This week is World Space Week and Pop Tech Jam is partying like comic-book nerds on a Wednesday.
For those of you who forgot or who were unaware of the event, World Space Week is the largest global festival for public celebration of space exploration and discovery. (Here’s the global event map for the week.) It all got started back in 1999, when the United Nations decreed October 4th to the 10th to be World Space Week. Those dates, by the way, are significant: The Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I, the first human-made satellite, was on October 4th, 1957, and the Outer Space Treaty — which forms the basis of international space law — was signed on October 10, 1967.
The theme of this year’s World Space Week is “Space: Guiding Your Way” and acknowledges the role satellite navigation has played in daily life. Just think of all the benefits it has brought us, like being able to find your way around the old Dutch part of Manhattan without having to drag along a paper map (which is really embarrassing if you are a NYC resident). So here’s to GPS! And while’s you’re at it, listen to Steven Johnson’s excellent 2010 TED Talk that provides a little bit of amusing history on the topic.
When you get done thanking science for giving you zoomable maps-on-demand, turn-by-turn directions, Google Earth and remote recovery tools for your smartphone, here are a few other apps to help you celebrate the World Space Week if you can’t make it to one of the official events (or you’re going to New York Comic Con).
First up, check out the ever-growing page of apps over on the NASA site. The main NASA app shows off much of the agency’s news and multimedia content from around the galaxy, but there are also newer programs, like NASA Spinoff for iPad, which shows how technology developed for space missions has found a place in everyday life. Apps for individual NASA projects, like the Messenger Mission to Mercury for iOS, the Curiosity app for Windows Phone or the Sector 33 air-traffic control game for Android and iOS are among the many listed on the page.
Many of the NASA apps are educational and geared for kids, and if you have children who like adventures, check out a brand new game: Space Racers. It’s the companion app for the public-television kids show designed to get younger children interested in STEM programs; NASA even served as a technical consultant for the series. When you first open up the Space Racers app, it looks a little bit like vintage Angry Birds, but there are no in-app purchases or advertising, and the software doesn’t collect the child’s personal information. The game teaches cause-and-effect as the preschool player pilots the Space Racer ships (which are cheerful, friendly birds with wheels) through an obstacle course. Young pilots must also factor in things like wind speed and magnetic fields to make it through 32 rounds of gameplay. Space Racers is out for iOS this week and it’s free — and a free education. (If you want to find the TV show for the kids on your local station, have a look here.)
Star-seekers of any age can ponder the universe on a mobile device with apps like the $3 SkySafari 4 for Android, iPhone and iPad. The Star Walk stargazing guide (shown here) is a nicely designed $3 app for touring the celestial skies and it’s now available for Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone and the Kindle; the revamped 3D Star Walk 2 app for newer iPhones recently landed for iOS. The Distant Suns app, which bills itself as “your own personal guide to the cosmos” is a hand-held planetarium that works available for most mobile platforms — and costs less than $10. And Android users can get Google’s own Sky Map app for free.
Want to celebrate the satellites of World Space Week 2014 with an app? The $10 GoSatWatch is a satellite tracker for iOS and the ISS Detector Satellite Tracker (free, but you need in-app purchases for the good stuff) works on Android. So remember, even if World Space Week is over by the time you see this, you’ve still got an app or two that can bring you your own little corner of the sky.
Sic itur ad astra!