NASA has just released a new Web app called Vestatrek that is a shining example of what Web-based applications can do in the real world.
Vestatrek is a VR kind of site that is also a space explorer and a laboratory rolled into one highly responsive and engaging program. Using it, you can explore the surface of the asteroid Vesta, the second largest body in the asteroid belt. The spacecraft Dawn spent almost a year investigating Vesta on its way to its present location orbiting Ceres, another large microplanet / asteroid.
This app is amazing and great fun. I spent over an hour playing with it this afternoon. If offers 2d and 3d views of Vesta’s surface, you can navigate around, zoom in and out, overlay the mapping with displays of color (revealing relative depth) and hydrogen levels, measure the distance between things in terms of meters, miles, or Golden Gate Bridges or even school buses! It packs an enormous amount of functionality and data into a Web browser-based app that responds to the slightest touch of the screen or a pointer or trackpad.
Not only is it fascinating as an app, it’s a great counter to the argument that Web apps aren’t and can’t be performant, that they don’t scale, or that they aren’t really cross-browser and cross-platform.