Introduction: Light Up Apollo 11 Star Chart Powered by Arduino

Make your own LED powered star chart based on the one Apollo astronauts used in the command module! I used 2812B LED's and an arduino, which means each LED can be controlled individually. No 3D printed parts, or fancy equipment required to make. When you're done, you've got an awesome piece of interactive space art.

Step 1: Get Your Ass to Amazon.


There are three must-have's for this project, and you probably have to order them online...

1. Arduino - Or something similar. I'm way behind the rest of the world when it comes to microcontrollers and what the latest and greatest is. I used an Arduino Uno that's about 2 years old now. OPTIONAL - Wifi shield for cleaner installation.

2. WS2812B LED's - You can get these from any number of places. The important thing to remember is you want individually addressable LED's so you can control color, turn individual points on/off, etc. I found that more than about 100 LED's it too much for the arduino to smoothly control (at 120 LED's there's a lot of flickering), so don't get too many. I also got a string, not individuals... individuals are OK, it just means more soldering.

3. 5V power supply - The Arduino won't be able to power the LED's. I hacked up an old power supply I had laying around, but if you don't have one to spare they're cheap.

The rest of the items are either tools, or things you'll be able to buy locally.

4. MDF/Plywood/Chalkboard - You'll need something to cut your chart into. I used a 24" x 48" piece of press board with a blackboard finish on it I found at Home Depot.

5. Black Spray Paint - When you drill through the board, there's going to be rough edges that pull the finish away. A final coat of flat black paint is a nice touch.

6. Wax Paper - This will help diffuse the LED light behind your board.

7. Adhesive - I used hot glue to hold everything down. Heavy packing tape or duct tape would also work.

8. Aluminum Foil - Helps reflect the LED back towards the front.

9. Drill - A drill with 3 (or more) different sized bits to cut different star "szes" (brightnesses) out of your board.

10. Silver Sharpie - To draw the constellations

11. Scrap Cardboard - To provide a spacer between the wall and the picture when you hang it up. I used the box my LED's came in.

12. OPTIONAL - Router - to make a clean border.

Step 2: Get Your Image Transferred.

There are a ton of different ways to transfer your image onto your board. Some people like to do wax paper transfer, some people have projectors, and some people have fancy CNC mills that do all the cutting. I went low-tech.

1. Print the MIRROR IMAGE and tape it to the BACK of the board. It's the PDF attached to this instructable that's BLUE. Take your time and get all the pages centered, aligned, and taped down. The more care you put into this step, the better the result. Use a lot of tape to hold everything in place.

2. Carefully drill TWO or THREE of the major stars. Cut right through the paper. These will be your anchor points for the next step. You need to do at least 2 (ideally 3) to give yourself enough reference when you flip the board over and start cutting from the front.

NOTE - you could drill all the stars from back-to-front at this time... but I found it tears up the finish, so I did as few as possible to minimize the amount of sanding and painting I'd have to do later.

3. When you're done drilling your 20-30 holes, flip the board over.

Step 3: Cut the Rest of the Stars.

So now your board has about 2 dozen big holes in it. Perfect.

1. Now print off the Star Chart PDF that's BLACK. This should look a lot like the original Apollo 11 chart (i.e. you can read it and it's not a mirror image).

2. Using the holes you drilled from the front, align each page, tape it down, and drill the rest of the holes. Lots of tape helps keep the paper from balling up around your drill bit. Use different size bits for the different sizes/brightnesses. You only have to tape one page at a time, since you were so careful with your alignment on the last step.

3. When you're done drilling, all the major stars should be on your board!

Step 4: Optional - Cut Borders and Reference Lines

I decided not to cut the navigational markings into my project. I did decide to use a router and cut a border around the stars themselves. Don't cut all the way through!

Step 5: Clean and Paint

I took my board outside, sanded lightly to get the rough edges off and then put a coat of flat black on to clean it all up.

Yes... this did cover my routed lines up - but the router will scratch and scuff your paint. I'll fill it in with silver sharpie later.

Step 6: Arduino Time

Now you'll need to get your LED's up and running. There are so many ways to do this (and this is my first Arduino project!) So I won't pretend to tell you how you SHOULD do it. Here's what I did.

1. Tape (or glue) wax paper to the back of your board to diffuse the light.

2. Tape (or glue) the LED string to the board. I chose an indirect method. NOT SHOWN - I covered the back of the board with aluminum foil to reflect the LED's better.

3. I eventually used the cardboard left over from the shipping boxes to make a standoff for the wall. They're just cardboard strips rolled up and hot glued to the back of the board, but they worked really well.

4. I've attached the arduino sketch I use to make the stars light up and sparkle. I used the neopixel library. Get into it, mess around, have fun.

Step 7: Drawing Time

Last but not least, I wanted the constellations shown, so I sat down and drew them on with a silver sharpie and a straight edge.

Step 8: The Stars Come Out at Night!

That's it! During the daytime, it's a few constellations or maybe some abstract art. At night time, it's the night sky all lit up!

The beauty of the 2812 LED's is you can control each one on it's own. Want to light up Polaris? Just figure out what number it is in the string, and tell the arduino to light it up! Want to see Bootes? That's only 3 or 4 LED's and boom, you're looking at the herdsman!

I wanted to refine the arduino sketch to be MORE interactive, but I'm new at this and it takes a lot of time - but hey, giving you an open source piece of quirky art is kind of the point of instructables, right?

Space Contest 2016

Participated in the
Space Contest 2016