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NASA releases moon return globo-projection movie

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NASA has announced the imminent debut of a promotional film entitled Return to the Moon, made for the radical new "spherical film-making" projection system.

What, you didn't know about spherical movies? Neither did we, to be honest. In essence, the idea is to project the images not onto a flat screen but onto a large sphere hanging suspended in the auditorium.

This is obviously ideal for movies such as Return to the Moon, which largely consists of imagery from various NASA lunar missions. According to the space agency:

The results give the startling impression of the moon hanging magically in the center of darkened theaters. During the five-minute film, viewers will witness NASA's legacy of lunar exploration and come to understand the rationale for the Agency's ambitious plans to return to the moon, beginning with a robotic mission called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or LRO. Both LRO and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS mission are featured.

The LRO in particular will be looking to map the Moon very precisely, hoping to avoid bottom-puckering moments like that suffered by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969 when they found their lander's autopilot taking them down into a crater strewn with massive boulders. By the time they had manually manoeuvred to a clear area for landing, they had less than 30 seconds' fuel left.

Thus the LRO, hurtling less than 30 miles up from the lunar surface in a polar orbit which will cover the entire Moon, will make sure that the new generation of manned landers don't come down into any nasty surprises. Likewise, the orbiter will look for "permanently illuminated regions" at the lunar poles where the sun never sets - these might allow future moonbases to run on solar power rather than nuclear.

Meanwhile back on Earth, NASA believes that spherical movies are definitely the way to promote space travel. Previous NASA spherical blockbusters have included Footprints, "a conceptual framework about the human drive to explore".

"The subject is often difficult to relate to because the scale is so large or out of context with people's lives. However, when you project it on a sphere, people suddenly understand the size of regional events while also comprehending the global connections of the science being introduced," says NASA globomovie auteur Michael Starobin. "Pure data falls flat, but spherical films make planets approachable."

"Just as NASA prides itself at pushing back the boundaries of exploration, we take pride in inventing new ways to communicate," he adds.

Return to the Moon opens across America this weekend. A partial list of globo-projection-equipped theatres can be seen here. For UK readers, the nearest one is probably in Strasbourg. However, all you need to build your own sphere-movie setup is five Core 2 Duo PCs or better, four HD projectors, plenty of room and a massive six-foot beachball or similar: detailed hardware specs here. You can download the software and the US government's entire stock of globomovies for free here.

Now that's a home cinema project. ®

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