One Small - Virtual - Step

One of the most unforgettable quotes on Earth — witnessed live by some six hundred million people — wasn't uttered here. "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind," the famous words of astronaut Neil Armstrong upon becoming the first person to set foot on another world, have a lasting legacy not likely to be met until human exploration eventually reaches our planetary neighbors.

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 11's historic mission, surely one of mankind's greatest technical achievements. Lovers of all things technological that we are, it seems only fitting to celebrate this milestone by way of the technology that has arisen since that time. Particularly fitting is the World Wide Web, which made its public debut two weeks shy of the missions twenty-second anniversary — Google lists some 11,200,000 sites referencing the landmark flight, from those celebrating its enduring legacy to those placing it on a Hollywood soundstage.

Among the former are a plethora of sites, the crown jewel being the recently-launched We Choose The Moon from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. The site offers "real-time" information about the mission, as though it was currently taking place, along with more information about the events than anyone could ever possibly digest. (Adobe's Flash Player 10 is required.)

NASA, of course, has their own collection of sites about the lunar landing. It's Apollo 40th Anniversary site offers highlights, including comments from President Obama on the historic mission, information about the US-USSR space race, a downloadable multimedia package dubbed the First Footprints Toolkit, image galleries, personal stories, even the planting of a "moon tree" from seeds carried on Apollo 14.

Not to be outdone, NASA's Lunar Science Institute has build a page celebrating the Apollo missions and providing information about the current plans to return to the moon. It provides a wealth of information, including interviews with eminent astronomy experts, updates about spacecraft and satellites scouting out the return, and upcoming moon-related NASA events. The agency's Human Space Flight site offers historical information about the mission and its crew, along with links to a number of other informative sites.

More than a little of the physical history of human lunar exploration has made its way into the collections of the Smithsonian Institution. The National Air and Space museum has put together a site about the Apollo 11 landing, with details about the artifacts in its collection &mdash including the Colombia command module — facts about the crew and their mission, as well as an audio/video library.

Google, of course, is good for more than just hunting down websites about the moon landing. Its Google Moon application provides a Google Earth-like experience of the Apollo missions, including important landmarks from each of the missions. For those looking for a Web 2.0 way to celebrate the anniversary, Nature News is providing its own "real-time" streaming experience of the Apollo 11 events via Twitter.

There's an Apollo 11 easter egg of sorts for the programmers in the crowd as well. Though it's incomplete and forty years old, the source code of the original Colossus 2A (Comanche 055) software used on the Apollo 11 Command Module's Apollo Guidance Computer is available — and in the public domain. Volunteers have painstakingly transcribed the code from some 1750 images. Perhaps even more incredible is the work of John Pultorak, who after four years, $3000, and over 1,000 pages of documentation, built an accurate, functional reconstruction of the Apollo Guidance Computer. Somehow that Commodore 64 in the basement pales in comparison...

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