Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Roaming Mars and Space: 3D Technology Exploration from Home

November 5, 2013

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Explore Mars and the solar system at <a href=""></a>. | Courtesy of

Explore Mars and the solar system at | Courtesy of


Remember those styrofoam models of the solar system where you painted all of the planets different colors and then connected them one by one with tooth picks? What if there was a better way to visualize our solar system and you could explore the planets and roam Mars virtually? Well, now you can—thanks to the Energy Department’s (DOE) collaboration with the National Science Foundation and Mozilla’s US Ignite competition.  

As part of the US Ignite project, DOE worked with Mozilla to create free and open source simulations of the solar system and the surface of Mars. These applications can be viewed on any popular browser at


Mission to Mars enables students and educators to simulate launches from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) frontier science outpost, maneuvering the world’s newest rockets and remote-pilot planetary rovers using real-world data from NASA’s Mars mission program.

In one simulation, you can move the Mars Curiosity rover using the interface NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory  developed to train its crew and plan for Curiosity’s mission. Users can pilot the rover in several perspectives, similar to a video game. It’s really fun to play around with time, space, and scale in the simulator. Give it a shot!

Check out the teaching toolkit with free lesson plans to teach Mars exploration and energy concepts in your classroom. 


EERE is supporting the work of Mozilla’s 3D technology application development through US Ignite, which aims to bring to life:

  • 60 next-generation applications
  • 200 community test beds where applications are researched, revised and deployed
  • A forum for collaboration

Learn more about next-generation applications created through this project.


Technology, including 3D applications, is reshaping how we learn, explore and master concepts in the classroom and beyond, with tools like Mission to Mars making those old painted styrofoam solar systems obsolete. DOE is actively participating in this transformation by bringing these WebGL 3D technologies into trainings offered through its National Training and Education Resource (NTER) platform. NTER is an online and open resource platform for educators, students and job seekers to help train the clean energy workforce. This 3D technology is also used in other free and virtual courses on NTER, including the Weatherization Installer Course and Building Re-tuning Training. By partnering with organizations like Mozilla, we can continue to develop these technologies and use 3D simulation to help students visualize complex ideas and systems – be it the surface of Mars or the flow of energy.