It may be some time before we're able to take virtual trips to the other planets from the comfort of our bedrooms, but in the meantime there are options right here on Earth that offer the next best thing.
Most recently, Google and NASA have joined forces to provide a first look inside the Kennedy Space Center via Street View. The immersive experience lets you use your browser to tour the inside of NASA's Florida facility, which has served as the launch area for some of humanity's most important missions into space.
"We are pleased to partner with Google on the new Street View project, which offers the public a behind-the-scenes look at the Kennedy Space Center's unique facilities that launched humans to the moon and space shuttles to low Earth orbit," NASA's Lisa Malone said in a statement. "Viewers also will get a peek inside areas where flight hardware was processed, including elements of the International Space Station, and planetary and scientific payloads."
In addition to offering a close-up view of the launch pads and control rooms, the panoramic images also reveal new looks at the space shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour. Google's Street View team spent an entire week earlier this year capturing 6,000 panoramic views of the facilities, making it the largest special collection of Street View imagery compiled to date.
"Google Maps in collaboration with NASA is enabling people around the world to take a trip to the doorway to outer space... From these vantage points, anyone can live out his or her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut," said Google Street View product manger Ryan Falor.
In terms of getting started on the virtual NASA tour, users have several options. You can dive right into the full Google Maps version of the experience, where the familiar tiny, yellow Street View icon is transformed into an astronaut (it even goes into a video game style leaping pose when you move it around the map). The other option is to go directly to the gallery view of the tour, which provides detailed background information on each image, making the virtual tour a more educational experience.
To give users a quick look at just how in-depth the experience is Google has posted a video (below) that shows off some of the highlights of the virtual tour. With so much new NASA data and imagery available, this latest addition to Street View shapes up to be a space geek's dream come true. Falor, who early on had a special interest in making the NASA partnership a reality, said: "We'd like to thank NASA for making this project possible and giving all of us the chance to digitally walk in the shoes of all of the pioneering astronauts, scientists, engineers and technicians that made our space dreams possible."