Google has added Street View images to a great number of unusual places on Earth from historical sites to remote islands. Now, it’s getting Street View data for a place where there are no streets — the International Space Station. With the help of the station’s crew, Google has rolled out an interactive version of the station in Google Maps, which you can explore right now.
Getting Street View data for the ISS proved to be more of a challenge than the team had originally expected. On Earth, Street View images are captured by a car with a 360-degree camera mounted to the roof. In places where cars can’t go, Google has a backpack rig with a similar 360-degree camera poking up from the top. There are no 360-degree cameras on the ISS, and Google’s backpack is too bulky to be effective in the confined space even if it went for the expense of sending one up on a resupply mission.
It was decided the crew of the ISS could simply use the DSLR camera already on-board. By snapping multiple photos, Google could stitch them together into a 360-degree image. The next issue Google had to contend with is a lack of up and down in space. If the photos aren’t taken in roughly the same orientation, you end up with weird artifacts and seams where the images meet up.
Google’s Street View team worked with NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center to figure out a method for taking the necessary photos in a weightless environment. They came up with a technique involving bungee cords, which were stretched across each section of the station to create a vertical and horizontal plane. The crew could then rotate the camera around the central point where the cords crossed.
The results of this endeavor are available online in Google Maps right now. It’s featured on the Street View landing page, but you can’t just search for the International Space Station in Google Maps. The images cover most of the station’s areas, including the Destiny Lab Module, Tranquility Module, cargo blocks, and even the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). There are numerous points of interest in each area, which you can click on to get additional information.
When you’re there, the station works just like a Street View environment on Earth. You can click on the “ground” to advance through the corridors, and pan around to see all the cool stuff. Keep in mind, the things you’re looking for might be directly above or below you — gotta make use of all available surfaces in space.