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Armchair explorers can now spy on Mars orbiters and access raw spacecraft data from NASA - part of a new "Live from Mars" update for Google Mars 3-D.

NASA and Google, Inc., joined forces to launch the Mars add-on for the popular Google Earth platform in February. The March update includes new features such as watching orbital tracks of spacecraft in real-time, peeling back historical globe maps of Mars and taking a guided fly-around tour of the red planet.

"As exciting as the initial release of Mars was [in Google Earth 5.0], it was difficult for some users to figure out," said Michael Weiss-Malik, product manager for Mars in Google Earth. Checking out a friend's house on Google Earth is one thing, but trying to navigate the canyon system of Valles Marineris represents a bigger challenge.

Now confused or disoriented people can get their Mars bearings courtesy of a planetary tour narrated by Ira Flatow, radio host of NPR Science Friday.

Bolder netizens and researchers can look forward to getting new Mars data almost immediately from orbiting spacecraft, sometimes within a few hours of the download to NASA.



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