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Google adds moon to online map service

world Updated: Jul 21, 2009 13:55 IST

AFP
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Google on Monday marked the 40th anniversary of the first human footsteps on the moon by adding virtual lunar exploration to its free online Earth map and imagery service.

The moon joins Earth, Mars, and Sky in an options list in an upper tool bar on the main Web page at earth.google.com. Aspiring lunar explorers will need Google Earth 5.0 software, which can be downloaded free.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin joined Google, X Prize Foundation, and NASA officials in Washington, DC, for the launch of Moon in Google Earth.

Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Aldrin on July 20, 1969 became the first men to walk on the moon.

"Forty years ago, two human beings walked on the moon," said Moon in Google Earth product manager Michael Weiss-Malik.

"It's now possible for anyone to follow in their footsteps. We're giving hundreds of millions of people around the world unprecedented access to an interactive 3D presentation of the Apollo missions."

Moon in Google Earth meshes "Street View" style panoramic photographs and NASA video taken on the surface of the moon to create a virtual moonscape.

Apollo program astronauts Jack Schmitt and Aldrin provided narration for online lunar tours.

"This tool will make it easier for millions of people to learn about space, our moon and some of the most significant and dazzling discoveries humanity has accomplished together," said X Prize Foundation trustee Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space explorer.

"I believe that this educational tool is a critical step into the future, a way to both develop the dreams of young people globally, and inspire new audacious goals."

Moon incorporates images taken during Apollo missions and pictures from satellites.

Along with tours of the moon's surface, Google Earth's new feature shows "human artifacts" left there by space missions.

"We're excited to be a part of this latest chapter in Google's efforts to bring virtual exploration of the moon to anyone with a computer," said NASA Ames Research Center director Pete Worden.

The center is near Mountain View, California-based Google and has been collaborating with the Internet titan under the auspices of a Space Act Agreement signed in late 2006.

"With Google Earth, young explorers around the world can bounce around the galaxy in Sky, fly to Mars and now visit the moon from wherever they may be," Ansari said. "Outer space doesn't seem so far away anymore."

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has recreated humanity's first trip to the moon online at wechoosethemoon.org to enthrall an Internet generation not yet born when the US mission made history 40 years ago.

Apollo 11 astronauts rocketed into space to fulfill late president John F Kennedy's goal of showing the prowess of democracy by beating the former Soviet Union to the moon.

Kennedy in 1961 made the NASA space program a top national priority.

The United States was being left behind in the space race by what was then the communist Soviet Union, which had launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and put cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the Earth in 1961.

"Landing on the moon before the Russians was an absolute priority," said Kennedy museum spokesman Tom McNaught.

"The only way to beat the Russians in the space race was to land on the moon before they did. President Kennedy wanted to show the world that democracy as a form of government could keep up with communism, if not surpass it."

Wechoosethemoon.org website will remain online for at least a year, with visitors being able to replay selected portions of the mission at their convenience.

Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and was not alive to see his goal of reaching the moon realised.