Jul 20, 2016 | By Benedict

The Smithsonian has published a high-resolution 3D scan of the Apollo 11 command module “Columbia” as part of the 47th anniversary celebrations for the Apollo 11 moon landing. The model can be 3D printed, viewed on a web browser, or explored with a VR headset.

Today marks the 47th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first spaceflight to put humans on the moon and one of the most important days in the history of mankind. In commemoration of the incredible event, the National Air and Space Museum is, for the first time since 2012, displaying the gloves and helmet worn by Neil Armstrong, recently restored after a successful crowdfunding campaign, while the Smithsonian has published a high-resolution 3D scan of the Apollo 11 command module “Columbia,” which can be viewed digitally or made into a 3D printed model.

Ever since the International Space Station received the Additive Manufacturing Facility 3D printer, now functioning as the first ever 3D print shop in space, it has been abundantly clear that 3D printing and space exploration are a perfect match. But while 3D printing could represent the future of tool production in space, the technology can also be used to pay homage to the illustrious history of space travel—hence the Smithsonian’s decision to publish the 3D printable model of Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module which carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on their extraordinary mission.

As well as being 3D printable, the 3D model of the Columbia command module, generated via advanced 3D scanning techniques, can be viewed digitally online or explored through a VR headset. The Smithsonian worked with Autodesk to develop new scanning techniques for the project, using seven separate technologies to capture almost a trillion measurements which added up to more than a terabyte of compressed data. Consequently, the giant 3D scan, one of the most sophisticated ever undertaken, allows the public to virtually climb inside Columbia for the first time and explore parts of the module that have barely been examined since the mission took place.

The large 3D scanning project was revelatory for the Smithsonian in many ways, as it allowed the curators to see parts of the interior of the command module that they had never seen before. For example, some protective covering on the hatch had only been removed a handful of times since 1971: the year the museum acquired the historic artefact. Additionally, a number of writings—otherwise termed “astronaut graffiti”—were found around the interior of the module, many of which the Smithsonian had never seen before.

Makers who wish to download and 3D print their own replica of the Apollo 11 command module can do so through the Smithsonian website. The museum has published STL files for the exterior of the Columbia, a pilot seat, a control panel knob, and two parts of the control panel itself, giving space enthusiasts a chance to print out their own unique collectables as we approach the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2019.

The team behind the project has expressed its satisfaction at being able to digitally show the Columbia, in full, to a new audience: “Finally, without having to be this librarian that won't let you read the book because you are afraid you are going to ruin the binding, for the first time you can look as much as you want and explore the entirety of this priceless artefact,” said Allan Needell, Columbia's curator at the National Air and Space Museum. “This is just a thrill to have access without the preservation concerns.”

In addition to the digital 3D model of Columbia, the National Air and Space Museum is preparing to display Neil Armstrong’s lunar extravehicular gloves and helmet for the first time since 2012. The items recently underwent restoration after the $720,000 “Reboot the Suit” Kickstarter campaign concluded successfully last summer. The gloves and helmet will be on display for a year at the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. “The opportunity to display these artefacts is rare because of their fragility and the necessity to maintain a controlled environment,” said Cathleen Lewis, a space history curator at the National Air and Space Museum. “We're excited for the opportunity to show our visitors these components.”

A month ago, the Smithsonian revealed that 3D printable models of Neil Armstrong’s gloves, promised to backers of the “Reboot the Suit” Kickstarter campaign, were almost ready for download.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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