Jul 202009
 

The Next Great Leap: The Moon and Virtual Worlds

by Maverick Grunfeld

On July 20, 1969, forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong fulfilled the dream of mankind of over centuries. With “…one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong along with countless NASA team members accomplished the vision of the Apollo program and captured the imagination of the world. Through their teamwork, discipline, and toughness, they overcame the risks of spaceflight and mastered fear. Forty years later, NASA is still taking new giant leaps to reach out and inspire minds. 

 

In the virtual world of Second Life (SL), NASA has a strong presence; it has made use of virtual land to educate the public. Much like Neil Armstrong, NASA’s use of SL as a tool is a first step into a new world. On July 19th, NASA began to host events to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11. The celebration was hosted by the NASA CoLab (http://colab.arc.nasa.gov), which has the goal to connect communities inside and outside NASA to collaborate to stimulate exploration surrounding the space program.

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Matthew Rickenbacker, a volunteer at the CoLab, shared what inspired him “I have an uncle who works for NASA that introduced me to astronomy when I was a child. I caught the bug, so to speak, then and have been fascinated ever since.” Roughly fifty people visit the CoLab in SL daily, with an average of sixteen new visitors. “We really feel Apollo 11 is monumental in the world’s history” he added. 

 

Dr. Lyman Hazelton (Adastra Skytower in Second Life) began with his presentation, “Return to the Moon: Human Habitat Design.” He is the Chief Scientist for KinetX, Inc., an aerospace engineering and consulting firm.  He outlined concerns for surface-based lunar habitats. Dr. Hazelton’s proposal includes the creation of habitats using the lunar soil, called “regolith” to protect it and its occupants from micrometeorites and lethal radiation from solar winds.  The habitats could be built through the use of robotic tunneling machines. The presentation allowed for interaction with individuals who were curious about next possible steps to a lunar return.

 

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The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, was a mission mentioned which will provide new insights into the moon. It is the first step back to an American long-term presence on the lunar surface. LRO will provide NASA with the knowledge to help determine which lunar habitat concepts to consider. 

 

“I feel that NASA has a very bright future ahead of it. In SL, the CoLab events are a very important outreach tool for folks to not only see where NASA has grown from, but also the international diversity that has occurred through the inclusion of many nations and peoples. Space is not an American possession; it is a possession of all peoples from all nations” said Rickenbacker.

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Following the lecture, Archivist Llewellyn (Shannon Bohle outside of SL) led a dedication and naming ceremony of the “Neil Armstrong Library and Archives.” As the Library and Archives Director, she spent the better part of a year developing the Library. She paused next to a real-life picture of herself with Dr. James D. Watson, the co-founder of the structure of DNA, to share some thoughts. 

 

“NASA means a lot to me personally. My grandfather helped to make the Saturn rockets. He was an inspiration to me. He knew many of the astronauts in the early space program” said Archivist who also worked for a period of time at the NASA Glenn Research Center. “I decided I would like to do another project with NASA. This has been a great opportunity to venture into new areas for libraries and archives. Because this is a new technology I think there is a lot of new ground to cover and everyone is learning along the way. It is a successful partnership working with NASA.”

 

 

 

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“Science ties together with the technology here in Second Life. The materials in the library and archives are actual archival documents” said Archivist. The library includes over two hundred items from actual archival repositories at NASA, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Some items were donated or created specifically for the project. “Many people don’t have a chance to see those; they are from a variety of places all brought together here” she added. 

 

Second Life resident Artemisa Demonista browsed some of the book collections. “I can’t believe all the kinds of things you see in Second Life. This is the kind of place technology can be used to learn and study. It is the future of learning.” Artemisa, who regularly attends science meetings and conferences, noted how the anniversary event was special. “I am in Portugal attending a NASA library opening. I can’t meet a Superman on the streets outside of SL!”

 

The library was recently featured in a talk by Scott Linden on July

16 called “Smart Tools for Smart Power: Simulations and Serious Games for Peacebuilding.” Attendees included representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy staff, the U.S. Army War College, Lockheed Martin, and the Institute for Defense Analysis.

 

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While new, the library has already had a very large impact. Historic telemetry tapes were found by an employee from the Australian National Sound Archives possibly from the Mercury 7 John Glenn mission. “SL played a huge role in terms of networking internationally to get them identified and returned to NASA” said Archivist. Through the library, Second Life made space history, by helping to save some of it. 

 

The Library did seek approval from Neil Armstrong for the naming and has taken steps to be the first virtual library approved by the Library of Congress as an archive. “I did a search in their database of registered libraries; this would be the first one for Second Life and I think for any virtual world. I will know next week hopefully” said Archivist.

The event closed by displaying a NASA exhibit outside of the library which will travel to around the country showcasing NASA’s efforts within Second Life.  This was followed by a “moon buggy” race. Individuals then danced the night away while images and videos form Apollo were shown in the background.

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“The 40th anniversary is a monumental moment in the world’s history. It was not only a difficult task to complete, but it demonstrated the tenacity of mankind to travel to another world. The founding of NASA was very important to help our exploration of space move out of its infant stage” said Mr. Rickenbacker. “The outreach is vital for the world to understand NASA’s mission to re-ignite the desire to explore space. We are a species of explorers.” 

 

As NASA returns to the “magnificent desolation” of the moon, groundbreaking work like LRO and the Second Life experience are helping to pave the next generation of explorers and enlighten the public. Over the last forty years, the pioneering spirit of NASA remains strong, as it makes new leaps to build a better tomorrow.

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To visit the Neil Armstrong Library and Archives: http://slurl.com/secondlife/NASA%20CoLab/197/239/44

The Daily Planet SL: http://kryptonradio.com