The augmented reality app that lets you experience the moon landing
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Fifty years ago, Americans crowded around grainy televisions. They witnessed Neil
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touching ground on the moon. That moment was
extraordinary for all who watched it. With the launch of the "Apollo's Moon Shot"
augmented reality app, the Smithsonian Channel is betting it can bring new
audiences closer to the experience of the landing than the original footage ever
The AR app is available for Apple and Android devices. It places users on the surface
of the moon, letting them virtually escape their own surroundings. Users can
moonwalk the way Aldrin and Armstrong would have and witness the craters
dotting the landscape around them. They can jump up and down in a state of altered
gravity and gaze out at the darkening sky. Additionally, the app includes information
about the landing integrated into its design.
"It makes the landing more interactive, and it allows people to bring the Apollo
program into their own experience." says Teasel Muir-Harmony, 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, which placed the astronauts on the moon. They did this to
authentically replicate the feeling and the scale of the landing. In addition to walking
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 in conjunction with its six-part "Apollo's
Moon Shot" series. It premiered in June. The series features Muir-Harmony as an
expert who narrates the story of the Apollo 11 landing through artifacts in the
Smithsonian collection. The series also includes rare archival footage and
Muir Harmony consulted on the television series and the app it spawned. 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 because they needed to map
out ways to make day-to-day life transferrable into space. For example, a group of
engineers cobbled together personal items like zero-gravity sleeping bags for the
astronauts. They developed exercise equipment-later dubbed the Exergenie (a
"rope friction device")-that let astronauts work out even in a weightless
"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 bring these forgotten shades of the Apollo landing to
people who aren't easily able to visit the Air and Space Museum.
"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.