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New iPad app lets you relive John Glenn's 'Friendship 7' flight 50 years later

Spacecraft Films' Friendship 7 app gives iPad users a front and center seat in mission control for John Glenn's historic flight.
February 14, 2012

– Want to experience what it was like 50 years ago to be inside NASA's Mercury mission control center monitoring astronaut John Glenn as he became the first American to orbit the Earth? There's an app for that.

Spacecraft Films, which for more than a decade has been restoring mission footage for DVD and Blu-ray distribution, launched their first Apple iPad app on Monday (Feb. 13), a week before the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's historic mission. "Friendship 7: The Voyage of Mercury-Atlas 6" gives users a seat in mission control for a multimedia-rich playback of the Feb. 20, 1962 flight.

"Fifty years ago John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth," Mark Gray, Spacecraft Films' producer, writes in the text accompanying the app in the Apple store. "Relive his three-orbit mission with exclusive access to over 4 hours of rare video, plus the complete audio from the onboard recorder and flight director's loop recorded in mission control."

The app, which requires Apple iOS 5.0 or later and a WiFi connection for watching the streaming videos, is available for download for $6.99.

Pre-launch training

The "Friendship 7" app begins with a pilot's eye view of the Mercury capsule's cockpit. Tapping in the lower right corner, the static photo becomes an interactive tour. By touching each panel, users can bring up the details about what every dial and switch controlled.

The Friendship 7 app enables users to tap through John Glenn's Mercury spacecraft, exploring its panels, switches and dials.

Once familiar with Friendship 7, users can tap through and watch six "Pre-Launch" videos, including the 1959 press conference announcing John Glenn and the other original Mercury astronauts. Another video channel, titled "Altitude Chamber," shows footage of Glenn with his backup, Scott Carpenter, during a checkout of the spacecraft.

Other film transfers offer a look at the Atlas D missile that became Glenn's rocket and Friendship 7 itself, including footage of artist Cece Bibby painting the spacecraft's logo on the capsule's side.

The "Simulated Flight" channel offers a 10-minute look at Glenn during a mission simulation conducted on the pad. The Jan. 17, 1962 footage is paired with the audio from a pre-flight interview with Glenn.

Lastly, a silent track offers a look at the activities leading up to a launch scrub on Jan. 27, 1962. Friendship 7 was postponed and scrubbed a total of 11 times before it lifted off on Feb. 20.

Go for orbit

After the pre-launch activities, the app next moves into mission control. Choosing either "Onboard Recorder" or "Flight Director Loop" channels changes the view from inside Friendship 7 to the flight director's console in the control room in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Just like the real Mercury mission control, the field of view is filled by a large world map with circles indicating ground stations and a red Mercury capsule tracking where Glenn and Friendship 7 were in flight. Here, content channels are selected by pressing buttons on the console.

The "Onboard Recorder" plays back air to ground audio as recorded inside Friendship 7.

"Glenn's mission lasted about five hours," Gray writes on Spacecraft Films' website about the app. "The 'Friendship 7' app contains the complete onboard recording during the mission, presented to enable you to access it at any point, and monitor the progress of the spacecraft as they did from the Mercury Mission Control Center."

Similarly, "Flight Loop" taps into flight director Christopher Kraft's audio, letting users listen in on the calls between consoles throughout the mission.

Users can also access videos of Glenn eating breakfast, getting into his spacesuit, moving to the launch pad, and entering the spacecraft on launch day, as well six different views of the liftoff of Friendship 7. Another film gives a sense of what it was like on the ground, with footage taken inside Mercury mission control during the flight.

Among the more than four hours of footage offered in "Friendship 7," is the restored onboard film showing Glenn during the flight.

The "Friendship 7" app also offers the complete footage from the pilot observation camera, showing Glenn seated on board the spacecraft, with audio from the air to ground transmissions.

"[The footage is] from a recent digital transfer of the film, much better than the quality has been in the past," writes Gray.

In addition, users can flip through the photographs taken by Glenn of the Earth below. Where possible, Spacecraft Films has captioned each 35mm shot as to what location it shows and on which of the three orbits it was taken.

As the mission comes to a close, the app offers footage of the recovery of Friendship 7 and the ticker tape parade in New York City that celebrated Glenn's success.

With the nearly five hour flight at its end, users can then tap back to the first screen to view footage taken in 2009 showing the Complex 14 launch pad as it appears today at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

From the Earth to the moon

"Friendship 7: The Voyage of Mercury-Atlas 6" launches a new division for Spacecraft Films, aptly titled Spacecraft Apps.

"Each app provides exclusive access to hours of rare footage and audio, presented in-depth through unique interfaces, all meticulously researched," according to the Spacecraft Apps website. "From Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, space shuttle and more, your iPad becomes your portal to space history."

The company's next planned release is "Apollo 11."

"Packed with information and access to over eight hours of video, including the restored and enhanced moonwalk television [footage], annotated landing, launch, complete TV transmissions and onboard film," writes Gray. "[The 'Apollo 11' app] enables viewing of all of the photographs taken on the Moon, plus views of the landing site today."

"This comprehensive app [will let] you take the first lunar landing anywhere," Gray writes.

Read more about Spacecraft Films' Spacecraft Apps at its website and download "Friendship 7" from the App Store.

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