During one long summer holiday when I was still at school, I sent several handwritten letters, on spec, to various NASA space centres asking whether they could send me any photographs relating to the then current space missions, which at that time were dominated by the early Space Shuttle flights.
I got back many autographed astronaut photos, as well as several beautiful colour images from the first Mars landings, which I still have in a scrapbook, somewhere.
Catching up on some podcast listening from the Where 2.0 conference series as I commuted up to Milton Keynes this week, I happened to catch a presentation about NASA World Wind, a 3D globe simulation that has views of Mars, Jupiter, the Moon and Venus, as well as the Earth.
(You can hear the presentation I was listening to at IT Conversations: Patrick Hogan on 'NASA World Wind'.)
If you've ever seen Google Earth, Google's 3D simulation of - where else - the Earth, NASA World Wind lets you zoom into any point on the surface of the Earth - or Mars, or the Moon - in full 3d relief using either real colour or scientific colour filters:
World Wind view of Mars.
To get the full effect, you really need to explore the application yourself. You can download it from the NASA World Wind website.
Just one word of warning - working out how to fly around the Martian surface is a little tricky at first - I even felt a little bit sea sick at one point - but you soon get the hang of it!
If you prefer exploring Mars using a traditional 2 dimensional map, then the Google Mars Map website is the place to go. This has bookmarks for sites of particular interest -moutains, canyons, craters and so on, as well as the landing sites for the various successful Martian landers.
If World Wind had been around 30 years ago, I don't know whether I'd have ever started my astronaut autographed photo collection. But I would have learned a lot more about Martian geography!
PS if you're interested in space, I noticed that The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide was on air this summer. One of the presenters is Maggie Aderin, who I met as part of the NESTA Crucible a couple of years ago. Maggie was one of the finalists of Famelab in 2005, a competion for science communicators, so it's great to see her working with the OU now :-)