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How Artists Turned Buzz Aldrin's Moonwalking Boot Print into 3D Sculpture

For the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing today (July 20), Master Replicas has created a memento any space lover would be proud to hang on their wall. 

"One small step for [a] man" has been forever preserved in the company's life-size replica of Buzz Aldrin's boot print on the lunar surface. Though Neil Armstrong was the first on the moon and the one to utter those famous words, it was Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, who took the iconic photo of his own footprint, as part of a NASA experiment to study lunar dust and the effects of pressure on the surface.

Master Replicas' 17 by 11-inch (43 by 28 centimeters) model was created from a digital scan of the actual boot print, which makes the memento so much more than just a sculpture, Steve Dymszo, chief executive and co-founder of Master Replicas, told Space.com.

Related: Apollo 11 at 50: A Complete Guide to the Historic Moon Landing Mission

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"Short of going to the moon and pouring some plaster into Buzz Aldrin's footprint, this is as close as you're going to get to it," Dymszo said. The artists at Master Replicas created the boot print from a file they got from artist Whitney Potter, who was the first to combine two close-up photos taken on the moon to create a digital 3D version of the boot print. From Potter's work, artist Jeff Stanislawski rendered a 3D-printable form for Master Replicas that captured every nuance of the print's texture and detail. 

To give the model a 3D effect, Potter took two images of the boot print from NASA's free database that were slightly out of sync and mashed them together with a technique called stereoscopic imaging. When two slightly offset photos are taken of the same object, you can use the different perspectives to figure out spatial information. (This is also how NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captures amazing 3D images of the Red Planet.)

"If you [practice stereoscopic imaging] long enough, you can get good at judging how high [or deep] things are," Dymszo said. "One of the boot prints was photographed that way, two photos slightly out of sync." Master Replicas refined the file and created a life-size mold of the footprint that is nearly identical to the real-life boot print. The final replicas are made out of a high-end resin, called Smooth-On resin, which is so durable that there's virtually no concern the replica will break, Dymszo said. 

"You can chuck these things across the warehouse," Dymszo said. "We've thrown them 30 to 40 feet [9 to 12 meters], and they just bounce." 

The footprint's durability is one more way that it mimics the real lunar boot print. That one, too, is basically indestructible, as are all of the other footprints Aldrin and Armstrong left on the lunar surface. 

On Earth, any footprints we leave in sand, dirt or dust are eventually wiped away by wind, water or other erosion. But the moon has no atmosphere, and it has no liquid water. Earth's natural satellite is also lacking any volcanic activity that would change the features of the moon's surface over time. So, unless the features get hit by meteorites or another spacecraft, the footprints left by Aldrin, Armstrong and the other 10 astronauts who've since walked on the moon will be there forever. 

While Master Replicas' boot prints might not last for all of eternity, space lovers can collect this little piece of history right now. The company said it has already received more than 400 preorders for this project and will continue making the boot prints as people order them. While some of the maker's other replicas are available in only limited quantities, the company didn't feel right restricting how many people could have a bit of moon-landing history in their hands, Dymszo said. 

For a similar reason, Master Replicas chose to create the boot prints in the U.S. rather than outsourcing them to China. "Nothing against China — we have lots of stuff made there — but for this particular product, we thought, 'USA! USA!'" he said. Given that the moon landing was such a huge historical moment for the U.S., he said, it only felt right to have the boot prints created here.

If you're hoping to get a moon footprint of your own, you can order this replica, aptly named "One Small Step," for $195 on Master Replicas' website.  

 

Master Replicas Apollo 11 Boot Print

Order Master Replicas' commemorative Apollo 11 boot print replica online for $195. View Deal

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