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On Apollo 11 anniversary, Google launches virtual tour of the moon

Moon in Google Earth offers 3-D images of the lunar surface and digital renderings of NASA landing modules, panoramic photos, historic videos and loads of encyclopedic articles, all free.

July 21, 2009|Mark Milian

Google Inc. wants to fly you to the moon -- virtually.

On Monday, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, the Internet search giant released an addition to the popular Google Earth mapping software that includes 3-D images of the moon's landscape. Astronomy enthusiasts swiftly downloaded the free software to take virtual tours of the lunar surface.

But will anyone else really care to spend all that time looking at the moon's gray, vapid terrain?

Even Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step on the moon, described it as a place of "magnificent desolation."

Google and NASA believe it's still worth a look and have been working closely since 2005 to showcase images that the space agency has been storing up. The Google Earth project already includes maps of Mars and the constellations.

What did Google get for all that work? Part of the pact allows Google to build a million-square-foot office within NASA's Research Park at Moffett Field near Google's campus in Mountain View, Calif. Google's co-founders also were granted rights to land their private planes at the airfield.

Moon in Google Earth -- the name Google Moon was taken by the previous Web-based version -- packs a ton of information, perhaps the most complete educational tour of the moon.

But it still may not be an inviting environment.

"No life, no motion, no air," Aldrin said in a recent interview with Space.com. "It just wasn't a very welcome place at all."

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mark.milian@latimes.com

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