The augmented reality app that lets you experience the moon landing
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Americans crowded around grainy televisions. The year was 1969. They witnessed
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touch ground on the moon. That moment was
amazing for all who watched it.
The Smithsonian Channel launched the "Apollo's Moon Shot" augmented reality app.
They are betting it can bring new audiences closer to the experience of the landing
than the original footage ever could.
The AR app is available for Apple and Android devices. It places users on the surface
of the moon. It lets them virtually escape their own surroundings. Users can
moonwalk like Aldrin and Armstrong. They can witness the craters that dot the
landscape. They can jump up and down in a state of altered gravity. They can gaze
out at the darkening sky. The app also includes information about the landing. It is
integrated into its design.
"It makes the landing more interactive. It allows people to bring the Apollo program
into their own experience." says Teasel Muir-Harmony. She is a curator at the
National Air and Space Museum.
The app's developers used 3-D scans of Neil Armstrong's space suit and of the Lunar
Command Module. It placed the astronauts on the moon. They did this to replicate
the feeling and the scale of the landing. Users can do more than walk on the moon.
The app allows users to simulate the mission takeoff. It charts the Apollo's path
through the moon's airspace. It includes two games. "The Moon Shot Challenge" and
the "Lunar Landing Challenge." The games test users' ability to guide a safe landing
through a lunar terrain dotted with boulders and craters.
The Smithsonian Channel launched the app along with its six-part "Apollo's Moon
Shot" series. It premiered in June. The series features Muir-Harmony as an expert.
She narrates the story of the Apollo 11 landing. She does this by using artifacts in
the Smithsonian collection. The series also includes rare archival footage and
Muir Harmony consulted on the television series. She also consulted on the app. The
goal was to highlight a side of the moon landing that much of the public hasn't
"We often focus on the astronauts, but over 400,000 people worked on the
program," she says.
Teams of NASA scientists worked under tight deadlines. They needed to map out
ways to make day-to-day life transferrable into space. A group of engineers cobbled
together personal items like zero-gravity sleeping bags for the astronauts. They
developed exercise equipment that was later dubbed the Exergenie. It was a "rope
friction device" that let astronauts work out even in a weightless environment.
"One of the things that people don't always realize is how many details were
involved in a program like that. How many new technologies had to be developed.
And how many people had to work together to make it all possible," said Muir-
The point of the app is to show these forgotten shades of the Apollo landing. They
want to bring them to people who aren't easily able to visit the Air and Space
"The series and the app do a wonderful job of exposing people to the complexities of
that program," said Muir-Harmony.
"It's exciting for us to be able use augmented reality to give people more access to
the artifacts in our national collections.