Digital archive casts new light on Apollo-era moon pictures

Aug 01, 2007

Nearly 40 years after man first walked on the moon, the complete lunar photographic record from the Apollo project will be accessible to both researchers and the general public on the Internet. A new digital archive – created through a collaboration between Arizona State University and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston – is making available high-resolution scans of original Apollo flight films.

They are available to browse or download at: apollo.sese.asu.edu.

The digital scans are detailed enough to reveal photographic grain. Created from original flight films transported back to Earth from the moon, the archive includes photos taken from lunar orbit as well as from the lunar surface. This is the first project to make digital scans of all the original lunar photographs from NASA's Apollo missions.

"This project fulfills a long-held wish of mine. It'll give everyone a chance to see this unique collection of images as clearly as when they were taken," says Mark Robinson, professor of geological sciences in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Robinson leads the ASU side of the Apollo image digitizing project. Separately, he is the principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC (lroc.sese.asu.edu) – a suite of three separate, high-resolution imagers on board NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, due for launch in October 2008.

The reason the original Apollo images have been so seldom accessed is that they are literally irreplaceable. Between 1968 and 1972, NASA made sets of duplicate images after each moon mission came back to Earth, placing the duplicate sets in various scientific libraries and research facilities around the world.

As a result, these second-generation copies (and subsequent copies of copies) are what scientists and the public have seen. The copied images are unsharp and over-contrasty compared to the originals, which have remained in deep-freeze storage at the Johnson Space Center. Even many lunar scientists have not seen or worked with them.

The Apollo digitizing project goes back to the original flight films and scans them in high-resolution detail to reveal their subtleties.

Robinson explains, "We worked with the scanner's manufacturer – Leica Geosystems – to improve the brightness range that the scans record." In technical terms, a normal 12-bit scan was increased to 14-bit, resulting in digital images that record more than 16,000 shades of gray.

"Similarly," says Robinson, "to get all the details captured by the film, we are scanning at a scale of 200 pixels per millimeter." This means, he says, the grain of the original film is visible when scans are fully enlarged. The most detailed images from lunar orbit show rocks and other surface features about 40 inches (1 meter) wide.

Combining high resolution and wide brightness range produces very large raw image files, notes Robinson. For example, in raw form, the scans of the Apollo mapping (metric) camera frames, each 4.7 inches square, are 1.3 gigabytes in size.

"That's bigger than most people want to look at with a browser," says Robinson, "even if their browser and Internet connection are up to the job." So the Web site uses a Flash-based application called Zoomify, which lets users dive deep into a giant image by loading only the portion being examined. Links are available on the site for downloading images in several sizes, up to the full raw scan.

The project will take about three years to complete and will scan some 36,000 images. These include about 600 frames in 35 mm, roughly 20,000 Hasselblad 60 mm frames (color, and black and white), more than 10,000 mapping camera frames, and about 4,600 panoramic camera frames.

"These photos have great scientific value, despite being taken decades ago," says Robinson.

He adds, "I think they also give everybody a beautiful look at this small, ancient world next door to us."

Source: Arizona State University

Explore further: Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Landsat looks to the Moon (w/ Video)

Jul 12, 2014

Every full moon, Landsat 8 turns its back on Earth. As the satellite's orbit takes it to the nighttime side of the planet, Landsat 8 pivots to point at the moon. It scans the distant lunar surface multiple ...

Recommended for you

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

10 hours ago

(Phys.org) —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

Is space tourism safe or do civilians risk health effects?

14 hours ago

Several companies are developing spacecraft designed to take ordinary citizens, not astronauts, on short trips into space. "Space tourism" and short periods of weightlessness appear to be safe for most individuals ...

An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

17 hours ago

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more to ...

NASA image: Sunrise from the International Space Station

18 hours ago

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted this image of a sunrise, captured from the International Space Station, to social media on Oct. 29, 2014. Wiseman wrote, "Not every day is easy. Yesterday was a tough one. ...

Copernicus operations secured until 2021

18 hours ago

In a landmark agreement for Europe's Copernicus programme, the European Commission and ESA have signed an Agreement of over €3 billion to manage and implement the Copernicus 'space component' between 2014 ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.