Visiting the Moon

Let’s talk about a history site that is not open to visitors and that only twelve people have ever visited… the Moon. Did you ever think about the Moon as a history site? Some day in the future, it is a likely candidate for the first historic site beyond low Earth orbit.  Tranquility Base, site of Apollo 11’s landing, may have a visitor center, orientation film, and interpretive panels.  Maybe visitors will be able to step on casts of the first boot prints and plant their own flag.  Come to think of it, planning this visitor experience is a great exercise for a graduate class. Design the visitor center for Tranquility Base.  That would be a lot of fun.

While Google Moon offers a great starting point for research, my friend Dave is experimenting with another type of visualization, augumented reality. It is a lot of fun and the technology has the potential to help transform the visitor experience at historic sites around the world.  His augmented-reality app, Moonwalking, allows you to use your smartphone or tablet as a “magic window” (his description) to travel to the scene of that historic moment when the Eagle lander touched down on the Moon. It overlays history with the modern environment.

I went out on the National Mall recently and imagined I was on the Moon.  I ignored the huge domed building to my east and the white obelisk on the western horizon. I watched as the lunar lander slowly landed in front of me, just in front of the National Gallery.

Augmented reality is the wave of the future. Historians are already beginning to see its potential. Walk around London and see historic photos of the exact places you are. American cities are starting projects, too. Check out this project from PhillyHistory.org. Historic sites such as Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, are also experimenting with using augmented reality to recreate images of Mulberry Row, the estate’s historic enslaved community. Point your iPad or smart phone at a historic location and see what it might have looked like two hundred years ago.

But, back to the Moon… getting there again may not be too far in the distant future.  The Google Lunar X Prize contest is offering close to $30 million in prize money to the first privately funded team  “to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to the Earth.” Twenty-six teams have registered for the competition.

Thankfully, NASA is warily watching the contest and recently released a report in July to set guidelines to preserve the sites where the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions landed. Titled “NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts,” the report seeks to define the areas that need to be preserved and to protect the scientific and historic value of more than 36 “heritage sites” on the lunar surface. I’m not sure how they would enforce this. While no one owns the moon, but apparently a nation owns the artifacts it left on the moon. Interesting issues to ponder. Definitely time to get the historians and preservationists involved.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Check out this interesting post from the National Air and Space Museum about how NASA captured images of the last spacecraft leaving the Moon 39 years ago.

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2 Responses to Visiting the Moon

  1. Tim,
    Although there isn’t a visitor center on the moon yet, It appears someone is already tweeting the experience! Check it out – http://twitter.com/#!/TranqBaseLPS

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