Dec 9, 2015 | By Alec

(Image credit: Matt McFarland/The Washington Post)

To anyone even vaguely interested in space travel, the Apollo 11 needs no introduction. The historic and revolutionary spacecraft that took groundbreaking astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon back in 1969, is an artifact of the aerospace world. The very concept still inspires makers and scientists around the world, but in fact the Apollo 11 command module has long since been retired. Resting in a plastic display case in the National Air and Space Museum for nearly four decades now, the Smithsonian is fortunately planning to share it more widely with the next generation. They have just announced that they are planning to scan it and make the Apollo 11 available as a 3D printable replica.

Until now, you’d have to travel to Washington, D.C., to see the iconic craft that carried the three heroes into space. ‘We recognize that it has enormous significance — cultural significance as well as engineering and technical significance,’ said Allan A. Needell, the curator of the Smithsonian’s Apollo collection. ‘The challenge is how to translate the experience of an object for a new generation who doesn’t have a personal familiarity with it.’

First look at scans taken.

This new digital approach by the Smithsonian will consist of two elements, they say. For both, however, they have enlisted the help of top 3D imaging specialists Autodesk, who will make a complete 3D scan of the interior and exterior of the classic command module. Those will be stitched together to develop a high quality digital tour of the spacecraft, in full color. In the near future, we will just be able to ‘sit’ in the command seat from the comfort of our own homes. ‘We have an opportunity to basically present to them an experience which is visually almost identical to if you were allowed to go in and lie down on one of those seats,’ Needell said to the Washingon Post.

If that isn’t cool enough, the next plan is more suited for us 3D printing enthusiasts. The same digital date will be used to make a perfect 3D printable file, which will also be made available through the museum’s website. The exact details of the plans are still being discussed, but it’s a fantastic way to breathe new life into this vehicle and to give it to the digital generation that doesn’t have the patience for museums. There’s even talk of making a type of simulator game with the scans, in which you can wear the headset yourself.

3D Scanning in process. (Matt McFarland/The Washington Post)

The only downside is that this 3D scanning project is easier said than done. Autodesk called it their most challenging scanning project so far. The main problem is that the craft is quite small and no one can climb into capture images. The titanium surfaces, furthermore, do not properly reflect the lasers used during scanning, while a series of structural beams make it even more difficult to capture angles. During one scanning session, the team even had to improvise and shine flashlights into the cabin to add some more light.

In short, it’s a complex scanning project that is requiring a whole arsenal of cameras, as well as a $200,000 laser scanner. Scanning will continue all week, while the images will be stitched together over the coming months. More scanning, to capture anything they’ve missed, is scheduled for February 2016. There’s thus a lot to do, but the opportunity is just right – the command module is currently off limits to the public, as the museum is developing a new exhibition that will open in July 2019, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Hopefully, the 3D printable model will be completed long before that.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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