July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Nvidia decided to celebrate a little early by enhancing footage of the landing, which it said "could never be described as gorgeous" because of that era's technical limitations, using real-time ray tracing.
The interactive demo enables real-time exploration of the moon as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed on it. That would have been possible using previous graphics technologies, but Nvidia said that "special effects rendering farms working for hours or even days on a single scene in a movie could manage this level of realism." Real-time ray tracing offers similar image quality in, well, real-time.
Nvidia published a video showcasing the new demo that features some commentary from Aldrin. You can watch it below:
This demo wasn't created as a spur of the moment celebration of a trending search term--Nvidia's team actually started working on the project five years ago. According to Nvidia, in that time the demo's creators "collected every detail they could to understand the NASA Apollo 11 landing image," because the more they knew about the scene, the more closely it could resemble the actual experience.
Nvidia described the demo as "a step into a new world, one where we’ll all be able to witness the feats of our greatest heroes, however far they venture from home, as if we were right alongside them." So while much of the focus on real-time ray tracing has gone towards how it can affect games, this is a perfectly timed example of how the graphics technology can be used for other purposes as well.