I love space. Floor space. Closet space. Memory space. But most of all I love space; the one up there, out there or whichever way you want to put it. That big hollow abyss conversely filled with such energy and wonder. One of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done was to drink a cup of coffee with the intention of working through the night. However, writer’s block set in and the words would not come. I lay in a state of self-induced insomnia staring up out at the universe feeling like the smallest drop in the ocean.
As any self-respecting human knows, NASA are somewhat of an authority on all things space. So when they released an Android application last month it pretty much made my morning. I’ve been a fan of their ISS feeds, web shows and news blogs for many years so having an application could only be a good thing.
I’m sorry to say that the NASA app and I got off on the wrong foot. As soon as I fired it up there was one glaring issue that stuck out like a sore thumb: the constant refreshing of the main menu icons. Every five or six seconds they disappear and then re-appear in a laggy loading time fashion with new images as icons. It’s annoying and I suspect something to do with the fact that the app seems to be a port of the iPhone version with a slightly altered Android user interface.
Homepage icons during a laggy refresh
This doesn’t interfere with usage of the application in any significant way but I found it annoying. Apparently, this is only the case on some devices. I guess it will take a few updates before all the creases are ironed out. It’s a little disappointing though considering this is NASA and not a small start-up development company ran from someones spare room.
Moving on, the remainder of the application impressed me. All of the media used within the application comes from the NASA website and they’ve put a lot of effort into making sure there’s as much as possible on there. Images beamed from spacecraft and satellites are downloaded with interesting descriptions about what the image contains, facts about the mission of the spacecraft and where in the solar system it is.
NASA TV and On Demand videos
NASA TV, the online broadcast service of NASA which streams live feeds from the ISS and several homegrown shows is featured quite extensively in NASA for Android. The broadcast schedule tells you when shows such as Education Hour and ISS Update will be broadcast. You can choose to stream NASA TV within the application itself or from their website. They also update ‘Whats on Your TV’ with details of space related shows that are due to be shown within the next few days on TV.
There are other videos available on demand too. Many of these are feature pieces which were previously shown on NASA TV as well as crew interviews and interesting documentaries. All NASA news articles are available from the main menu. For anyone wanting to visit one of NASA’s many centers there’s information available on them from the ‘Centers’ section. This will load a map which displays NASA locations relevant to your location at the time.
Missions with plenty of information and images
The ‘Missions’ section of the application has to be my favourite and will provide any knowledge junkie with an informative fix. Every space craft and satellite currently active, and those planned for the near future are listed. You can filter them based on a few criteria from the top slider menu; Shuttle and Station, Earth, Moon and Mars, Solar System and Universe. Each mission carries a full description of the hardware in use, the reasons for the mission, cool images and plenty of facts. Another interesting feature of the Missions section is that you can track the location of the International Space Station in its orbit of earth on a map.
Sighting Possibilities and GPS Compass
For the more serious of astronomers amongst us, the NASA application provides listings of sighting opportunities. Most are for the ISS but some other sightings are included throughout the year when they’re possible. The sightings feature gives exact elevation guides and uses your phone’s GPS function to enable a compass to point you in the right direction.
The whole application is integrated quite well with social networks. From the main menu you’re just one touch of a screen from NASA’s official Twitter stream. On top of that, pictures, videos, live streams and individual mission pages can all be shared with friends via Facebook and Twitter.
The design of the Android NASA application won’t be winning any awards, however it’s not bland and boring by any stretch of the imagination either. The background image of Earth from afar is appropriate and looks cool. The header across the top of the main screen should be removed in the next update; it looks awful.
The sub menus are where NASA for Android starts to shine in the design department however. The collapsible sub-menus across the top of each screen are really useful not to mention tastefully done. The lists are, for the most part, quite visually appealing with the incorporation of images as you can see above.
Overall, the app looks really well and definitely has a cool ‘space’ feel.
Worth a Download?
Perhaps; that all really depends upon yourself. If you regularly find yourself plonked in front of the TV watching the Discovery Channel (even when it’s not Shark Week!) then I’d say yes. I’d count myself as being moderately interested in the cosmos and I found NASA for Android to be fun, so I’m keeping it installed for the foreseeable future.