Google re-creates Apollo 11 cockpit in AR for 50th anniversary

Google's first use of AR in Search equips your living room with a 3D re-creation of the command module that first took astronauts to the moon.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
3 min read

We've all seen this image of Buzz Aldrin on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, but have you taken a tour of the command module?


Google has a slew of things planned for July to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and on Wednesday the search giant kicks off the party with the first of two AR experiences that'll put you in the astronauts' boots. A new augmented reality feature lets you explore a 3D rendering of the cockpit that took the spacemen to the moon in July 1969.

"Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins inspired us to learn more about space and life here on Earth," Google said in a blog post Wednesday. "To mark this milestone of human achievement, we're bringing you new ways to learn about this moment in history, including new perspectives and stories that celebrate the lesser-known figures who made it happen."

Click here for To The Moon, a CNET multipart series examining our relationship with the moon from the first landing of Apollo 11 to future human settlement on its surface.

Robert Rodriguez/CNET

The AR experience launching Wednesday promises to place users in a 3D re-creation of the Apollo 11 command module, the spacecraft that carried the first humans to step on the moon. For Google it represents another first, as it'll be the initial opportunity for users to experience cultural artifacts through AR in Google Search.

The new feature, announced in May, displays 3D object links in Search, which brings up three-dimensional models that can then be dropped into the real world at proper scale in AR. To get your command module ready, search for "Apollo 11" on any AR-compatible Android or iOS device, and you'll get the option to see the module in 3D, allowing you to zoom in and out and explore it from all angles.

Apollo 11 moon landing: Neil Armstrong's defining moment

See all photos

"Using augmented reality, you can then bring the command module into your space -- your bedroom, kitchen or wherever you are -- to get a better sense of its size," Google said. Another AR experience planned for later this month will offer a close-up look at Armstrong's spacesuit.

Along with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Google aims to use augmented reality, video, photos and stories to create an immersive experience that gives users a feeling of what the journey to the moon was like.

Many people are familiar with the highlights and major players in the Apollo program, and Google's collaboration with the Smithsonian aims to expand that knowledge with 20 new visual Stories in Search that use photos and videos to highlight lesser-known people and details of the missions. Among the unsung Apollo heroes profiled are Rita Rapp, who developed the lunar journey's meal plan, and Margaret Hamilton, who led development of the on-board flight software for the missions and is credited with coining the term "software engineering."

Google has also added 40 new exhibits on Apollo 11 to its Arts & Culture section, including CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite's reflections on humankind's first steps on the moon, as well as a lesson on how to put on a space suit. (Disclosure: CBS News is owned by CNET parent CBS.)

On July 15, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's launch to the moon, Google plans to add several new tours and quizzes to Google Earth.