Technology & Science

Google delivers a Street View tour of the International Space Station

When Google Street View wanted to show everyone the inside of the International Space Station, it took some innovation and the help of an astronaut.

A camera anchored on bungee cords was used to take 360-degree 3D images in zero gravity

People can tour inside the many modules of the International Space Station with Google Street View. (Google Street View)

Google Street View is ready to take you inside the International Space Station.

Starting at 9 a.m. ET today, the mapping service will allow anyone to move through the modules of the space station using Google Maps or Google Earth.

The 360-degree view inside the space station is courtesy of NASA and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who spent four months taking pictures inside the station.

It wasn't an easy job, Alice Liu, Google's project manager, told CBC News.

"On Earth, you put the camera on the tripod and rotate the camera," she said. "Taking images in zero gravity is quite different."

Bungee fix

The space station mapping project involved taking images in three dimensions, and it also necessitated finding an anchor that could act as a centre of rotation.

The solution was two bungee cords, stretched in a cross pattern from top to bottom and side to side of the space station for each shot.

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet took the photos during his mission to the space station. He anchored the camera on bungee cords to capture the station in three dimensions. (Google)

The Google team was able to test its camera techniques inside a full-size mockup of the station at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and had just two hours of collaborative time with Pesquet, who was already in space, to refine his technique.

With the camera anchored in the cross of the two cords, Pesquet rotated it to all the angles needed, hovering well behind the camera so he was not casting a shadow in the image.

Images annotated

On view are the places where the astronauts sleep, where they eat, where they do experiments and the cupola where they can view the Earth as well as other areas throughout the station.

"We hope this will encourage people to explore what an amazing engineering feat this is," Liu said.

And because most of us won't necessarily recognize what we are looking at, many of the items have been annotated with information provided  by NASA engineers.

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      As people scan the interiors, they will see little dots that when clicked will open up a panel of information explaining things such as the pressurized airlock, the extravehicular mobility unit (spacesuit) or the waste and hygiene compartment (bathroom).

      "There are so many capabilities on the ISS, so many experiments running, something of interest behind every panel," Liu says. "There's way too many for us to annotate every one."

      It's the first time Google has used this kind of annotation, but more of it may be on the way as the mapping service explores new ways to show people places they may not otherwise go, Liu says.

      Viewers can navigate through station just as if they're on Earth 1:27