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The beautiful 3D behind America's great engineering feats

The Historic American Engineering Record contains gorgeous 3D documentation of big projects like the Space Shuttle Discovery, some of the country's great bridges, and more.

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Daniel Terdiman
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1 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

Space Shuttle Discovery point cloud

The United States has a treasure trove of engineering wonders scattered from coast to coast. From bridges to tunnels to space ships to gold mines, and more, the National Park Service has been collecting detailed 3D renderings of a wide variety of our engineers' best projects.

The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) is a joint project of the National Park Service, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Library of Congress that has been documenting these great engineering feats.

On Monday, HAER, Autodesk and kubit, an Autodesk developer partner, will announce the technological process of documenting these structures and the 3D underpinnings behind many of these projects. The HAER employs laser scanning technology and kubit software to make 'point clouds' of data that build 3D images of the structures, then utilizes AutoCAD to translate the point data into detailed 3D models and 2D line drawings.

This is the point cloud image of the Space Shuttle Discovery, which made its first flight on August 30, 1984, and its last landing on March 9, 2011.

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2 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

Space Shuttle Discovery 3D image

This is HAER's detailed 3D image of the Space Shuttle Discovery, which was derived from data in point cloud image created with laser scanning technology.
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3 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

Space Shuttle Discovery 2D drawing

After the detailed 3D image is created, the next document is a 2D drawing, in this case of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
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4 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

Discovery photograph

Finally, we see a photograph of Space Shuttle Discovery. The HAER project has a deep archive of imagery like this across a broad spectrum of American's great engineering feats.
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5 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

F1 Engine Test Stand point cloud

This is the point cloud image of NASA's F1 Engine test stand. It was used for testing a single F1 engine, five of which powered the initial launch stage of the Saturn V rocket that was the launch vehicle for NASA's Apollo lunar missions.
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6 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

F1 Test Stand 2D drawing

This is the 2D drawing of NASA's F1 Test Stand.
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7 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

F1 Test Stand photograph

Rounding out HAER's imagery is this photograph of the F1 Test Stand.
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8 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

ALFA 1 Stand point cloud

This is the point cloud image of the ALFA 1 stand, that was used to ignite more than 1,080 NASA rocket ignitions from 1955 on. Among the missions the ALFA 1 stand supported was the Atlas-Mercury program that sent America's first astronauts into space.
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9 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

ALFA 1 3D image

This is the detailed 3D image of the ALFA 1 Test Stand.
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10 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

ALFA 1 2D drawing

Based on the point cloud imagery, the HAER created this 2D drawing of the ALFA 1 Test Stand.
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11 of 21 NASA, National Park Service, Historic American Engineering Record

ALFA 1 Test Stand photograph

This is a photograph of NASA's ALFA 1 Test Stand.
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12 of 21 National Park Service

TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport

The TWA Flight Center at New York's JFK Airport is one of the most recognizable airline terminals in the history of aviation. Designed by Eero Sarinen, it opened in 1962 and featured mid-20th century modern architecture, engineering, and terminal logistics. According to the Library of Congress, it was "a direct rebuttal to the abstracted rectilinear forms of the International Style which dominated corporate American architecture in the 1950s. The Terminal was a carefully considered response to the conditions at New York International Airport (now JFK), specifically the Terminal City master plan adopted by the Port Authority of New York in 1955. Its use of satellite passenger loading areas was an influential innovation in airport terminal design."
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13 of 21 National Park Service

TWA JFK side section and interior details

This drawing, found in the Library of Congress archives, presents a look at the transverse section of the TWA Center at New York's JFK Airport, as well as at details of the interior of the terminal.
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14 of 21 National Park Service

JFK Airport vicinity map

This vicinity map of JFK Airport in New York shows the famous airport's layout, circa 1962.
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15 of 21 National Park Service

Frank Lloyd Wright's Frederick C. Robie House

This is one of a series of planning drawings of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's groundbreaking Frederick C. Robie House that is hosted by the Library of Congress' Historic American Buildings Survey. The Chicago building, considered by some to be among the most important works of American architecture, was started in 1908 and finished in 1910. It is perhaps the best-known example of Wright's Prairie style and is said to be a precursor to modernism.
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16 of 21 National Park Service

Robie House photo

A photography of the Robie House at the University of Chicago. The Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece was completed in 1910.
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17 of 21 National Park Service

Robie house stained glass window drawings

This drawing showcases some of Wright's easily recognized stained-glass windows, of which the Robie House has many.
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18 of 21 National Park Service

Stained-glass window photo

A photograph of some of the stained-glass windows in the Robie House.
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19 of 21 National Park Service

Great flight cage

This is the so-called Great Flight Cage at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. It was built in 1963 and opened in 1965, later receiving an excellence in design award from the American Iron and Steel Institute.
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20 of 21 National Park Service

Point cloud of Great Flight Cage

This is the point cloud image of the Great Flight Cage at the National Zoo.
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21 of 21 National Park Service

2D drawing of Great Flight Cage

This is the 2D line drawing of the Great Flight Cage.

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