Google Street View has taken armchair explorers to some of Earth's most exotic locations, from the ancient ruins of Angkor and Machu Picchu to the natural wonders of the Galapagos Islands and the Grand Canyon. But its newest location is (literally) out of this world: the International Space Station. As Thuy Ong reports for The Verge, you can now explore the ISS from your own computer screen without suffering the challenges of spaceflight.
"In the six months that I spent on the International Space Station, it was difficult to find the words or take a picture that accurately describes the feeling of being in space," French astronaut Thomas Pesquet writes in a blog post announcing the new Street View location. "Working with Google on my latest mission, I captured Street View imagery to show what the ISS looks like from the inside, and share what it’s like to look down on Earth from outer space."
According to Pesquet, the team couldn't use the bulky backpacks or car-mounted devices usually used to record Google Street View locations. Not only is it difficult to send new equipment to the station, it's a pretty cramped environment. And then there's the issue of microgravity.
"All of our Street View procedures are predicated on the existence of gravity," Stafford Marquardt jokes in a video about the new Street View. Tripods would have to be secured wherever they were positioned. And photos taken by hand run into the issue that the photographer is constantly floating. So the team had to get creative.
The basic idea is that the astronaut would take images of the space station using a DSLR camera already on the ISS. Then the images would be stitched back together on Earth. The problem is that each image must be taken at a similar angle before being stitched, otherwise there would be seams or distortion in the final picture where the images didn't quite line up.
After testing out various methods on Earth, they decided that Pesquet would stretch two bungee cords in a cross section of the station. Then he would take images, rotating the camera around the center point where the bungee cords cross.
This isn't the first time non-traditional equipment has been used to add to the considerable library of Google Street View. An islander on Denmark's Faroe Islands used 360-degree cameras strapped to sheep to map the rocky archipelago, while divers in Australia recorded the Great Barrier Reef with an underwater camera submarine.
Pesquet hopes that being able to explore this collaborative project orbiting thousands of miles above our planet and all of its borders will help people get perspective on the Earth.
"None of this would have been possible without the work of the team on the ground, my colleagues (turned roommates) on the ISS, and the countries that came together to send us up to space," Pesquet wrote in his blog post. "Looking at Earth from above made me think about my own world a little differently, and I hope that the ISS on Street View changes your view of the world too."