One small step for man, one giant leap for real-time ray tracing. Nvidia’s graphics wizards have reproduced the moon landing in honor of the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon.

Using Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics processing units (GPUs) designed to render the best video games, Nvidia produced a realistic rendering of the Apollo 11 moon landing that took place a half-century ago.

Back then, those of us who are old enough to remember saw the grainy, jerky images beamed back as Armstrong clambered out of the Eagle lunar lander and onto the surface of the moon. The images weren’t so pretty.

But now you can see the Eagle lunar lander the way that Armstrong saw it, thanks to the Nvidia demo, which is a near-cinematic depiction of the moment.


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Above: Nvidia’s version of the moon landing.

Image Credit: Nvidia

With RTX, each pixel on the screen is generated by tracing, in real-time, the path of a beam of light backwards into the camera (your viewing point), picking up details from the objects it interacts.

That allows artists to instantaneously see accurate reflections, soft shadows, global illumination and other visual phenomena.

Prior to RTX technology, only special effects rendering farms working for hours or even days on a single scene in a movie could manage this level of realism.

Above: Buzz Aldrin reviews the Nvidia moon landing.

Image Credit: Nvidia

RTX lets creative professionals mimic the way light behaves in the real world in interactive models, without the need to rely on pre-baked effects and cutscenes. Nvidia’s work on the project began five years ago, when the team collected every detail they could from NASA and other sources.

They researched the rivets on the lunar lander, identified the properties of the dust coating the moon’s surface, and measured the reflectivity of the material used in the astronauts’ space suits and rebuilt it all in a digital form.

Now RTX real-time ray-tracing capabilities let them recreate how the sun’s rays, coming from behind the lander, bounced off the moon’s surface, how these rays interacted with the lunar lander to cast eerie lunar shadows, and even how the light bouncing from the lander and the moon’s surface interacted with the astronaut’s puffy space suits.

The result captures the desolate, otherworldly landscape Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin experienced five decades ago. It’s also a step into a new world, one where we’ll all be able to witness the feats of our greatest heroes, however far they venture from home, as if we were right alongside them. Check out Aldrin’s impressions of it in the video.

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