NASA Space Place Prime (for iPad)

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NASA's free Space Place Prime iPad app lets you access recent articles, images, and videos compiled from several NASA websites. It's an offshoot of the NASA Space Place website, which provides a wide range of space-based articles, interactive features, and projects, geared mainly toward kids. The app's content is informative, often entertaining, and includes do-it-yourself projects, but it's sparse, with only a few articles available. Worse, the app crashed repeatedly in my testing, and the only way I could find to unfreeze it was to uninstall and then reinstall the app several times.

NASA Space Place Prime works with the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod touch. I tested it on an iPad Air 2 running iOS 9.1, to take advantage of the tablet's larger screen size.

Design and Features
The app is a collection of items—articles, photos, and videos—taken from the Space Place website, as well as at least two other NASA sites: Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) and Earth Observatory. The items can be displayed in three ways: as a chronological, vertical list; in carousel style, with strips of thumbnails arranged by content category; or with the thumbnails arranged seemingly randomly in a grid. You can move between views with the aid of a pair of buttons in the lower-left corner of the screen.

Space Place Prime (for iPad)

To access an item, you click on its thumbnail, or entry, in the case of the vertical list. When you click on an article, its text appears on screen. Image thumbnails you click on are displayed full screen, with a caption box on the left side showing white text against a black, nearly opaque background. Most captions are longer than the box, and to see the hidden text, you have to swipe upwards with your finger. When you click on a video, a YouTube Play arrow appears in a box on the page, with a caption below. You can expand the video to full screen.

Whatever kind of item you open, by using any of four buttons that appear on screen, you can email it or share it on Facebook or Twitter, or make it a favorite.

The content is fascinating, although somewhat sparse, particularly in the Articles section. There are fun items (printable Valentine's Day cards, including one of Pluto with its newly discovered heart-shaped feature, and the caption "You'll always be in my heart!"). Others are educational, like the seven articles discussing different layers of Earth's atmosphere. The articles are written for fairly young children, and are cursory; the one on the ionosphere doesn't even mention that layer's role in high-frequency radio propagation. Two other articles—"Pastel Aurora" and "Stretchy Universe Slime," both do-it-yourself projects—are both educational and fun. But that's all the articles that are available as of this writing.

The Photo section includes nearly all the recent entries (going back more than three weeks) from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). Another main source for images is NASA Earth Observatory's Image of the Day. However, in my testing, for February 11, there is a black screen with the title "Placeholder APOD," containing the message "A new and exciting APOD will appear here today at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time (U.S.A.) after the LIGO press conference in Washington, D.C. has begun." That entry, on the discovery of gravitational waves—one of the biggest astronomical stories of the decade—appears on the APOD site, but no one updated the placeholder to the live content on NASA Space Place Prime.

Space Place Prime (for iPad)

The Video section is both fascinating and informative. Most of the content comes from APOD, and include videos, diagrams, and animations, as well as photos. One is an animated diagram showing how the International Space Station was assembled, module by module, solar panel by solar panel. Another explores the scale of the solar system: How big would it be, if the Earth were the size of a marble? A scientist gathers some friends together to find out. (Hint: they had to go out into the Black Rock Desert to pull this off.)

Prone to Freeze
At one point in testing, the app froze when I opened an image, and it wouldn't respond when I tried to close the window (by pressing a circled X in the upper-right corner) or share the image to social media. When I tried closing and reopening the app, it still displayed the same page, still frozen. I ended up deleting NASA Space Place Prime from my iPad and reinstalling it. It worked fine for a while, but eventually froze again, necessitating another deletion and reinstallation of the app. Every time I had to delete it, I would lose the items I had designated as Favorites.

Conclusion
NASA has made some wonderful iPad apps, such as NASA App HD, Earth as Art, and Space Images. Unfortunately, NASA Space Place Prime does not count among them. Its content, although informative and educational, is sparse, with only a few selections from the numerous articles appearing on NASA's wonderful Space Place kid-oriented website. In testing the app, I experienced screen freezes that could only be eliminated by uninstalling and reinstalling the app. Also, NASA seems to perform little content maintenance, with a placeholder page that was never updated to show a very important cosmology story. NASA Space Place Prime could be a great app, but in its current incarnation, I'd suggest you eschew it, and instead use your browser to access the websites from which it draws its content.

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