Unless you've been hiding under a (moon) rock for the past month, you already know that Saturday, July 20 is the 50th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 lunar landing.
And while it has been 50 years since man first visited the moon, no human has set foot on its surface since 1976. Luckily for us, augmented reality presents the opportunity to experience the Apollo 11 launch and landing, as well as the moonwalk, within our own, Earth-bound terrestrial boundaries.
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The John F. Kennedy Foundation was one of the first organizations to launch its Apollo 11-themed AR experience last month. Since then, a wide range of free AR experiences have hit mobile devices, leaving no shortage of lunar AR content for fans of space history.
Android users can find it by searching Google for "Apollo 11" or "lunar landing date" (as I did) and scrolling down to the "View in 3D" card. After scanning their surroundings, users can see the command module in life-sized detail, or scale it down to a more manageable size. Google plans to introduce a 3D model of Neil Armstrong's suit to search results later this month as well.
While the model is very detailed and the experience of anchoring the content in the real world is smooth, this is also the most basic of the available AR experiences. (By comparison, the non-AR Apollo 11 content provided by Google is very robust.) Luckily, if this doesn't satiate your appetite for lunar landing content, or if you are member of the iPhone clan, there are more immersive options available.
The experience is called "Apollo 11: America's Journey To The Moon," and users can find it in the Top Stories section of the app, although I scrolled past it twice. (Seriously, USA Today, please add an AR section to the app!)
The experience focuses on the rocket launch rather than the landing. Users can watch newsreel footage of the launch and walk around a scale model of the Apollo 11 rocket in their space and learn more about each component of the rocket. Alas, the experience stops short of seeing the rocket ascend to the heavens.
Published as a companion to the Smithsonian Channel's six-part series on the space voyage, the Apollo's Moon Shot app for iOS and Android offers users the widest variety of content about the monumental moon landing.
Smithsonian manages to up the ante on Google's space experience for both Neil Armstong's spacesuit and the Apollo 11 command module. With the suit, Smithsonian beats Google to market, with a detailed model of the suit that includes hotspots with details about different parts of the suit. The experience continues with the command module, allowing users can also learn more about the craft via hotspots. As an added treat, users can also step inside the space vehicle.
Apollo's Moon Shot also produces an animated experience that goes one small step beyond the USA Today experience by actually launching the rocket skyward.
The app also offers a pair of AR mini-games that challenge users to accomplish astronaut-style tasks. First, users try to fly a rocket around the Earth and eject the command module into the moon's orbit. Second, users must guide the lander to a successful touchdown. Confession: I have yet to succeed in either task.
So, if you can only download one AR space app to celebrate the "mooniversary," Apollo's Moon Shot gives you the most bang for your buck based on variety of content.
Time Magazine, now the property of Salesforce.com owner Marc Benioff after a short stint at Meredith Corporation, has used the lunar landing anniversary as an opportunity to introduce its new AR app.
The publication's previous forays into AR involved allowing users to scan the magazine's covers and pages to unlock additional content. Conversely, the new Time Immersive app, available for iOS and Android presents standalone AR content.
After anchoring a section of the moon's surface in their physical environment, users can see the lunar landing in real-time (complete with playback of the radio transmissions) from the third-person perspective, with the module first appearing as a speck in the distance. A dial lets users fast-forward or rewind the sequence until the lander touches down in front of them. Users can also see the landing from the point of view an astronaut in the lander. The app then shifts to a 360 VR experience where users can virtually walk around the moon itself.
In summary, there's no lack of AR experiences with which to commemorate this monumental moment in human history. However, the virtual space experiences don't have to stop with your mobile devices. The Weather Channel is using broadcast AR for its segment on the moon landing (see video below) and the weather on Earth's lone natural satellite.
The moon landing was a milestone achievement in space exploration that has raised the bar for future endeavors. Based on the AR experiences celebrating the event, it appears the lunar landing has also influenced AR app developers to aim higher with their own projects as well.