The free Space Images iPad app is exactly what its name suggests, a collection of photos and diagrams related to space exploration and astronomy. It includes close-up shots from recent planetary missions such as the New Horizons Pluto flyby, and has separate image galleries for each planet and many other celestial objects. The content's focus is on unmanned spaceflight, so you won't find photos of (or taken by) your favorite astronaut. Although the app has numerous photos of the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and other worlds, there are only a small handful of shots of our own Moon. Space Images doesn't have the range of photos of Editors' Choice NASA App HD, but the images it includes are gorgeous and informative, and it should be fascinating for anyone with the slightest interest in planetary exploration.
Many Spaceships, Many Worlds
The Space Images app is produced by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA center managed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). JPL's primary work is to develop and operate the unmanned spacecraft that have wowed the world with close-up views of Ceres, Mars, Pluto, and Saturn, as well as many other celestial bodies. The app's selection of images, most of which are by JPL, reflect this focus, and are a testament to the center's phenomenal track record in designing robotic spacecraft that have visited every planet in our solar system, orbited most of them, and landed on several. The Mars Curiosity rover and the Mars Opportunity rover (both designed by JPL) are currently exploring the red planet.
As is typical of NASA apps, Space Images for iPad is free. I tested it on an iPad Air 2. Another version of the app, Space Images, can run on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. I tried it as well, on the iPad, and the user experience is basically the same. An Android version of the app is also available.
Design and Features
The first thing you encounter on loading the app is the Latest Images section. Below a banner at the top of the screen are thumbnails of 10 images. The images on these pages are indeed very recent, and they reflect some of NASA's current missions. The 10 images on the first page at the time of this writing had all been uploaded within the past week. Four are from the Dawn mission to Ceres, three are from the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft currently orbiting Mars, one is a satellite photo of Poyang Lake in China, one is a diagram showing temperature variations on Saturn's moon Titan, and one is an artist's concept of the WFIRST infrared space telescope. You can access additional pages of thumbnails by swiping the screen to the left. On other pages, I found excellent shots from the Pluto flyby, the Mars Curiosity rover, and the Cassini mission to Saturn.
You can return to Latest Images from any other gallery by touching the leftmost of six buttons at the bottom of the screen. The other five are labeled Top Rated, Categories, Favorites, Search, and About. Top Rated is based on user ratings. As you would expect, the Top Rated images are particularly gorgeous. Among the subjects are images of Pluto, panoramas taken by the Mars Curiosity rover, views of Saturn's moons, and pictures of the mysterious bright spots on Ceres.
When you tap a thumbnail in any gallery, a full-screen version of the image appears. At the screen's upper right corner is an Info button, which opens a popup that provides a title and brief description of the image, lists the image's publication date, and lets you rate the image by tapping between one and five stars. Below the description are three buttons. More Details opens up a page on the JPL site with a full description of the image—including the full caption from where it was originally published—and links to higher-resolution versions of the image as well as more information on the subject of the image. The center button, Favorites, opens a gallery of images you have favorited. The right-hand button, Share, lets you save the image to your image to your iPad's Photo Album, email it, or post it to Facebook or Twitter.
Each image in the app, including ones that appear in Latest Images and/or Top Rated, also appears in a gallery based on the type of object it portrays. The categories of these galleries are identified by name and thumbnail on the main Categories page. There are galleries for the Sun and each of the planets, dwarf planets (Ceres and Pluto, so far), comets and asteroids, and a catch-all gallery called Universe, which includes images of galaxies, star clusters, exoplanets, and nebulae. Additional galleries include Spacecraft and Technology—which largely focuses on engineers at work, and photos and artist renderings of space probes under development—Videos, 3D Images, and Editor's Pick. The last category is, so far, sparsely populated, with only five images at the time of this writing.
The Space Images app brings you a selection of the latest images taken by NASA missions exploring our solar system and beyond, taken by orbiting telescopes as well as robotic spacecraft. The app reflects JPL's focus on unmanned missions. If you're looking for photos of (or taken by) your favorite astronaut, of the Space Shuttle or ISS, or even of the Moon, you had best look elsewhere. The Editors' Choice NASA App HD, which has a huge, searchable collection of images on a wide range of topics, is a good place to start. NASA App HD is the space agency's flagship app. It is essentially a portal for NASA content, including news, images, videos, NASA TV, information on NASA's missions, programs, and operations centers, and even the space agency's own Third Rock Radio (a rock music show that it streams). NASA Earth as Art is another good iPad app, but its images, although spectacular, all are of our home world.
Space Images for iPad lacks the sheer variety of images in NASA App HD, but if you have any interest in planetary exploration—whether flybys, orbiting spacecraft, or Mars rovers—this a must-have app. Even on a lark, it's worth a look: It's free, and it's a relatively small download (21MB). It highlights the work of JPL, whose fleet of robotic spacecraft has provided us with a window on worlds throughout the solar system. The content is well presented, and the app has good social media integration. Download Space Images, and prepare to be amazed.