Smithsonian launches online Apollo 11 high-res 3D spacecraft model for moon landing's 47th anniversary

One great way to commemorate the 47th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 moon landing, which took place this day in 1969, is to travel to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC (highly recommended!), and see in person the "Columbia" spacecraft that carried astronauts to the moon. But for those of us who can't get to DC and are feeling the O.G. space spirit, starting today you can explore a virtual reality simulation of the capsule's interior, painstakingly digitized by Smithsonian staff.

Today the Smithsonian is debuting this 3-D model of the Apollo 11 Command Module "Columbia" for exploring online, downloading for 3-D printing or viewing through a virtual reality viewer.

Sarah Sulick tells Boing Boing,

"Columbia" is the spacecraft that carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon on July 20, 1969 and currently is on display in our Air and Space Museum. When visitors come to the museum they can peek inside one of the hatch windows, but they can't see its entire intricate interior. This model allows us to give anyone with an internet connection the chance to virtually sit where the Apollo 11 astronauts sat 47th years ago today.


View the model here, with a guided tour by curator Allan Needell (click the globe icon in the model). You can also download the data to print on a 3-D printer.

View the interior of the module with a VR viewer (Google Cardboard or Gear VR)

Astronaut Graffitti, Apollo 11 interior. Smithsonian Institution photo

Astronaut Graffiti, Apollo 11 interior. Smithsonian Institution photo

They found astronaut graffiti inside! Reports the Smithsonian,

While 3D scanning the Apollo 11 Command Module, museum staff uncovered writing on the interior walls of the module. The main control panel of the spacecraft contains essential switches and indicators that had to be referred to and operated during the most crucial aspects of the flight. Numbers and references written by hand onto the panel can be checked against the audio and written transcripts from the mission to provide a more vivid picture of just what transpired.

John Hirasaki inside the Apollo 11 Command Module

John Hirasaki inside the Apollo 11 Command Module

All three Apollo 11 astronauts were quarantined for several weeks following the mission at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. Quarantined with them was a photographer and technician, John Hirasaki, who was given the job of removing essential items from the Command Module and decontaminating the interior. This image was taken during the quarantine period and shows the condition of the cabin shortly after its arrival back in the country. Note the calendar visible just to the left of Harasaki.

Calendar inside the Apollo 11 Command Module

Calendar inside the Apollo 11 Command Module

During the 3D scanning project of the Apollo 11 Command Module, museum staff uncovered writing on the interior walls of the module. At some point during the mission, one of the astronauts created a small calendar on a smooth wall below one of the lockers. Each day of the Apollo 11 mission is crossed out except for landing day. The calendar is covered with a plastic sheet held by tape. Museum curators are in the process of trying to determine just when the calendar was drawn.

Below, the full Smithsonian announcement on today's Apollo 11 VR launch, and the extensive digitization project that led to today's release.

Smithsonian Releases High-Resolution 3-D Model of Apollo 11
Command Module To Explore and Print

To mark the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon-landing mission, the Smithsonian has made available a high-resolution 3-D scan of the command module "Columbia," the spacecraft that carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon. This highly detailed model, available at, allows anyone with an internet connection to explore the entire craft including its intricate interior, which is not possible when viewing the artifact in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian is also making the data file of the model available for download so it can be 3-D printed or viewed with virtual-reality goggles.

The 3-D scanning process for the command module was extremely challenging. The module is composed of reflective surfaces that 3-D capture devices do not read well. Its interior dashboards are made up of many components that are delicate and intricate, which also presents a challenge for many 3-D capture devices. Because of the complicated nature of this scan, the Smithsonian 3-D team worked with its technology partner, Autodesk Inc., a leader in cloud-based 3-D design and engineering software.

Autodesk developed custom 3-D scanning equipment for the project, invented algorithms for integrating multi-sensor scan data, developed software for processing the massive data set and generated a master 3-D model of the command module. As one of the most sophisticated scans ever made of a historic artifact, it employed seven different scanning technologies to capture nearly 1 trillion high-resolution measurements producing more than a terabyte of compressed data resulting in a highly detailed master model. Autodesk also produced animations, virtual-reality panoramas, and a unique in-browser viewing platform so Smithsonian curators can publish interpretive and interactive 3-D experiences of the command module for the public.

The scanning enabled the curatorial and collections team to get glimpses of the interior of the command module they had not seen. Protective covering over the hatch opening of the Command Module has only been removed a handful of times since the artifact came into the collection in 1971.

During the scanning, curators rediscovered a number of instances of "astronaut graffiti" not previously known to the museum. Some of the markings include numbers and information relayed from mission control written on walls or instrument panels. There also is a hand-drawn calendar by one of the astronauts, with each day crossed out except for landing day. Seeing such details and studying the text have enhanced curators' understanding of how the missions were conducted. Now details like these markings are available in the 3-D model. The 3-D model will also be featured in the upcoming exhibition "Destination Moon," slated for opening at the National Air and Space Museum in 2020.

The museum is commemorating the anniversary of the moon landing by displaying Armstrong's Apollo 11 Lunar Exploration gloves and helmet at the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. They will be on view for one year, starting July 20. The Smithsonian launched its 3-D scanning and imaging program in 2013 to make museum collections and scientific specimens more widely available for use and study.

The Smithsonian 3-D Collection features objects from the Smithsonian that highlight different applications of 3-D capture and printing, as well as digital delivery methods for 3-D data in research, education and conservation. Objects include the Wright Flyer, a model of the remnants of supernova Cassiopeia A, a fossil whale and a sixth-century Buddha statue. The public can explore all these objects online at, a free custom-built, plug-in-free browser and download the data for their own use in modeling programs or to print using a 3-D printer.