The Web Looks Back on Apollo 11
One of the privileges of this job is the chance to see things once confined to science fiction become fact. A pocket-sized device that carries all the music you own? A display in your car that shows your location and what roads to take to your destination? A television thin enough to hang on the wall? All of these once-implausible things are now everyday items.
Forty years ago today, we saw a different sort of science fiction transformed into fact when the first humans landed on the moon. You could mark this occasion in any number of ways--visit the Air and Space Museum, re-read any of the numerous books published on the subject, or look up at the moon tonight and contemplate the distance of that journey--but if you're reading this, the Web has a few sites worth your attention.
You could start with We Choose The Moon, a project of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and AOL that recreates Apollo 11's mission, minute by minute, with a mix of audio recordings, text, photos and videos. It reminds me of the interactive, multimedia-soaked "coffee-table CD-ROMs" that, back in the late 1990s, looked to be a new artistic medium until the CD-ROM business went bust.
For its part, NASA has gone back and had its copies of the lunar-landing TV footage cleaned up (the original recordings, sadly, were lost years ago). The newly restored clips don't quite live up to their "HD" labeling, but they reveal far more subtlety and detail than the blurry footage you're used to seeing. NASA has also prepared an interactive panorama of the view at Tranquility Base, and at yet another page on the space agency's site you can see newly-taken photos of five of the six Apollo landing sites.
And just this morning, Google added a new "Moon in Google Earth" module to its Google Earth program. This combines an interactive, 3-D map of the moon with numerous links to historical documents and photos, interactive panoramas and guided tours covering each Apollo mission's work on the moon.
These projects represent some fascinating multimedia work--light-years more advanced than the blurry, black-and-white TV coverage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's first steps. And yet there is a painful irony here: While we have far better tools to portray these missions than we did in 1969, we can't repeat them. So many other kinds of technology have seen upgrade after upgrade over the past four decades, but since 1972 nobody has even gone beyond low Earth orbit, much less back to the moon. Why do you think that's so?
July 20, 2009; 3:16 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture
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