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NASA put a man on the moon. Now, the Smithsonian is putting a rocket on the Mall


Amid the sea of white shirts, black ties and pocket protectors inside NASA’s firing room for the liftoff of Apollo 11 sat JoAnn Morgan.

WASHINGTON – Fifty years ago, men were launched to the moon on a Saturn V rocket. Only three of this type of rocket still exist, and none has ever been to D.C. Until now.

Starting Tuesday night, Americans will have a chance to experience the Apollo 11 rocket launch and moon landing in a multi-part visual show, starting with the illumination of the east face of the Washington Monument with a 363-foot Saturn V.

Later in the week, visitors can experience an immersive 17-minute documentary and countdown to liftoff with a 40-foot-wide re-creation of the famous Kennedy Space Center clock.

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“We thought this would be the ultimate experience of simulating what it was like 50 years ago when a Saturn V launched three people to the moon,” said Katie Moyer, Program Specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, which commissioned the project.

“Apollo 50: Go for the Moon” is part of an effort by the National Air and Space Museum to engage audiences through unconventional exhibits, said Nicholas Partridge, Public Affairs Specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

“It began as the idea that these two images would make a really unforgettable visual for the anniversary that might drive home the scale of the accomplishment for people who weren’t there to see it first hand,” Partridge said.

To make their vision a reality, the National Air and Space Museum partnered with the U.S. Department of the Interior and 59 Productions, an award-winning video and projection design company. Boeing and Raytheon sponsored the project.

The static rocket display will go live July 16, 17, and 18 from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. EDT. The free show will run at 9:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on July 19 and July 20. Viewing areas are on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian Castle between 9th and 12th Streets.

How they did it

It’s no simple feat to project light hundreds of feet into the sky. But 59 Productions knows a thing or two about large-scale displays.

Created in 2006, 59 Productions has spearheaded projects such as the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The group also has engineered projections onto the United Nation headquarters in New York, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Sydney Opera House.

A team of 25 storytellers and technical producers at 59 Productions has been working on the “Apollo 50” project for the past six months – along with dozens more staff and security for the event itself.

According to Richard Slaney, managing director of 59 Productions, the Washington Monument display requires a series of 24 carefully calibrated projectors set back from the foot of the monument. Three to five projectors will converge on each part of the monument to achieve the necessary brightness and clarity.

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“On some levels it’s a very simple surface. We’re just projecting onto the east face,” Slaney said. “But that rectangle is 550 feet tall, and it’s one of the most precious and esteemed monuments in the whole of the U.S. So there’s a real sensitivity to making sure we get it right.”

The 17-minute show also features full-motion visual projections on screens set up along 12th Street.

“If you go to a cinema or a stage, it’s pretty clear where you watch and what you do. Here, we’re making an audience area, but your attention is going to be fought for between this LED wall, these huge projection screens and the monument itself,” Slaney said.

Blast off: These TV specials celebrate 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing

The viewing area on the National Mall can accommodate up to 24,000 people at a time for each of six separate showings over the two-day run.

“That’s the thing that’s really exciting about it – the scale of the show,” Slaney said. “It’s 550 feet tall, and you’re watching with 20,000 other excited people around you. What we hope we can do with that is emulate the excitement, positivity and hopefulness of the mission itself.”

Follow Grace Hauck on Twitter at @grace_hauck.

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  • From advances in healthcare to new food items, space exploration led to much more than just putting a man on the moon.nbsp;24/7 Tempo reviewed dozens of modern products that exist because of advancements in the field of space exploration.1 of 31
  • strong1. Artificial limbs:nbsp;/strongInnovations originally designed for space vehicles, including artificial muscle systems, robotic sensors, diamond-joint coatings, and temper foam, make artificial human limbs more functional, durable, comfortablenbsp;and life-like.2 of 31
  • strong2. Scratch-resistant lenses:nbsp;/strongAfter NASA developed scratch-resistant astronaut helmets, the agency gave a license to Foster-Grant Corporation to continue experimenting with scratch-resistant plastics, which now comprise most sunglasses and prescription lenses.3 of 31
  • strong3. Insulin pump:nbsp;/strongNeeding to monitor astronauts vital signs in space, the Goddard Space Flight Center created monitoring systems that have been adapted to regulate blood sugar levels and release insulin as needed.4 of 31
  • strong4. Firefighting equipment:nbsp;/strongThe polymers created for use in space suits have been valuable in creating flame-retardant, heat-resistant suits for firefighters. Newer suits also feature circulating coolant to keep firefighters from succumbing to heat and advanced breathing systems modeled after astronaut life support systems.5 of 31
  • strong5. DustBusters:nbsp;/strongDuring the Apollo moon landings, NASA partnered with Black amp; Decker to invent various battery-powered tools for drilling and taking rock samples in space. This led to the creation of the ultra-light, compact, cordless DustBuster.6 of 31
  • strong6. LASIK:nbsp;/strongTechnology used to track astronauts eyes during periods in space in order to assess how humans frames of reference are affected by weightlessness has become essential for use during LASIK surgery. The device tracks a patients eye positions for the surgeon.7 of 31
  • strong7. Shock absorbers for buildings: /strongShock absorbers designed to protect equipment during space shuttle launches are now used to protect bridges and buildings in areas prone to earthquakes.8 of 31
  • strong8. Solar cells:nbsp;/strongOut of a need to power space missions, NASA has invented, and consistently improved, photovoltaic cells, sharing the advancements with other companies to accelerate the technology.9 of 31
  • strong9. Water filtration:nbsp;/strongIn the 1970s, NASA developed filtration systems that utilized iodine and cartridge filters to ensure that astronauts had access to safe, tasteless water. This filtering technology is now standard.10 of 31
  • strong10. Better tires:nbsp;/strongAfter the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company invented the material used in NASAs Viking Lander parachute shrouds, the company began using it in its everyday radial tires. The material is stronger than steel and adds thousands of miles of life to the tires.11 of 31
  • strong11. Wireless headsets:nbsp;/strongAlong with two airline pilots whod invented a prototype of a wireless headset, NASA built a light, hands-free communication system that would allow astronauts to communicate with teams on Earth. The technology was utilized in the Mercury and Apollo missions.12 of 31
  • strong12. Adjustable smoke detector:nbsp;/strongIn partnership with the Honeywell Corporation, NASA improved smoke detector technology in the 1970s, creating a unit with adjustable sensitivity to avoid constant false alarms.13 of 31
  • strong13. Invisible braces:nbsp;/strongAfter NASA and Ceradyne invented a clear material that could protect radar equipment without blocking the radars signal, Unitek Corporation/3M teamed up with Ceradyne, using the material to invent invisible braces.14 of 31
  • strong14. Freeze-dried foods:nbsp;/strongDuring long space missions where every ounce of weight and inch of space aboard a shuttle must be maximized, freeze-dried foods have become a staple. Freeze-dried foods are incredibly light, and they retain their nutritional value. Once reconstituted, they are also easier and more pleasant to eat than former meal sources that were packed into squeeze tubes.15 of 31
  • strong15. Camera phones:nbsp;/strongIn the 1990s, NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory invented a light, miniature imaging system that required little energy in order to take high quality photographs from space. This technology has become standard in cell phone and computer cameras.16 of 31
  • strong16. CAT scans:nbsp;/strongNASAs digital signal technology, originally used to recreate images of the moon during the Apollo missions, is the underlying technology that makes CAT scans and MRIs possible.17 of 31
  • strong17. Baby formula:nbsp;/strongA nutritious, algae-based vegetable oil invented by NASA scientists who were searching for a recycling agent to use during long space missions is now an additive in many infant formulas. It contains two essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized by the human body.18 of 31
  • strong18. Lifeshears:nbsp;/strongThe pyrotechnic mechanism used to detach a space shuttle from its rocket boosters after launch is the same used in Lifeshears, but in a smaller scale. Lifeshears are a tool that can be used in emergency situations to cut into cars or collapsed buildings to rescue people trapped inside.19 of 31
  • strong19. Grooved pavement:nbsp;/strongThe requirements for landing space shuttles led NASA scientists to do extensive research on minimizing hydroplaning ndash; when vehicles slide uncontrollably on a wet surface ndash; on runways. They discovered that cutting grooves into runways helps channel water away from the runway and significantly reduces accidents. Many highways and airports now have grooved pavement.20 of 31
  • strong20. Air purifier:nbsp;/strongIn the sealed, artificial environment of a spacecraft, attempts to grow plants have led to ethylene buildup. NASA invented an air purifier for the International Space Station that is now used widely on Earth ndash; everywhere from restaurants, to hospitals, to refrigerators ndash; to remove ethylene, which hastens decay, as well as other particulates and pathogens.21 of 31
  • strong21. Memory foam:nbsp;/strongMemory foam was originally invented as a pad for astronaut seats that would mold to their bodies during the high forces of takeoff and landing, then return to a neutral state. This eliminated the need to customize seats to individual astronauts body sizes.22 of 31
  • strong22. Workout machines:nbsp;/strongBecause prolonged exposure to zero-gravity leads to bone loss and muscle atrophy, NASA created workout machines to enable astronauts to maintain physical fitness while in space.23 of 31
  • strong23. Home insulation:nbsp;/strongNASA began experimenting with insulation technology for the Apollo space crafts and suits, leading to the invention of common construction insulation.24 of 31
  • strong24. Infrared ear thermometers/strongbr /Infrared ear thermometers, which allow for instant temperature capture without the risk of picking up pathogens and causing cross-infection, utilize the same technology developed for assessing the temperature of distant planets.25 of 31
  • strong25. Ice-resistant airplanes:nbsp;/strongIce is a real threat for shuttles in space, and NASA has devised multiple electronic solutions to prevent ice formation on spacecrafts, some of which are now used on commercial aircraft.26 of 31
  • strong26. Portable computer:nbsp;/strongThe first portable computer, the Grid Compass, was used on multiple shuttle missions in the 1980s. Nicknamed SPOC (Shuttle Portable On-Board Computer), the computer could communicate with onboard devices and was used to launch satellites off space shuttles.27 of 31
  • strong27. LEDs:nbsp;/strongIntended for use to help in growing plants aboard space shuttles, NASAs LED technology has been utilized in the development of LED medical devices that relax muscles and relieve pain in soldiers, cancer patients, and those with Parkinsons disease.28 of 31
  • strong28. 3D food printing:nbsp;/strongThe ability to cook food on long space missions is no longer impossible with the invention of 3D food printers. This technology is now being refined for commercial use for the production of chocolates and other confections as well as to create nutritious foods for diabetics and others with specific dietary needs.29 of 31
  • strong29. Computer mouse:nbsp;/strongWhile searching for a way to increase interaction with onboard computers and allow users to perform tasks like manipulate data, NASA and Stanford researchers developed the first mouse.30 of 31
  • strong30. Athletic shoes:nbsp;/strongA shock-absorbent rubber molding designed for astronauts helmets inspired what is now a common feature in the soles of modern athletic shoes.31 of 31

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