Buzz Aldrin Portal to Science for iPad: Mixed Bag

Buzz Aldrin’s Portal to Science and Space Exploration HD is an iPad app that attempts to aggregate everything interesting about space exploration, from the Apollo program up through the Space Transportation System (STS), Hubble, International Space Station (ISS) and more. It has a lot to offer, tries to cover a lot of ground, but leaves some gaps.

The app is highly hierarchical. It uses colorful tabs along the left and major categories along the bottom. See the screen shots below. As a result, there’s a huge amount of material available, from Astronaut journals to Dr. Aldrin’s recent letter to President Obama about NASA, his event calendar to space news sources and coverage of all the major space programs. For example, if you want to know more about the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, you can drill down to that, get background, news, and look at the photo gallery and videos.


At launch: Space Buzz

There is an especially interesting section on the UFO that the Apollo 11 team sighted and photographed on the way to the moon. That’s something we don’t hear about very much.


Drilling Down to Telescopes

The program is ambitious and presents an enormous wealth of material. The downside in that is that some of the photo galleries are seriously underpopulated, and many of the ones supplied are not annotated sufficiently to appreciate the photo. The entire section on European space launchers is oddly empty.

I agree with the customer who complained about the dearth of Mars lander photos. Where there should be hundreds, there are instead about a dozen. Some Apollo era photos are low resolution, but the latest Hubble photos are pretty good. Unfortunately, many of the photos have a border and while annotations are good, when supplied, it also keeps them from being candidates for the iPad lock or home screen. A special gallery of clean shots that could be used as lock and home screen would be nice.


Hubble Gallery

Videos point to YouTube videos, and there are some really nice videos derived from video cameras on the side of the launch vehicles, showing lift-off through near orbital insertion. These are a thrilling ride, but would better if higher resolution. As it is, many show marked pixellation.

Bottom Line

The Buzz Aldrin Portal to Science and Space Exploration HD app is ambitious, technically accurate so far as I could tell, and will keep a lot of curious people occupied for months. On the other hand, some purists will likely complain about the scarcity of photos in some project areas and the low resolution of many others. And that’s why you’ll see mixed reviews of this app. I see the glass half full.

In the end, I admired and appreciated the app for what it tries to achieve instead of being irritated by its occasional limitations. I hope that, in time, additional project photos and more annotations of them will be supplied. Considering the US$3.99 price, I give it a thumbs up.