JFK Presidential Library Releases Moon Landing Augmented Reality App

Janko Roettgers

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has released an augmented reality app (AR) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and the role President Kennedy played in getting the U.S. to the moon. The app, which is available for free for iPhones and Android, lets users relive the Apollo 11 mission in their living room, and visit a life-sized model of the Saturn V rocket on the library grounds in Boston.

The app has been created by digital marketing agency Digitas, which began working on the project together with the JFK Library around a year ago. Digitas vice president Mark Philip said that his team was looking to stand out from the numerous other documentaries and apps celebrating the iconic mission: “We thought: How can we celebrate it in a way that hasn’t been done before?”

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The result is a unique app that combines AR technology with both location and a real-time component. After installing the app, users can put a digital overlay of the Saturn V rocket onto their living room carpet, and test the thrusters to see the spacecraft burn some fuel — but the actual mission won’t begin until the day of the 50th anniversary. “On 9:32am on July 16, the rocket will launch, just like it did 50 years ago,” said Philip.

And just like the real mission 50 years ago, the AR version will last more than 120 hours, and commence on July 20 with a touch-down on the moon surface — think of it as a recreation of the entire mission in real time.

Philip readily admitted that not every minute of that journey is going to be as exciting as the beginning and the end. “You’ll have some quiet moments,” he said. To keep users interested, Digitas not only added context about the mission itself, but also photographs, videos and more that highlight John F. Kennedy’s role in getting it started when he called for bringing a man to the moon within a decade in 1961. “We went deep into the JFK archives,” Philip said.

Digitas also interviewed Michael Collins, the third astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission. And to make the experience more interactive, users can also try their luck and a variety of missions, which include landing the spacecraft on the surface of the moon. Digitas used some of NASA’s original dexterity training tools to inspire these mini games, said Philip. “For NASA buffs and space buffs out there, they love this stuff.”

Users who have a chance to visit the JFK Library from July 16 to July 20 get to enjoy a special treat: A 363-ft tall original-size recreation of the Saturn V Rocket on the library grounds. “One of the things we wanted to showcase was the sheer size of the rocket,” said Philip. During those days, the library will also hold a dedicated Space Summit conference, as well as a Space Fest festival to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

By combining location-based AR, live streaming and educational games in the JFK Moonshot app, Digitas ultimately aimed to broaden the definition of documentary filmmaking for a mobile-first generation, said Philip. “An AR experience can be a documentary,” he said. “Who says a game can’t be a documentary?”

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