The augmented reality app that lets you experience the moon landing The new app allows users to walk on the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. (Smithsonian Channel/NASA on The Commons)
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 
could.

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 
audiotapes.

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 
encountered. 

"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 
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-
Harmony.

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.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What do you think would be the most exciting thing about going to the moon? Why?
Write your answers in the comments section below


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