Jon Nguyen: Tour the solar system from home
December 3, 2011
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.)Jon Nguyen
Jon Nguyen is an award winning aeronautics and graphics engineer at NASA. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
As a kid, I was fascinated with all things air and space.
I would watch Nova on PBS.
Our school would show Bill Nye the Science Guy.
When I was in elementary school, my next door neighbor,
he gave me a book for my birthday.
It was an astronomy book,
and I poured over that thing for hours on end,
and it was a combination of all these things
that inspired me to pursue space exploration
as my own personal dream, and part of that dream was,
I always wanted to just fly around the solar system
and visit different planets and visit moons and spacecraft.
Well, a number of years later, I graduated from UCLA
and I found myself at NASA,
working for the jet propulsion laboratory,
and there our team was challenged
to create a 3D visualization of the solar system,
and today I want to show you what we've done so far.
Now, the kicker is, everything I'm about to do here
you can do at home, because we built this
for the public for you guys to use.
So what you're looking at right now is the Earth.
You can see the United States and California
and San Diego, and you can use the mouse
or the keyboard to spin things around.
Now, this isn't new. Anyone who's used Google Earth
has seen this before, but one thing we like to say
in our group is, we do the opposite of Google Earth.
Google Earth goes from this view down to your backyard.
We go from this view out to the stars.
So the Earth is cool, but what we really want to show
are the spacecraft,
so I'm going to bring the interface back up,
and now you're looking at a number of satellites
orbiting the Earth.
These are a number of our science space Earth orbiters.
We haven't included military satellites and weather satellites
and communication satellites and reconnaissance satellites.
If we did, it would be a complete mess,
because there's a lot of stuff out there.
And the cool thing is, we actually created 3D models
for a number of these spacecraft, so if you want to visit
any of these, all you need to do is double-click on them.
So I'm going to find the International Space Station,
double-click, and it will take us all the way down to the ISS.
And now you're riding along with the ISS
where it is right now.
And the other cool thing is, not only can we
move the camera around, we can also control time,
so I can slide this jog dial here
to shuttle time forward, and now
we can see what a sunset on the ISS would look like,
and they get one every 90 minutes. (Laughter)
All right, so what about the rest of it?
Well, I can click on this home button over here,
and that will take us up to the inner solar system,
and now we're looking at the rest of the solar system.
You can see, there's Saturn, there's Jupiter,
and while we're here, I want to point out something.
It's actually pretty busy.
Here we have the Mars Science Laboratory
on its way to Mars, just launched last weekend.
Here we have Juno on its cruise to Jupiter, there.
We have Dawn orbiting Vesta,
and we have over here New Horizons
on a straight shot to Pluto.
And I mention this because
there's this strange public perception that
NASA's dead, that the space shuttles stopped flying
and all of the sudden there's no more spacecraft out there.
Well, a lot of what NASA does is robotic exploration,
and we have a lot of spacecraft out there.
Granted, we're not sending humans up at the moment,
well at least with our own launch vehicles,
but NASA is far from dead,
and one of the reasons why we write a program like this
is so that people realize that there's so many other things
that we're doing.
Anyway, while we're here, again,
if you want to visit anything,
all you need to do is double-click.
So I'm just going to double-click on Vesta,
and here we have Dawn orbiting Vesta,
and this is happening right now.
I'm going to double-click on Uranus, and we can see
Uranus rotating on its side along with its moons.
You can see how it's tilted at about 89 degrees.
And just being able to visit different places
and go through different times,
we have data from 1950 to 2050.
Granted, we don't have everything in between,
because some of the data is hard to get.
Just being able to visit places in different times,
you can explore this for hours,
literally hours on end,
but I want to show you one thing in particular,
so I'm going to open up the destination tab,
spacecraft outer planet missions, Voyager 1,
and I'm going to bring up the Titan flyby.
So now we've gone back in time.
We're now riding along with Voyager 1.
The date here is November 11, 1980.
Now, there's a funny thing going on here.
It doesn't look like anything's going on.
It looks like I've paused the program.
It's actually running at real rate right now,
one second per second, and in fact,
Voyager 1 here is flying by Titan at
I think it's 38,000 miles per hour.
It only looks like nothing's moving because, well,
Saturn here is 700,000 miles away,
and Titan here is 4,000 to 5,000 miles away.
It's just the vastness of space makes it look like nothing's happening.
But to make it more interesting,
I'm going to speed up time, and we can watch
as Voyager 1 flies by Titan,
which is a hazy moon of Saturn.
It actually has a very thick atmosphere.
And I'm going to recenter the camera on Saturn, here.
I'm going to pull out, and I want to show you
Voyager 1 as it flies by Saturn.
There's a point to be made here.
With a 3D visualization like this,
we can not only just say Voyager 1 flew by Saturn.
There's a whole story to tell here.
And even better, because it's an interactive application,
you can tell the story for yourself.
If you want to pause it, you can pause it.
If you want to keep going, if you want to change
the camera angle, you can do that,
and because of that, I can show you
that Voyager 1 doesn't just fly by Saturn.
It actually flies underneath Saturn.
Now, what happens is, as it flies underneath Saturn,
Saturn grabs it gravitationally and flings it up
and out of the solar system,
so if I just keep letting this go,
you can see Voyager 1 fly up like that.
And, in fact, I'm going to go back to the solar system.
I'm going to go back to today, now,
and I want to show you where Voyager 1 is.
Right there, above, way above the solar system,
way beyond our solar system.
And here's the thing. Now you know how it got there.
Now you know why, and to me,
that's the point of this program.
You can manipulate it yourself.
You can fly around yourself and you can learn for yourself.
You know, the theme today is "The World In Your Grasp."
Well, we're trying to give you
the solar system in your grasp — (Laughter) —
and we hope once it's there,
you'll be able to learn for yourself
what we've done out there, and what we're about to do.
And my personal dream is for kids to take this
and explore and see the wonders out there
and be inspired, as I was as a kid,
to pursue STEM education
and to pursue a dream in space exploration.
Thank you. (Applause)
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.
The original video is available on TED.com