NASA’s first mobile application and software that models the behavior of earthquake faults to improve earthquake forecasting and our understanding of earthquake processes are co-winners of NASA’s 2012 Software of the Year Award. The award recognizes innovative software technologies that significantly improve the agency’s exploration of space and maximize scientific discovery on Earth. A NASA software advisory panel reviews Software of the Year entries and recommends winners to NASA’s Inventions and Contributions Board for confirmation.


NASA App for iPad provides information on current missions.

Software engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA developed the NASA App for mobile platforms including the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Android phones and tablets. The NASA App currently has more than 9.6 million user installations and receives more than three million hits per day on average. The app’s creators are program manager Jerry Colen, software engineer John Freitas, and new media specialist Charles Du.

The application uses a collection of backend scripts and servers to gather and aggregate all of the best and most heavily requested NASA content from thousands of non-mobile Web pages, image databases, video collections, news and image feeds, Twitter accounts, etc. As the content is gathered and aggregated, it is also being optimized, formatted, and then delivered to a very fast, engaging, well organized, and intuitive application. The NASA App also makes extensive use of the mobile devices’ built-in hardware, features, and usability to offer very compelling yet concise information in a clear and easy-to-use way that aids public access to science, technology, and engineering discoveries. With the integrated social media features (such as Facebook and Twitter), the app makes sharing the content fun and easy.

The NASA App supports all the agency’s programs, projects, and missions by bringing the wealth of NASA’s online information to users’ fingertips. The prime contribution and focus of the NASA App is on public outreach and education. It is a whole new way for NASA to share the mission milestones, results, and research with a new generation using smartphones and tablets. It also gives the public access to all of NASA’s breaking news/video, whenever and wherever they want. The NASA App helps users gain a better understanding and appreciation of NASA science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) discoveries.

After selecting a mission, a second window opens a detailed view of the mission description, allowing users to view images and videos, visit the mission Web site, view a launch or arrival countdown clock, and view an orbit tracking screen.

The NASA App was #1 in the education section of the Apple app store for several months after being released on each platform. On the iPad version of the NASA App (and other tablets in the future), every major solar system object is covered with a detailed write-up including distance from the Sun, radius, mass, density, gravity, moons, rings, etc. In all versions of the NASA App, NASA missions are explained, with links to news, images, videos, tweets, tracking, countdown, etc. Live streaming of launches (like the last Shuttle launch), major events (discovery of new life), and mission progress (ISS) can be viewed wherever the student has a Wi-Fi or cellular network connection.

Other features include on-demand NASA videos from around the agency, live streaming of NASA TV, Third Rock Internet streaming radio, ISS and Earth orbiting satellite trackers, and links to all NASA visitor centers.

The NASA App was the very first mobile app developed, approved, and released by NASA. The significant development, innovations, legal reviews, and methods created for this to happen paved the way for a variety of new apps from other NASA centers to be released.

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This QuakeSim image shows the total ground deformation caused by a simulated magnitude 8.0 earthquake on California’s San Andreas fault. Virtual California simulations create a large catalog of possible earthquake sequences that can then be used to improve forecasting and better understand the types of events that the fault system in California is capable of producing. (Image: University of California, Davis)

QuakeSim, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, is a comprehensive, state-of-the-art software tool for simulating and understanding earthquake fault processes and improving earthquake forecasting. Initiated in 2002, QuakeSim uses NASA remote sensing and other earthquake- related data to simulate and model the behavior of faults in 3D, both individually and as part of complex, interacting systems. This provides long-term histories of fault behavior that can be used for statistical evaluation. QuakeSim also is used to identify regions of increased earthquake probabilities called hotspots.

QuakeSim provides model and analysis tools, computational infrastructure, access to data, and an interface for understanding the complete cycle of earthquakes. The software assimilates data of crustal deformation that leads to and follows earthquakes, together with seismicity data of earthquakes and geologic data. QuakeSim’s integrated, map-based interfaces and applications make an unprecedented amount of complex geophysical data from the ground, air, and space available and accessible to a broad range of scientists and end users, including emergency responders, commercial disaster companies, the insurance industry, and civil engineers. The software allows them to explore and analyze observations, model earthquake processes, and analyze patterns to focus attention and identify significant and/or subtle features in the data.

QuakeSim has had a number of notable accomplishments to date. It produced the first readily accessible set of digital fault models of California. It was used to identify regions in extreme southern California at risk for earthquakes, guiding the collection of data by NASA’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) prior to a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Baja, Mexico in 2010, which led to the first-ever airborne radar images of deformation in Earth’s surface caused by a major earthquake. It helped define NASA’s planned synthetic aperture radar satellite mission, and was used to rule out tectonic deformation of Earth’s surface as a factor when water pipe breaks afflicted Los Angeles in 2009. The software also was used in several recent government earthquake response exercises, including the 2008 California ShakeOut, 2011 National Level Exercise, and the 2012 Golden Guardian Exercise. QuakeSim approaches are being adopted by numerous organizations, including the Southern California Earthquake Center, United States Geological Survey, and the California Geological Survey.

Studies have shown QuakeSim to be the most accurate tool of its kind for intermediate earthquake forecasting, and detecting the subtle, transient deformation in Earth’s crust that precedes and follows earthquakes. Its varied applications include scientific studies, developing earthquake hazard maps that can be used for targeted retrofitting of earthquake-vulnerable structures, providing input for damage and loss estimates after earthquakes, guiding disaster response efforts, and studying fluid changes in reservoirs.

The multidisciplinary QuakeSim team includes principal investigator Andrea Donnellan, Jay Parker, Robert Granat, Charles Norton, and Greg Lyzenga of JPL; Geoffrey Fox and Marlon Pierce of Indiana University, Bloomington; John Rundle of the University of California, Davis; Dennis McLeod of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles; and Lisa Grant Ludwig of the University of California, Irvine.

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John H. Glenn Research Center
Cleveland, OH

The creativity of Multidisciplinary Design Analysis and Optimization (MDAO) software lies in the generality and customizability of the application with user involvement in the continued development. It allows users to tie related simulation tools together for holistic designs of related systems.

Honorable Mentions

Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD

GO-Sim tests the Global Precipitation Mission spacecraft software for solar array deployment, communications systems, instrument simulations, and the ability to run, debug, and develop the actual, unmodified flight software as if it were running on the spacecraft.

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
Houston, TX

RITRACKS provides algorithms/calculations to examine radiation damage to molecular components like DNA mitochondria.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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