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App Watch: The Final Frontier—on Your Phone

NASA brings its missions to the smallest screen

2 min read
Spacecraft 3D screenshot
Image: NASA

Spacecraft 3D appImage: NASA

In 1997, the website for NASA’s Mars Pathfinder mission became an Internet sensation. But as the world has shifted from computers to smart gadgets, NASA has been increasingly using apps to reach the public. Some are tied to individual missions, while others educate users about scientific or engineering topics. Here are some notable examples:


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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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