Sunday, September 25, 2005

Magnificent Desolation

Magnificent Desolation is the new IMAX 3D film about the Apollo Moon landings. Seeing it yesterday, I had two thoughts.

First, if you've read about Apollo 15's mission to Hadley Rille and seen the photos, you'll appreciate how difficult it is to gauge scale and distance on the Moon's surface. It always bothered me that, though I was told I was looking at a 1,500-foot structure, I couldn't see it in the photos. In this film, you get to see what it's really like. What is it like? Well, it is almost as difficult to gauge distances on the Moon in 3D as it is in 2D. However, they do show the astronauts walk to the precipice overlooking Hadley Rille, and it's very impressive. It makes you realize just how dangerous the lunar environment can be, when you can't gauge how deep the adjacent Canyon is!

Second, though I would gladly accept a NASA Moon mission assignment, I can see the benefits of telepresence. Telepresence wouldn't have to get much better than an IMAX movie to be just like the real thing (minus the lunar gravity experience, of course). Now, how much bandwidth are we talking about? IMAX's 70mm frame is 10 times the size of 35mm film. If 35mm film is equivalent to around 14 Megapixels (just a ball park estimate), we're talking 140 Megapixels per frame, 280 MP for stereo. Multiply by 24 frames per second, and 4 bytes per pixel and you get about 26.8 Gigabytes per second, uncompressed. Okay, so live viewing might be tricky (especially given the transmission and processing delays), but it needn't be live. Not a lot happens on the Moon.

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