|The photo was transmitted to Earth by the United States Lunar Orbiter I and received at the NASA tracking station at Robledo De Chavela near Madrid, Spain. This crescent of the Earth was photographed August 23, 1966. (Photo: NASA/LOIRP)|
As the Beatles warmed up to play Shea Stadium for the second time, in August of 1966 a NASA satellite was quietly snapping images of the moon onto 70mm film and processing them in its robotic body before beaming the resulting images back to the Earth over analog radio waves.
This Wired piece tells the story of the five Lunar Orbiters and that circled the moon at a distance of about 30 miles, surveying the surface for acceptable landing spots for the Apollo missions. The film, processed chemically onboard the satellites was scanned into strips and then sent by radio to one of three NASA receiving stations. They were saved on analog tape and were almost lost to history while the satellites themselves were plunged into the moon’s surface.
Wired tells the story of how the tapes were rescued from storage in California by a NASA engineer and a 'space entrepreneur' who had also located the rare drives needed to extract data from them. They re-engineered the drives, and many of the parts needed to get the data off the well-preserved tapes came from eBay and Radioshack. Their work continues in a converted McDonald’s building at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Videos on the Wired site show the reel-to-reel tape decks and oscilloscopes used to parse the data off of the tapes.
|This image illustrates the difference between the original image and the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) data. The original image is on the bottom and LOIRP's image is on the top. (Photo: LOIRP)|
Even with advances in technology, some of the images from these orbiters are higher in resolution than today’s digital imaging satellites because of the dynamic range and fidelity of 70mm film. The data they’ve recovered from various NASA missions has also helped them identify meteorological events on the earth in the 1960s as well as arctic ice shelves.
Read the full story on Wired.
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