With Google Moon, a chance to play among the stars

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Frank Sinatra once sang, "Fly me to the moon, let me sing among those stars." That was back in 1964, when the closest anyone had come to crawling around that big chunk of cheese was a night under the country sky. (The black and white video of the Apollo 11 lunar landing wouldn't come until 1969.) Lucky for a new generation of amateur astronauts, we now live in the age of Google.

Today, during a presentation at the Newseum, in Washington, D.C., the reigning search king trotted out the latest addition to the population application Google Earth 5.0. Google Moon, which is free to all users, was created with the help of a team of scientists from NASA's Ames Research Center, and it's every bit as cool as you'd expect.

Like Google Earth, Google Moon is multi-layered. The first layer is comprised of photographs taken by the Clementine mission, and offers a glimpse of the moon as it might appear from orbit. But users can also toggle an elevation function, which utilizes maps generated by the USGS, and color-codes the moon by elevation.

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Best of all, in light of the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing, is the Apollo option: A collection of placemarkers from the various Apollo moon missions. Scroll over the surface of the maps, and Google generates stories, quotes, images, panoramas, and audio clips to go with each landmark.

Writing on Google's company blog, Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space explorer, called Google Moon a major leap forward for Web users. "This tool will make it easier for millions of people to learn about space, our moon and some of the most significant and dazzling discoveries humanity has accomplished together," she said.

Itching for a little more? Take a listen to Frank:

---Headed to the moon? Talk to us here – or on Twitter.

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