Ten years ago we created Lunar Explorer: the world's first Virtual Reality simulation of the Moon. That's the ENTIRE Moon: near side, far side, the poles, the ENTIRE surface of the Moon! That's 38 million square kilometers of Lunar Surface!
The original vision for Lunar Explorer was to give people a visual experience of being on the Moon which was as realistic, detailed and accurate as possible. The level of realism we wanted to achieve was such that it would be indistinguishable from an HD video of an actual trip to the Moon If you could actually have gone to the Moon 10 years ago and taken an HD video camera to record your trip and then displayed that video on an HD screen.
That was what we were aiming for. Of course, we had to deal with two fundamental limitations: The state of the art of current consumer level PC technology at the time, and the quality of the best data sets available for the Moon. We knew when we started that we were far short of ideal on both counts, but we decided to forge ahead and come as close to that vision as possible.
From the beginning, Lunar Explorer was conceived and designed to be a Virtual Reality, fully immersive, interactive experience. Although it ran on a regular consumer level Windows PC, it was capable of driving a stereoscopic Head Mounted Display (HMD) with dual display screens (left and right eye) with a fast response head position tracking sensor.
We took the Head Mounted Display to all the Moon and Space conferences we could and many people at these conferences had the opportunity to experience being on the Moon this way. Some of those people were actual astronauts who had walked on the Moon!
By the way, even before we embarked on the project, we had been informed by computer experts that what we wanted to achieve was not possible first of all, and even if it could be done, it would require about a million dollars worth of computer equipment just to run the simulation.
Undeterred, we forged ahead and found a way to do it. And it didn't require a million dollar computer to run the simulation. As we said above, it ran on a regular home Windows PC. And this is a good life lesson: If you ever have a dream that is considered kind of "way out there" what you have to do is go around and talk to people about it. You should seek out the most recognized authorities on whatever it is you want to do. And then, when one or more of them tell you that what you want to do is impossible, you should thank him and get to work immediately. Time and again, history has shown that when and expert declares something impossible, it virtually guarantees that it is about to be achieved.
CREATING LUNAR EXPLORER
We started out by collecting all data we could access about the Moon. First, we obtained the best available Lunar topography data set from NASA. This data set was derived from visual data obtained by the 1994 Clementine Mission and processed under the direction of Dr. Paul Spudis. We also had to research and collect information on all of the Apollo, Surveyor and all the Soviet Lunar missions. As part of our research efforts, we located the most comprehensive list of Apollo objects left on the Moon which was at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. It was in the form of a scanned PDF file of a poor quality photocopy of the original list. We actually retyped all the information into an Excel spreadsheet and sent the electronic version of the list to the Smithsonian.
We also collected data on all the scientific instruments sent to the Moon and all the science done by those instruments.
With all of this information on hand, we created a replica of the Moon, as it exists today. The topological features of the surface (mountains, valleys, craters, mare) are replicated based on the Clementine data. All of the Apollo landing sites are replicated with all of the instruments left on the surface. All of the successful soft landing missions are replicated. The Soviet Luna 4 mission was the to soft land on the Moon. You can go to that landing site and you will find Luna 4 sitting on the surface of the Moon and walk all around it. you can go to any Apollo landing site and walk among the surface instruments, you can go up to the LEM, you can see and walk up to the Lunar Rovers of the last 3 Apollo missions. And did you know that the soviets also sent two Lunakhod Lunar Rover robots to the Moon? They are there. You can go to their landing site and look at the landing craft, then make your way to the actual Lunakhod rovers a few miles away from the landers.
We tried our best to achieve accuracy and realism and not to leave any details out. We also had to think about the sky. Lunar Explorer has an accurate star map that is visible from the surface or from Lunar orbit. You can easily find all of the visible constellations as you look into the starry sky. Of course the Earth is in the simulation (visible from the near side and from orbit as it rotates slowly about its axis). The last major component we had to simulate was the Sun. We did something cool with the Sun: we made it possible for you to control the position of the Sun relative to the Earth-Moon system. This way you can create dramatic lighting effects, like sunrises and sunsets at any time, while walking on any point on the surface or while orbiting.
Great care was taken to make sure each and every visual element was as close as possible to reality.
LUNAR EXPLORER FEATURES AND DETAILS
So, if you bought Lunar Explorer, installed it in your home PC and started up the simulation, what would you be able to do on the Moon? The following is a partial list of the features we included (there are more).
LUNAR EXPLORER VERSION 1.0
THIS IS THE FRONT COVER OF THE DVD CASE FOR LUNAR EXPLORER 1.0.
WE SOLD AND SHIPPED THOUSANDS OF COPIES ALL OVER THE WORLD. IF YOU WERE NOT ONE OF OUR ORIGINAL CUSTOMERS, BELOW IS A DESCRIPTION OF WHAT YOU COULD HAVE EXPERIENCED.
BUT NOT TO WORRY, VERSION 2.0 IS COMING SOON.
follow us on twitter: @Lunar_Explorer
PRETTY COOL STUFF.... BUT
We are incredibly proud of what we achieved. We believe we created an amazing breakthrough and unique experience like nothing that ever existed before. Our customer testimonials confirm that we achieved many of our most important objectives as a user experience. People were touched, inspired, moved by the experience....
But we are fully aware that it fell short of our vision. Ten years ago we were limited by the quality of the Lunar surface data available and by the technology within reach of the average consumer. The Head Mounted Display (HMD) we used to demonstrate Lunar Explorer at conferences and private showings, for example, cost $30,000. This meant that people could not experience the full impact of an actual immersive presence or feeling of being on the Moon. They were limited to seeing the Moon on a computer screen.
We are NOW about to enter a very exciting new phase. Oculus rift will not only be affordable to the average consumer, it is far superior in performance to the $30,000 unit we used in our demos. Also, there is a new high resolution, highly detailed data set of the Lunar surface and the capability of home computers has followed Moore's law in the last decade, so computers are 20 to 30 times more powerful and more capable than they were 10 years ago.
What all this means is that it's time for Lunar Explorer Version 2.0 - the Oculus Rift version!
This is what we are working on. We need your help. We need you to get the word out to your friends about our project.
We will soon announce a crowd funding campaign to bring Lunar Explorer 2.0 to the Oculus platform.
Please follow us on twitter, and look for us on Facebook in the next few days.... You too can play an important, critical part in making this happen. Want to be part of the Adventure?
Our Twitter handle is: @Lunar_Explorer
LET'S BUILD THE FUTURE TOGETHER!