By Kevin O’Sullivan
In all the fuss over the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission last week, it might have been easy to overlook some of the great material produced for the celebrations. The best is ‘We Choose Moon’, created (at no small expense judging by the quality) by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, which uses a clever combination of archival photos, video and audio and modern animation to recreate the mission in real time across a series of eleven stages, from pre-launch to landing.
If that sounds a little stretched, in reality it’s the opposite. There is so much interesting material here, it’s possible to trawl for hours listening to the exchanges between Houston and the astronauts, watching the reaction from the ground, and skimming through photographs from the ground and the inside and outside of the lunar module (material is online up to stage three as I write). The animations of their progress, which are already available to the final stage, are spectacular, particularly the final, landing stage. Who could fail to be moved by the exchange between the lunar module (‘Houston: Tranquility Base here. The eagle has landed’) and earth (‘Roger Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot’) as the module lands on the moon, followed by the first description of the moon’s surface (‘it’s almost like powder’) and Neil Armstrong’s famous words, ‘I’m going to step off the LM now’?
If you add in the scanned documents (carefully selected, I’m sure) and historical background from the Library’s website, dating back to the exchanges between JFK and his vice-president Lyndon Johnson in the early 1960s, ‘We Choose Moon’ is a perfect example of how history and technology can intersect to produce something that is visually and aurally stunning, immensely entertaining and (whisper it) educational, all at the same time. If you’ve got the time, and particularly if you’ve got sound on your computer (don’t open it at work unless you want the office to reverberate with the sound of ground control), this is definitely worth a look. If you want something to read about the launch to augment the site, try the leader from the following week’s Economist, or some of the books reviewed recently in The Financial Times.