Lead Forensics

The Smithsonian publishes high-res 3D scan of the Apollo 11 command module

Aug 2, 2016 | 3D Scanning, Design

To mark the 47th anniversary of the moon-landing mission, the Smithsonian recently made available a high resolution 3D scan of the Apollo 11 command module “Columbia”.

This highly detailed model, of the spacecraft that carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon, allows anyone with an internet connection to explore the entire craft.

The scan includes its intricate interior, which is not possible to see when viewing the artefact 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 3D printed or viewed with virtual-reality goggles.

As one of the most sophisticated scans ever made of a historic artefact, the Smithsonian and its technology partner employed seven different scanning technologies to capture nearly 1 trillion high-resolution measurements. This produced more than a terabyte of compressed data resulting in a highly detailed master model.

Animations, virtual-reality panoramas, and a unique in-browser viewing platform were created so Smithsonian curators can publish interpretive and interactive 3D experiences of the command module for the public.

The scanning also enabled the curatorial and collections team to get glimpses of the interior of the Apollo 11 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 artefact came into the Smithsonian 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.

The Smithsonian launched its 3D scanning and imaging programme in 2013 to make the museum’s collections and scientific specimens more widely available for use and study.

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The PES Scanning blog provides information and news on the scanning and engineering services we offer. The blog also includes views from our team and information about projects we’ve been working on.