High-Tech Meets Historic, Opening Sites to Virtual Visits
National Park Service Heritage Documentation Program Creates Fly-Through Videos of Historic Resources
WASHINGTON - Descend the historic wooden stairs that took visitors deep into Carlsbad Caverns in the 1920s. Go below deck of the timeworn Civil War gunboat USS Cairo at Vicksburg National Military Park. These experiences are among those now available to virtual visitors via animated fly-through videos available on the National Park Service website.
“Our mission is to help people learn about our nation’s great natural and historic objects and sites,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said of the animated fly-through videos. “These videos make it possible for people to visit sites that aren’t open to the public or that they just wouldn’t be able to get to in person.”
Using both sophisticated technology and age-old engineering techniques, the National Park Service has produced highly accurate, animated videos of America’s historic engineering and industrial resources. These videos create an opportunity for virtual visitors to experience park resources in a manner no longer available in the parks. For example, visitors today at Carlsbad Caverns National Park take a tour that points out the rickety wooden stairs from a safe distance, but they have been closed to climbing since the 1950s. The USS Cairo can only be viewed from a distance – and not boarded – at Vicksburg National Military Park.
Architects with the National Park Service’s Heritage Documentation Programs (which include the Historic American Buildings Survey, Historic American Engineering Record, and Historic American Landscapes Survey) are using laser scanners to create baseline drawings of historic resources. Because laser scanners capture significantly more data than traditional, hand measuring techniques, the architects are able to produce 360-degree, panoramic measurements, creating digital images that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
“What might have taken us two months to measure by hand we can now do in two weeks,” marveled Dana Lockett, Architectural Project Manager with the Heritage Documentation Programs. “With this much data, we’re able to produce imagery at levels of detail that we simply weren’t able to before.”
“This project serves an important preservation function – we’re using this data to create the permanent records we need of America’s historic engineering resources,” said Richard O’Connor, Chief of the Heritage Documentation Programs. “But this also serves an interpretive function by providing our national parks and national historic landmarks an additional tool with which to share the experience of these sites.”
The project started as a response to 9/11, when the National Park Service recognized the need to fully and accurately document the Statue of Liberty. The resulting 3-D model of the Statue of Liberty produced from laser-scanned measurements was translated into baseline drawings that adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Architectural and Engineering Documentation.
Since then, the National Park Service has scanned and modeled hundreds of historic sites, generating documentation that will be stored permanently in the Library of Congress and creating useful products for interpretive purposes, like the fly-through videos. The Heritage Documentation Program collections are among the largest and most heavily used in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. Copies of all documentation are also preserved at the National Park Service’s Technical Information Center for internal use.
The National Park Service now has six videos available online. Through these videos, virtual visitors can “fly-through” the Space Shuttle Flight Control Room at the Johnson Space Center, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory or Historic Castle Pinckney. To watch these videos and others, visit http://www.nps.gov/history/hdp/exhibits/multimedia/index.html.
Historic architectural, engineering and landscape resources encompass a rich array of sites, structures, and artifacts. From bridges, watercraft and spacecraft to Beaux Arts buildings and Native American irrigation systems, these resources vividly illustrate the American fascination with technology and the built environment.
Materials produced through the National Park Service’s Heritage Documentation Program constitute the nation's largest archive of historic architectural, engineering, and landscape documentation. For additional information about the program or to search the collection, visit www.nps.gov/history/hdp.
About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at www.nps.gov.