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Panoramic view inside the Payload of Space Shuttle Discovery.

In 2009, the Smithsonian launched a digitization strategic planning initiative, recognizing that digitization is a core activity of the institution that will make the institution’s resources available for the widest possible use by current and future generations. A 2011 Smithsonian directive outlined the institution’s goals for converting physical resources to a digital form as well as creating materials in a digital form. This directive mandates that the National Air and Space Museum and other units digitize their collections to guarantee Smithsonian digital resources will be accessible, which broadens the institution’s mission to increase and diffuse knowledge throughout the world.

A few of the Museum’s digitization activities from 2016 are outlined here.

Object Collections

  • 3D scanning was completed for the Spirit of St. Louis, SpaceShipOne, and the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis with new 360 panoramic views inside the cockpits of each, as well as the Lunar Module 2, Gemini IV, and Mercury Friendship 7, released with the opening of the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.
  • At the Udvar-Hazy Center, Space Shuttle Discovery and the Heinkel He 219 Uhu night fighter were scanned in 3D. Scanning of Discovery, the largest object attempted so far by the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office, continues into 2017, thanks to the generous support of Meredith Siegfried Madden and Peter Madden.
  • GO FLIGHT Photo, a new project to photograph objects on display at the Museum in Washington, DC, in unprecedented detail, was also launched and the first set of photos released online.
  • The Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, was scanned in 3D and that project is detailed in the Spotlight section.


  • In FY16 the Archives staff digitized and uploaded to the Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) over 5,000 archival items such as photographs, drawings and fragile oversize items such as posters, maps, etc.
  • Over 12,000 digital images were created by the Museum’s photographers, catalogued, and uploaded to the DAMS.
  • Archives staff completed the processing of the Sally Ride Collection and the Arthur C. Clarke Collection. 


One of the Museum’s Most Treasured Artifacts Scanned in 3D
Astronaut “graffiti” found inside

Apollo 11 Command Module markings

While 3D scanning the Apollo 11 Command Module, museum staff uncovered writing on the interior walls of the module.

Museum specialists and conservators worked with the Smithsonian's 3D Digitization Program to scan the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, to create a high-resolution interactive model of the entire spacecraft. This highly detailed model of the capsule that carried home the astronauts on the first Moon landing mission will allow researchers and the public to explore the entire craft inside and out, a feat not possible when viewing the artifact in the Museum.

In performing the scan, employees discovered “graffiti” written by the astronauts on the capsule’s walls.  While some of the writing inside Columbia was already well-known, such as a note from Michael Collins declaring that Columbia was the "best ship to come down the line," others were unseen for almost 50 years. These markings include notes, figures, and a calendar with every day of the mission crossed out except for landing day.

The 3D model was made publicly available online in July 2016.

The team was able to perform the scan while Columbia was out of its protective cover in preparation for display at its ultimate home — the new Destination Moon gallery, scheduled to open in the Museum in Washington, DC, in 2020. The 3D scans will be used to produce an interactive display in the gallery.

View the end result: Columbia in 3D.