to show you
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Voyager 1 as it flies by Saturn.
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There's a point to be made here.
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With a 3D visualization like this,
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we can not only just say Voyager 1 flew by Saturn.
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There's a whole story to tell here.
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And even better, because it's an interactive application,
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you can tell the story for yourself.
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If you want to pause it, you can pause it.
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If you want to keep going, if you want to change
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the camera angle, you can do that,
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and because of that, I can show you
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that Voyager 1 doesn't just fly by Saturn.
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It actually flies underneath Saturn.
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Now, what happens is, as it flies underneath Saturn,
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Saturn grabs it gravitationally and flings it up
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and out of the solar system,
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so if I just keep letting this go,
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you can see Voyager 1 fly up like that.
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And, in fact, I'm going to go back to the solar system.
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I'm going to go back to today, now,
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and I want to show you where Voyager 1 is.
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Right there, above, way above the solar system,
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way beyond our solar system.
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And here's the thing. Now you know how it got there.
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Now you know why, and to me,
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that's the point of this program.
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You can manipulate it yourself.
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You can fly around yourself and you can learn for yourself.
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You know, the theme today is "The World In Your Grasp."
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Well, we're trying to give you
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the solar system in your grasp — (Laughter) —
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and we hope once it's there,
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you'll be able to learn for yourself
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what we've done out there, and what we're about to do.
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And my personal dream is for kids to take this
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and explore and see the wonders out there
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and be inspired, as I was as a kid,
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to pursue STEM education
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and to pursue a dream in space exploration.
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Thank you. (Applause)
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Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the Speaker:

Jon Nguyen - Engineer
Jon Nguyen is an award winning aeronautics and graphics engineer at NASA.

Why you should listen

Jon Nguyen is the Visualization Software Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He graduated from UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science in June 2009 with a B.S. Degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and served as the Chairman of the student branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics at UCLA. In 2008, Jon began working at NASAJPL as an academic part-time engineer in the Mars Science Laboratory project. He is now the principal architect and lead programmer for "Eyes on the Solar System" and has won several awards for his work at NASA, including the Mariner Individual Contribution Award.

More profile about the speaker
Jon Nguyen | Speaker | TED.com