Animation Isn’t Just For Cartoons—Mapping The Moon With Animation

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Lewis and Clark explored the great American wilderness from 1804 to 1806. The duo was responsible for mapping much of the unknown western half of the American territory, paving the way for exploration and settlement. 

In 2019, we’re looking up, not west, to find the next great frontier. As NASA ramps up preparations for the Artemis Project, it knows maps will be essential to mankind’s success on the Moon. 

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That’s why, for the last 10 years, NASA has been mapping and measuring every foot of the Moon in excruciating detail. It wasn’t until October 2019, however, that NASA released an animated map of the Moon. 

See how NASA created these maps, how they can be used, and their implications for the future of space travel. 

Gathering the mapping data

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NASA is a world leader in imaging, but despite its advanced technology, the organization has struggled to take quality photos of the Moon. This is no small feat, considering the Moon is millions of miles away from the Earth, which spins at a fast rate. When NASA took photos of the Moon from Earth, it resulted in blurry photos. 

That’s why NASA created the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Project. This orbiter has been circling the Moon for 10 years. The goal of the LRO is to measure the topography and landscape of the Moon. 

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To do this, the LRO is equipped with a camera and an altimeter. With this technology, the LRO can image the Moon while measuring the topography, accounting for elevation and other features on the surface. 

This isn’t just for fun, of course. NASA needs detailed images of the Moon’s surface in preparation for the Artemis Project, which aims to put humans back on the Moon by 2024. NASA scientists will use this data to identify safe landing sites and resources to have a more successful trip to the Moon.

Animating the Moon

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NASA’s LRO data made headlines when NASA employee and 3D artist, Ernie Wright, got permission to share this data with the public. You can download his CGI Moon Kit here

The kit is meant more for visual artists like Wright, who want to create realistic, in-depth animations of the Moon. 

Keep in mind that these animations aren’t actual photos of the Moon, but Wright’s interpretation of the data. 3D animation is an art, and Wright likes his art to tell a story. That’s why he included data showing the Apollo 17 Moon landing site. 

Although your average layperson might not be able to use the CGI Moon Kit, it has tremendous potential to both NASA and the public. The more we understand about our Moon, the more we can work together on the future of space exploration. 

The USA returns to the Moon

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The Artemis Project will put astronauts back on the Moon by 2024. Like Lewis and Clark, NASA’s mapping will make future exploration safer and more efficient. This will not only speed up our path to the Moon, but open up exploration to Mars and beyond.