NASA and Microsoft are roping in the public to 'be a Martian', helping improve Martian maps and take part in research tasks.
"We're at a point in history where everyone can be an explorer," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"With so much data coming back from Mars missions that are accessible by all, exploring Mars has become a shared human endeavor. People worldwide can expand the specialized efforts of a few hundred Mars mission team members and make authentic contributions of their own."
Visitors to the Be a Martian website will be able to explore details of the solar system's grandest canyon, which resides on Mars. The collaboration of thousands of participants could assist scientists in producing far better maps, smoother zoom-in views, and make for easier interpretation of Martian surface changes, says NASA.
By counting craters, the public could also help determine the relative ages of small regions on Mars - difficult in the past because of the vast numbers involved. NASA's incentive is for website users to win game points assigned to a robotic animal avatar they select.
"The beauty of this type of experience is that it not only teaches people about Mars and the work NASA is doing there, but it also engages large groups of people to help solve real challenges that computers cannot solve by themselves," said Marc Mercuri, director of business innovation in the Developer and Platform Evangelism Group at Microsoft.