How We Augmented Our Original Reporting for the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing


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The Apollo 11 mission returned to Earth in July 1969 with boxes of moon rocks and rolls of iconic photographs: a boot print on the moon, a wrinkled American flag, a portrait of Buzz Aldrin with Neil Armstrong reflected in his golden visor.

These photographs are intimately familiar to many of our readers. But could we find a new way to show and explain these 50-year-old images?

The mission transcripts are packed with acronyms and technical jargon, but the astronauts’ personalities come through: Collins and Aldrin are both quick with a joke, while Armstrong is often more reserved.

We decided to merge the images and transcripts into a condensed, evocative story of the Apollo 11 mission using only the astronauts’ own words and photographs — without added descriptions, superlatives or other narration.

We also drew inspiration from a map, originally created by NASA in 1970, that pinpoints the location and direction of every photo taken during the moonwalk.

Using the map as a foundation, Karthik Patanjali, an editor on the Immersive Storytelling team, wrote a custom program to determine how the moonwalk photographs were oriented in space. For each photograph he calculated the height of the camera, its direction and tilt, and the field of view of the lens.

CreditGraham Roberts

Then we built a virtual gallery of the lunar environment by projecting the photos in space and aligning them with 3-D models of the terrain, the flag and the lunar module.