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Tom Soderstrom, CTO of NASA's
Tom Soderstrom, IT CTO of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab announces NASA Mars at AWS re:invent

Amazon’s Alexa has gained many skills over the past year, such as being able to read tweets or deliver election results and fantasy football scores. Starting on Wednesday, you’ll be able to ask Alexa about Mars.

The new skill for the voice-controlled speaker comes courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It’s the first Alexa app from the space agency.

Tom Soderstrom, the chief technology officer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was on hand at the AWS re:invent conference in Las Vegas tonight to make the announcement.

Tom Soderstrom
Tom Soderstrom

According to Soderstrom, the “NASA Mars” skill is part of an outreach effort to get people more interested in Mars.

“Tomorrow you’ll be able to use Amazon Dots and your Amazon Echos, and you can ask questions about Mars,” Soderstrom said tonight. “This is all about exploring and getting crowd-sourcing and getting people to understand and care about Mars and ask new questions.”

Alexa has already been able to handle questions about Mars, such as how far away it is. (The answer is 133 million miles.) When the NASA skill is enabled, Alexa’s repertoire is widened to allow queries like these:

  • “Alexa, open NASA Mars.”
  • “Alexa, ask NASA Mars for a Curiosity rover update.”
  • “Alexa, ask NASA Mars: Why is Mars red?”
ROV-E rover
ROV-E is a Mars outreach rover that’s modeled after NASA’s Curiosity rover and the upcoming Mars 2020 rover. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)

Soderstrom also teased an upcoming demonstration of ROV-E, a miniaturized version of the Mars exploration rover. The cute little rover is controllable either with a joystick or with Alexa commands, and you can ask it questions about Mars as well.

The rover is built with commonly available parts, and NASA is making the blueprint available so that schools, universities, museums and do-it-yourself types can build their own rovers.

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