Given my interest in space exploration, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that my second Exploring Sansar article focuses on the LOOT Interactive NASA Apollo Museum, based on the Apollo Saturn Centre at the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Centre. However, there is another reason for my doing so: as the Sansar Creator Beta opened, it was – and remains as of the time of writing this piece – one of the most comprehensive demonstrations of Sansar’s potential for creating standalone, easily accessible educational / historical interactive virtual spaces.
As the name states, this experience is a celebration of America’s triumph in sending men to the Moon and returning them safely to the Earth at what was the dawn of the space age. As politically motivated as it may have been, Apollo was – despite the tragedies and near-disasters which marked it – a huge triumph of humankind’s determination and technical prowess.
Unsurprisingly, given this *is* a museum, the setting is that of a mammoth hanger-like structure dominated by the huge form of an Apollo Saturn V rocket lain upon its side. Visitors arrive in a presentation area at the “base” of the rocket where, facing the five F1 engine bells of the S-IC first stage of the booster, is a huge video screen, used to present a film on the entire Apollo programme, from birth, through development and the horror of Apollo 1, through to the triumph of Apollo 11, and thence onwards through the remaining six missions to the Moon, together with the recovery of the near-loss of Apollo 13.
Flanking the Saturn V are two raised galleries featuring the Apollo missions with photos, mission logos and information boards. These start with the tragic loss of Apollo 1 and astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee and run down either side of the rocket, progressing through the preparatory missions leading up to the first manned lunar landing, and thence on through Apollo 17.
Sitting either side of the nose of the Saturn V are the LEM and the CSM. These and the rocket are neatly labelled, and the Service Module is shown with a cutaway in roughly the area where the liquid oxygen tanks exploded on Apollo 13, crippling it and leading to the rescue flight around the Moon. In the well between these display areas, starting with a model of the Earth, are a pair of time lines for the Apollo 11 mission. The first covers the journey from the Earth to the Moon, with principal events indicated along the way by scale models and annotations / information panels. The other similarly documents Apollo 11’s return to Earth.
Also, on the floor of these time lines are a series of interactive circles. Stepping on these will play audio clips of conversations between Mission Control and Apollo 11, and commentary from NASA on the mission status. There are other audio elements to be discovered as you explore the museum: an extract from Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University in September 1962, when he uttered those immortal word, “We choose to go to the Moon.” There’s also audio at the Saturn V display.
Beneath a model of the Moon which shows the landing areas of the six Apollo missions to reach its surface, sits a teleport disk. Simply step on it to be carried 384,400 km (240,250 mi) to Mare Tranquillitatis – the Sea of Tranquillity – and to where the Apollo LEM Eagle as it sits on the Moon. Pan / look up from here while you’re exploring, and you’ll get to see one of the most heart-catching sights a human can witness: looking back across the blackness of space to the beautiful, fragile marble of Earth.
Sansar’s current status does tend to limit what can be done interactively on the platform, and this in turn limits some of the effectiveness of experiences like this. For example, it would be nice of have a finer level of control over audio; right now, it is possible to end up with different audio elements confusingly overlapping one another (I have to admit I also found the clump-clump of shoes on solid floor is also a little off-putting when walking on the Moon). It would also be nice to have more interactive elements as well; as it is, the hanging information area above the Sea of Tranquillity setting is informative, but alignment with the appropriate elements can be difficult if you move.
Nevertheless, the NASA Apollo Museum is an engaging, informative and immersive experience, offering a promise of just where Sansar might lead us as features and capabilities are added.