August 5, 2007 9:00 PM PDT

Microsoft gives 3D look at space shuttle

NASA and Microsoft have teamed up to give people a 3D photographic look at the space shuttle Endeavour before its launch this week, in a public-private partnership that could lead to more use of digital imagery in future space-agency missions.

Microsoft on Monday will release a downloadable viewer that includes hundreds of photos of the space shuttle, NASA's vehicle assembly building and the shuttle's launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Endeavour is scheduled for flight Wednesday.)

The viewer, created with Microsoft's Photosynth technology, gives people a three-dimensional perspective on the space center, letting people zoom in for a close-up, high-resolution look at heat tiles on the shuttle, for example, or zoom out to see a panoramic of Cape Canaveral. The technology automatically knits together digital photos to give people a perspective from many angles.

"It's much like a 3D video game--people can explore, walk around or fly around the shuttle," said Adam Sheppard, group product manager for Microsoft Live Labs, which developed the viewer.


NASA said that the project could lead to more initiatives with the software giant. Chris Kemp, director of strategic business development at NASA's Ames Research Center, said that, for example, NASA could use the Photosynth technology on future space missions for activities such as inspecting the International Space Station and viewing landing sites on the moon.

To be sure, NASA has a partnership with Microsoft rival Google, in which it provides data to the Google Earth mapping technology.

With a digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera, a Microsoft software developer and photography enthusiast visited the Kennedy Space Center and took thousands of photos of the space shuttle, launch pad and its assembly facility, which is one of the largest buildings in the country. The result is a collection of four image libraries that people can explore.

"With zero taxpayer investment, we're getting a great return when we're able to show the shuttle in this new breathtaking medium," Kemp said.

See more CNET content tagged:
shuttle, viewer, 3D, Microsoft Corp., photograph


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The article at the top, sorted by date, seems have been submitted
eight years from now.

I'm tired of reading about it. Think you can fix it?
Posted by Hep Cat (440 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It will be windows only download
With zero taxpayer money you are advertising their closed operating system and give them chance to leave other rivaling OS users ,especially Mac OS X users out in the cold.

I bet Silverlight will be somehow bundled too and another bet: .NET 2.0 will be needed to install it.

Is this the same NASA which managed to code satellite trackers in Java 1.1 ages?
Posted by Ilgaz (573 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better than Mac only download....
....and leaving 95% people unable to see it.
Oh, I forgot, Apple doesn't have any technology like photosynth. Maybe twenty years from now...
Posted by cary1 (924 comments )
Link Flag
Have some cheese
Instead of being appreciative of what is being presented to people for educational purposes, you are spending your time whining about it instead.


Have some cheese with your 'whine'.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
what's so great about this?
I am not impressed; after viewing Microsoft's demo, I'm scratching
my head trying to see what's so great about this. It looked like
nothing more than a few 3D wireframe images (on a black
background) rotoscoping for a second, in between viewing flat, 2D
images that they kept zooming in and out of. What is so innovative
about this? Quicktime VR technology from the 90s is more
impressive to see than this.
Posted by G|Net (89 comments )
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Posted by KTLA_knew (385 comments )
Link Flag
It's about the Space Shuttle, not Microsoft.
This sort of thing has been done before, yes, but not of the Shuttle or launching facilities. I don't care who made it or what name is on the software, the chance to see closeups and navigate 'around' the area is pretty nifty.

It's about the Space Shuttle, not Microsoft.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
Don't think NASA fits INNOVATIVE concepts
according to Mr. Bill Gates on what techology
definition should be.

Here is something that ran across in Stumbleupon.

Interplanetry and Interstellar Travel, this is interesting.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by grey_eminence (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Give them credit
Here are the reasons I find this innovative. I've actually tried the demo myself at <a class="jive-link-external" href="," target="_newWindow">,</a> not just watched a video.

First, it's not 'a few' images - it's about 300, very high quality images. All these are streamed in realtime as you navigate through the program. The innovation is handling a large amount of high quality graphics data in a way that is very fluid.

Second, no one needed to build a 3D model (as they would with Quicktime VR). The idea behind photosynth is that you just throw hundreds of pictures at it, and the software figures out how they all relate to each other.

Now, it turns out that Microsoft haven't released that second part of it, only the viewer. So, you can't make this kind of model with your own pictures.
Posted by stevep98 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
QT VR Does Not Require A Model
For example:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Works great on my Dell and my Mac.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Link Flag
Small Vocabulary
Seriously, I know people from other countries say English is not as rich as their language in expressing ideas or feelings. But seriously, could they not come up with any other word or even make up a word other than "labs"?

Did the guy who came up with the name "Zune" get fired for being too original?

Maybe that explains the next Windows OS name "7". Like Mac's System 7.
Posted by mikeburek (418 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The real story
What really happens here is that you take lots of photos of the same thing, but from different angles and distances. The Photosynth software somehow (possibly with lots of metadata, or gps type location info) and can arrange the pictures so you can flip through them going left or right around the main object. The only thing "3D" is that it knows where the camera was located and the direction is was pointing. It knows which picture was taken from closer or further away, or to the left or the right of the previous picture. Or if it was taken from up above (like a plane or made top of a building) or ground level.

It's pretty cool if you can just throw them at the program and it can figure something out. If you have to process them in a certain order and pick out matching points from picture to picture, it's a nice science tool, but not easily usable.
Posted by mikeburek (418 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The real "real story"
Photosynth doesn't make the image 3D... it makes the layout 3D.

You've got to give the Devil it's due on this one.

You don't need to do anything but point the photosynth tool at the images/image folder. They don't need to be named the same thing, they just need to be photos of a similiar area/obect. The tool does the rest.

What makes photosynth cool is that you don't have to enter metadata,or gps data... Microsoft has put some serious mojo into Photosynth that allows it to 'read' and 'interpret' the image itself...

The tool then builds a 3D/spacial relationship between each photo. It doesn't require that any meta data is associated with the image -- it simply needs enough "2D" images that share common perspectives (close, far, at an angle, dead on) and stitches these perspectives together to allow you to fly around the photo collection.

You can get the beta from
Posted by JamesStick (5 comments )
Link Flag
Obviously a manager
"It's much like a 3D video game--people can explore, walk around or fly around the shuttle," said Adam Sheppard, group product manager for Microsoft Live Labs, which developed the viewer.

Um, this is nothing like a 3D video game. No, I'm sorry, that's not fair. Zork and other text based games were technically 3D because you could move in the world. Solitare would be a 2D game. But if anyone here has played a 3D games since Wolfenstein 3D, you'd either be laughing or crying at this guy's statement.

I had a previous comment about how this product really worked. And now that I think about it, this truly is like the old Zork and other text based world games. You are in a room "There is a bookcase in front of you." Then you type "Move left". Then it replies "There is a bookcase to your left." That's what this program does. You get lots of pictures from different vantage points (or "rooms" if you will). And then you move to a picture that was taken in some direction relative to where you are (from further left, or right, or closer, or higher, or further back...).

Many people think of walking as being able to move in an arbitrary direction for any arbitrary distance. With this program, you can only "walk" to where a picture was taken.

Flying: replace "walk" with "fly" in the above paragraph.

Exploring: Some people might think of this as saying "In front of me is a space ship. To my left is the parking log. To my right is my friend. Behind me is an empty field. Above me is the sky." Well, all you can "explore" here is the focus of the pictures. You can say "In front of me is a space ship. At some pre-determined spot to my left, in front of me is a space ship. At some pre-determined position above me, in front of me is a space ship." There is no looking around an exloring. Maybe the software can handle a panoramic collage of pictures at different location. But the 4 gallaries don't show that. They only show pictures going around a fixed object. It would be nice if guns in 3D games worked like this 3D world - everywhere you go, you are always focused on the target.

Maybe I'm being too hard. It seems that there is a 3D object in the "world." It is a bunch of dots that sometimes look like a very grainy ghost of the object. Maybe these are some of the points the computer uses to stitch picture together. You can fly around this and see these in a true 3D fashion. But a little color dot, randomly placed, probably about 10 feet at the closest to each other, doesn't really help much if you get close to the main object.

When you move from picture to picture, it does this crazy blur and stretch thing. So it kind of "flies" from one picture to the next. Like Google Earth from one location to another. The way it does it does give it a 3D feel. But if you blink your eyes when it is done, you'll see that it is just a plain high res picture. I think it sharpens sooner on the closer part and stay blurry slightly longer on the further part of the picture. But is just creates a mind trick. Nothing true.
Posted by mikeburek (418 comments )
Reply Link Flag
don't fry your brain cells
there are very few left anyways...
Posted by cary1 (924 comments )
Link Flag
Google to buy Microsoft!!!!
So where would this "technology" come in really handy? Where are you looking at one object and you have lots of photos from random angles? Google Earth! You find some building or monument or something and turn on the community things and there are some 20+ pictures from random angles all looking at the same thing. With this technology, you could then stitch those together and move around the object.

And the give away hint is that this is located at So when aquired, it will nicely fit into


And, yes, I said something positive about this new thing Microsoft made. Why? Because it is cool. But that's because I explained it's benefit in terms of what is really does. I didn't say this will give you a full 3D environment along with building blueprints and virtual prostitutes in the alley. The product takes lots of picutres from around an object and makes it easy to view the object from all the different angles.

It's like selling a plain fax machine (very awesome technology from what was available), but saying that it will let you connect into the internet, do research, write papers, and play games with.
Posted by mikeburek (418 comments )
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