Google Street View Leaves Earth, Takes Us to the International Space Station

Street View’s new 360-degree experience of the space station takes viewers inside all 15 modules.

by Ethan Baron, The Mercury News / July 20, 2017
Google Street View

(TNS) — MOUNTAIN VIEW — For the first time, Google’s Street View has freed itself from the bounds of Earth, and created a user experience that’s literally out of this world.

Starting Thursday, Street View, an online tool developed as an interactive virtual map, can take users beyond the stratosphere, to visit the International Space Station as it orbits 250 miles above our planet.

“It will be a fantastic opportunity for everyone to fly with us and to experience the incredible feeling of being in space,” astronaut Thomas Pesquet said in a promotional video. “The sheer size of this space station is huge, it’s unbelievably big.”

Google’s virtual trip into space will likely find an enthusiastic audience in the Bay Area, where Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks at Mars with a colonizer’s eye, where Google offers its $30 million Lunar XPrize for putting a camera-bearing robot on the moon, and where a multitude of firms build satellite technology for commercial and military use.

Street View’s new 360-degree experience of the space station takes viewers inside all 15 modules. Annotations highlight potentially interesting information, such as where the astronauts work out, what they eat, and where they conduct scientific experiments.

For Google, the project came about because Earth just wasn’t big enough anymore.

“We have mapped all over the world and really wanted to see where we could go,” Google technical operations lead for Street View Matthew Potter said in the video.

“Why not space?”

While Street View footage that can’t be gathered by vehicle-mounted cameras is ordinarily obtained via someone wearing a backpack with cameras on it, such a pack was not designed to be worn over a space suit, said Google spokeswoman Mara Harris. Instead, Pesquet, a European Space Agency astronaut from France, used digital SLR cameras already on the space station to shoot still photos, which were stitched together to create 360-degree imagery.

The process was not easy, Pesquet said in a blog post.

“The (space station) has technical equipment on all surfaces, with lots of cables and a complicated layout with modules shooting off in all directions,” said Pesquet, who returned in June from six months in the orbiting lab.

“And it’s a busy place, with six crew members carrying out research and maintenance activities 12 hours a day. There are a lot of obstacles up there. Oh, and there’s that whole zero gravity thing.”

The space station has been home to astronauts for 16 years. Astronauts collect data on Earth’s oceans, land and atmosphere, and conduct medical research, Pesquet noted.

For the space station project, Google worked with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Texas and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, Harris said.

©2017 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.