Digitas and JFK Library Are Launching an Augmented Reality Rocket to Celebrate Apollo 11

The digital Saturn V will take off July 16

The app, dubbed Moonshot, was released today in the Apple and Android app stores. Digitas
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When the Apollo 11 went to the moon in 1969, the world watched on television or listened by radio. Now, 50 years later, the John F. Kennedy Library wants the world to follow along yet again—but on their smartphones.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary since the U.S. landed on the moon, the former president’s museum is releasing an augmented reality mobile app that will allow space and history fans alike to retrace the journey. The app, dubbed Moonshot, was released today in the Apple and Android app stores and features a variety of location-based, real-time and general AR features that tell the story of the Saturn V rocket’s launch and landing. The story also helps explain Kennedy’s own role in the space program during time in office.

Along with a full-scale, 363-foot rocket that will launch from outside of the JFK Library in Boston on July 16, viewers who can’t make make it to the museum will be able to follow along from anywhere with a much smaller version that takes off from their table or another flat surface. After launching at exactly 9:32 a.m., the app will let viewers follow along on a five-day livestream following the path the original rocket took from Earth to the moon.

According to Mark Philip, vp and group creative director at Digitas, the goal is to make the AR version celebrating the 50th anniversary resemble how broadcasters covered the news when the rocket initially took flight at 9:32 a.m. in 1969. (For anyone who wants to catch the whole thing, the five-day live stream will begin prior to the rocket launch, some of which will also appear on Twitch.)

“We know there’s going to be a lot of noise out there with the moon landing and the 50th, but for us, we wanted to separate ourselves with an AR experience that’s not another here today and gone tomorrow piece of AR ephemera,” Philip said. “We wanted to create an evergreen asset to the library that almost becomes an educational asset.”

As the rocket leaves Earth, a 360-degree rendering will show its path around the planet and toward the moon. Along with the AR and 3D components, the app—created by Digitas and Unit9—contains more than 100 hours of unseen footage from archival assets from video and audio footage.

“It’s very much this God’s eye view of the entire journey,” Philip said. “Until this point you’ve always had that point of view from the capsule or Neil [Armstrong] stepping down.”

The app, which Digitas first teased out earlier this year at its NewFront event, is sponsored by Raytheon, along with The Boeing Company and Bank of New York Mellon. Digitas said school classrooms will use the app this fall as a part of their education about the U.S. space program.

Clay Weishaar, creative director at Unit9, said the team worked with NASA scientists and the team at JFK to bring it to life in a realistic way. That wasn’t the easiest thing when creating a full-scale rocket in augmented reality mapped to a real-life space other than the actual launchpad. (After all, nobody wants a wobbly rocket, whether it’s AR or not.)

“You’ve got to consider how you’re telling a story in space,” he said. “So placing the rocket in the JFK narrative, we had no idea how this was going to be, and we realized we couldn’t even place it on the concrete space we had—which was enormous.”

While many AR projects have become more common over the past few years, most have seemed like they’re set out of time such as in Snapchat filters with friends or as a tool for trying on makeup. However, others have begun integrating more storytelling. For example, WithIn built an AR app for children’s stories.. Moonshot feels like it could fit into the latter category as well.

“One of the main sort of fabrics we like to embed in all of our projects is there has to be a strong rooted narrative,” said Unit9 executive producer Luca De Laurentiis. “Without a narrative that connects people to the experience to make the emotional connection, none of this is worth doing.”

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.