When Apollo 11 happened in real time, people back home could follow along with grainy, though exhilarating, video footage. Yet they had little sense of where on the moon the action was happening and how far the astronauts explored. Now three-dimensional computer models based on recent satellite imagery can re-create each step of the mission and the terrain it covered. Based on a 2012 photograph of the landing site from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a height map of the surface shows the contours of the moon where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin traveled, as well as the positions of the lander, the experiments and even the astronauts’ footpaths.
Satellite imagery helps to preserve details of the mission that will ultimately be lost to time: extreme temperatures, solar radiation and the unrelenting bombardment of micrometeorites on the lunar surface are eroding the footprints and will eventually wipe out even the machinery. Little by little, Tranquility Base is disappearing.