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One small step for man, one giant leap for appkind
As you’ll have seen in the news, celebrations have been underway for the 50th anniversary of man landing on the Moon. On July 20, 1969, The Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility. Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on a celestial body other than Earth. Momentous doesn’t adequately describe the occasion.
Chances are you’re never going to walk on the Moon yourself – science fiction’s predictions about the average person jetting off to space on a whim haven’t quite come to pass. But if you’ve been inspired by the anniversary, your iPhone or iPad gives you the next best thing: superb apps that give you a window into another world – or at least a satellite orbiting this one – and various ways to explore it.
Free • v4.0.16 • 54.4 MB • By NASA
Given that NASA got humans to the Moon in the first place, the organization’s app is a good place to start when it comes to Moon-based fare on your iPhone or iPad. At the time of writing, an Apollo 50th Anniversary banner provided quick access to the story of the Moon landing, and related fare. Should that vanish, you can otherwise quickly access such content by way of the Images, Videos, Missions, and Featured sections.
It’s fair to say this is a workmanlike app. There’s no glitz nor glamor here. What you do get is a slew of facts, and loads of gorgeous photographs to peer at. And the Moon? Yep, that’s there in spades: everything behind Apollo 11, including background context, mission info, maps, and photos. If you’ve only minutes to cram impressive knowledge into your brain, read the ten quick-facts list. And finish off by delving into insight about the next mission that’s likely to find a man – or woman – again set foot on the lunar surface.
For free, it’s a treasure trove of regularly updated information, and a superb way to inspire and educate alike.
$3/£3 • v8.0.2 • 235 MB • By Fifth Star Labs LLC
A number of iOS astronomy apps do similar things to Sky Guide, but none really match this app’s elegance and grace. With its soothing audio, faultless interface, and tasteful visuals, Sky Guide feels like a properly premium way to gaze at a virtual take on the heavens.
You can, of course, use it to quickly find the Moon. The app’s viewport can be manually dragged around, or can align with the sky when you hold your device in front of your face; alternatively, there’s a straightforward search option.
Tapping on the Moon gives you access to a page of information – facts, figures, and a succinct text-based overview. But there’s more here for lunar lovers. In the Featured tab, you can read an interview with Charles Fishman on his book about Project Apollo, and then launch a 1:100 scale Saturn V in AR. Next, peruse the Calendar tab to check out visibility and weather for your area, and the dark sky finder that helps you discover where nearby will give you the best shot at observing the Moon – and beyond.
Free • v6.5 • 679.6 MB • By iCandi Apps
If you aren’t keen on spending any money up front, but still fancy exploring the heavens, Night Sky is a good bet. It broadly mirrors Sky Guide in its main view – albeit without quite the same level of class. Everything feels comparatively a bit rough and ready, and tapping on the Moon’s info button seemingly churns out an entire Wikipedia entry.
Still, there are really good bits here, even if you’ve already invested in another astronomy app. Tap the Moon itself on the main view and you see its path through the night sky. Select Night Sky for You from the main menu, and you get a scrubbable preview of the sky, along with loads of graphs outlining predicted conditions.
Double-tap the Moon, and the app lets you get up close and personal. You can twiddle the Moon beneath your fingertips, or explore it in AR. Tap the landing button and the app transports you to the Moon, so you can see how the sky there would look if you were lucky enough to do an Armstrong and get to stand on it today.
Solar Walk 2
$3/£3 • v1.5.9 • 732 MB • By Vito Technology Inc.
More or less a digital orrery, Solar Walk 2 has you use gestures to manipulate a great-looking and responsive digital solar system. Tap any celestial body and you whizz towards it, as if piloting the fanciest possible interstellar craft. Dragging about lets you see it from any angle.
A tap on the info button brings up a multi-tab pane for delving into all kinds of facts and figures about your selection. For the Moon, you can explore its size, mass, and surface temperature. Keen to know what’s inside? Tap the internal structure button to crack the Moon open.
With monthly IAP, you also get the option to follow the path of famous missions – including Apollo 11. In each case, you get some background context, a series of breakpoints, and important details to peruse. It’s perhaps unlikely you’ll take the journey more than once, but it’s worth a buck to follow the trail of mankind’s great achievement or traveling from Earth to the Moon – and back.
Free • v1.0.2 • 341.1 MB • By Vito Technology Inc.
Taking a rather literal approach to having you explore the Apollo 11 mission, Moon Walk invites you to follow in Armstrong’s footsteps. You’re given a mission overview and are tasked with moving to specific locations, while being dazzled by everything that’s going on around you.
Naturally, things are a bit easier on you than Armstrong and Aldrin. Arrows point your way, and you can hear recordings the astronauts made during their mission. However, you must take care to not rush, and also to give yourself enough space to move. This isn’t one for a tightly packed office, then, unless you want to take one small step for man, one giant leap into some furniture.
Journeys of Invention
$10/£10 • v2.0.0 • 1.1 GB • By Touch Press Inc
This iPad-only app is not really about the Moon per se. It’s essentially an attempt to cram dozens of objects from London’s Science Museum into your tablet, and tell their stories by way of interlocking pathways. It’s like a ‘choose your own adventure’ tale, but with technology and innovation as the heroes, rather than wizards or spaceship captains.
However, there is a lunar lander within – Apollo 10, to be precise. In 1969, this craft essentially performed a dress rehearsal for Apollo 11, descending towards the Moon, orbiting, and then returning safely to Earth. In this app, you can learn all about it, and with a tap explore its insides by way of 360-degree photography.
Solar Explorer: New Dawn
$3/£3 • v1.0.3 • 888.4 MB • By Dwarf Cavern AS
Finally, if you think you’ve got what it takes to perform your own Moon landing, try Solar Explorer. Set in a (worryingly) near future when Earth’s resources are gone, humanity’s aiming to colonize other worlds. The Moon’s first up, and you must blaze towards it in your tin can, avoiding asteroids, before gently landing on the lunar surface.
In all honesty, getting to the Moon in this game is a mite easier than Armstrong and his team had it. But you can then head for more distant celestial bodies – and it turns out to be extremely tricky to land intact on the moons of Mars, let alone Venus and Mercury!