July 2009 Archives

LOIRP Featured by National Geographic

MOON PICTURES: 1960s Orbiter Images Restored, National Geographic

All these steps took their toll on the quality of the images: Much like making a photocopy of a photocopy, the images of the moon created 40 years ago were fairly fuzzy and lacking in detail. But some NASA scientists had the foresight to make magnetic tape recordings of the radio-wave transmissions mid-way through the process. Now, after recovering the decades-old recordings and refurbishing outdated tape drives, a team of volunteers has begun digitizing the most famous images from the 1960s Lunar Orbiter missions with much-improved clarity and detail.

APOLLO 11: New Before-and-After Photos of Moon Bases, National Geographic

"Despite extensive restoration efforts, this photo is fuzzier and grainier than many of the restored 1960s orbiter images because of repeated viewings of the magnetic tape on which the photo was recorded."

LOIRP Mentioned at Apollo 11 Anniversary Celebration

On Monday evening a lavish reception was held at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. The emcee for the event was Neil deGrasse Tyson. At one point, Tyson talked about the recent LRO images taken of the Apollo landing sites - and the hardware left behind. Our Apollo 11 landing site image was used to set the context for the LRO picture. Mention was also made of the LOIRP - Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. Here is a video shot with a small camera of Tyson's comments regarding our image.

Lunar Orbiter In The News

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Kodak has played big role in space program, Democrat and Chronicle

"Kodak designed and built the cameras and film processing used in the five lunar orbiters sent to photograph the moon’s surface in 1966 and 1967 in preparation for the manned landing. Those orbiters shot panoramic strips of the lunar surface and transmitted them back to Earth before the orbiters crashed into the moon, said Todd Gustavson, curator of technology at the George Eastman House."

To the Moon - with extreme engineering - Spontaneous, improvised - would it be allowed to happen now?, The Register

"It's a temptation, watching many of the 40th Anniversary retrospectives, to think of the Apollo space program as a triumph of power and industrial might. The superpowers' space programs were, of course, political and chauvinistic, designed to showcase national wealth. But there's a better way of looking at the program, Dennis Wingo reminded me recently. Masses of money helped put man on the Moon of course, but the Moon program is really a tale of engineering improvisation and human organisation. ... The Lunar Orbiter astonishes even today. It had to take pictures, scan and develop the film on board, and broadcast it successfully back to earth. Naturally, the orbiter had to provide its own power, orient itself without intervention from ground control, and maintain precise temperature conditions and air pressure for the film processing, and protect itself from solar radiation and cosmic rays - all within severe size and weight constraints. This was far beyond the capabilities of the newest spy satellites, which back then returned the film to earth in a canister, retrieved by a specially kitted-out plane. The Orbiter challenge was the Apollo challenge in miniature."

Let's Name the LCROSS Impact Crater After Walter Cronkite

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Editor's note: The other night I started to Twitter that I thought it would be a good idea that the crater LCROSS will form should be named in honor of veteran space journalist Walter Cronkite who died the other day. Others joined in and repeated that idea.

So what is the LCROSS_NASA team's response? They dodge the issue: "Our team heard your requests. When it comes to naming craters, it is up to the IAU. NASA can explore possibility of petition to IAU to name."

As you will recall during Apollo missions, crew members named craters and other features. And the Mars rover people name craters, rocks, pebbles, and all manner of things all the time. Do they ask the IAU for permission to do that? NO. Indeed, the names given to rocks at the Viking lander sites in 1976 by mission personel are still in use.

So c'mon guys. Use a little imagination - use crowd sourcing and involve the public - the same public who paid for your mission and who were well served by Mr. Cronkite for decades. LCROSS can certainly recommend a name and use their own name in the mean time. There is no legally binding reason to prohibit NASA from doing this - nothing IAU does has the force of law. Indeed, the IAU does not have any interest whatsoever in the view of the public anyway.

To virtually all who watched him, Walter Cronkite was always a face on a screen - one painted upon our eyes by photons. Imagine how many thousands - maybe millions - would now stop for a moment to watch as this crater was created in his name? How often can you stand in your backyard and see that? In so doing, Walter Cronkite can have one last stupendous effect on the world - from the Moon - through a blast of photons travelling one last time to our eyes.

Damaged Tape and Murky Moon Views

Image: Our retrieved image with the location of Apollo 11's Eagle Descent Stage.

With the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the Moon upon us, everything old is new - or so it would seem. Yesterday we saw digitally re-mastered footage released showing the first steps on the Moon in unprecedented clarity. Also this was made from a copy that itself was a copy. The original video, recorded live as the Moon walks were underway has slipped into history - either misfiled or, more likely, erased and reused years later - much like a floppy disk. That said, the new footage does provide a window into the past with detail heretofore unseen.

Another place where windows are being opened into the past is the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) housed at NASA Ames Research Center. Utilizing ancient FR-900 tape drives, thousands of pounds of long forgotten image tapes, lots of loaned help including retired engineers and scientists, some money (from NASA ESMD, ARC, IPP, and NLSI, SkyCorp, and SpaceRef Interactive, and Odyssey Moon) and an old abandoned McDonalds restaurant (it was available - we call it "McMoons"), we've been able to bring these images back to life at resolutions greater than ever seen before. In many cases, until Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) takes new images, thee tapes represent the highest resolution images of the Moon ever taken from orbit.

As we ponder the sad news that the original Apollo 11 video has been lost, it is important to note that our Lunar Orbiter tapes might otherwise have been destroyed several years ago had not a stop order been placed on their destruction due to NASA's search for Apollo 11 tapes and data. One project's sad news is another's execution reprieve.

Among our successes has been bringing the iconic Earthrise and Copernicus back to life in unprecedented detail. This time we need to report a major disappointment.

We recently released two Apollo landing site images - Apollo 12 and Apollo 14 and had embarked upon getting an nice crisp image of the Apollo 11 landing site in time for the anniversary.

Alas, unlike the unprecedented resolution we obtained for these two sites, Apollo 11 was a let down. The image is murky and far less clear than previous images. This is not due to the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft or our restored hardware. Rather, we expect, it had to do with someone playing this tape years ago and getting it jammed for an instant. Alas, the interesting part of this tape is framelet 411 which shows the Apollo 11 landing site. So, if there was a natural place on this tape to be paused, rewound, and played again and again and again, it is this location. Little surprise that the chance for damage to this portion of the tape occurred.

Our collection of tapes covers the entire five mission Lunar Orbiter project. While we are getting better at deciphering the nomenclature and labeling on the tapes, we still have much to learn. We can now find a specific tape and image in a straight forward process but have still only scratched the surface. And, paradoxically, we seem to have more tapes marked "Lunar Orbiter V" than we need to contain all of the images from that mission. We suspect that we have two (or more) archival collections mixed in or (for some reason) multiple copies of the same images. The only way to know for sure is to look at every tape - one by one.

The path to getting this Apollo 11 landing site image was complicated. The image was taken by Lunar Orbiter V on 12 August 1967 at 22:21:13.809 GMT at an altitude of 98. km. Properly retrieved, the resolution of our image should be 2.387 meters per pixel.

After our first round of image retrievals, the heads for our FR-900 tape drive needed to be refurbished. This is an expensive and time consuming process with only one or two places in the world capable of doing it. With the heads refurbished we were prepared to run the tape. As we did we found out that our custom made frame grabber had a bad chip which needed to be replaced.

Once the gear was good to go, the process of running the tape began. There was an ominous note on the tape can that a section of the tape might be damaged. We soon discovered that indeed there was some damage to a 4 minute segment and it was the portion we were most interested in.

Undaunted, Ken Zin, our experienced video tape drive engineer, Al Sturm our electronics guru, and Austin Epps, our vigilant student intern worked long hours to get everything working to see what sort of image we could get. Austin ran the tape multiple times os as to get multiple images we could use to produce a super resolution image of the landing site.

Despite this attempt to coax a little clarity out of the noise, the damage to the tape precluded an image of the quality we had hope for - and had achieved for other images. That disappointment aside, we feel that it is important to show our failures and disappointments as well as our crowning achievements. As you will see when you compare it to the best Lunar Orbiter images, the resolution is low. Yet if you compare it with the new LRO images you can clearly see that something appeared in the image and that the regolith was disturbed around that object (humans).

We will be combing through the Lunar Orbiter tapes this weekend with the hope that there is another (hopefully undamaged) version of this image.

We feel that it is equally important to reveal our failures and disappointments as it is to crow about our successes. We expect to have many of both.

Such is the curse of Apollo 11 - for an event so epic in its nature, the frail means where by we captured it and the planning that led up to it - are fleeting. One more reason why all of this fragile history needs to be maintained with constant vigilance - else we lose all of this to the dust of time.

For more information on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) visit http://www.moonviews.com

For information on NASA's Lunar Science Institute visit http://lunarscience.arc.nasa.gov/

Figure 1 Our retrieved image with the location of Apollo 11's Eagle Descent Stage.

Figure 2 Comparing our retrieved image and that scanned by the USGS

Figure 3 Comparing our retrieved image, one scanned by the USGS, and LRO's recent image.

Apollo 11: Before and After

Moon Orbiter to Photograph Apollo 11 Landing Site, Space.com

"Taking the something old, something new approach is the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, located at the Ames Research Center in the heart of California's Silicon Valley. This team effort is led by Dennis Wingo of SkyCorp, Inc. in Huntsville, Alabama and Keith Cowing of SpaceRef Interactive, Inc. of Reston, Virginia.

The recovery project involves culling through some 1,700 images taken by NASA Lunar Orbiter missions from the 1960's, convert that data into digital form and then reconstruct the images to yield 21st century pictures far superior than the originals.

Ideally, upgrading an old Lunar Orbiter image taken of the Apollo 11 landing zone before Armstrong and Aldrin set foot there, contrasted to a new LRO overhead shot, would present a unique before/after look-see of the historic Tranquility Base site, said Greg Schmidt, deputy director of the NASA Ames-based Lunar Science Institute.

The Apollo sites themselves are extremely well characterized thanks to human explorers dispatched to those individual locales, Schmidt noted. LRO images of these areas will let us see the landers -- and likely other artifacts such as the lunar buggies used in the Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions - all of which will no doubt be very powerful in ways beyond mere science, he said."

Remastered Apollo 11 Tapes

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NASA Holds Briefing to Release Restored Apollo 11 Moonwalk Video

"NASA will hold a media briefing at 11 a.m. EDT on Thursday, July 16, at the Newseum in Washington to release greatly improved video imagery from the July 1969 live broadcast of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. The release will feature 15 key moments from Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's historic moonwalk using what is believed to be the best available broadcast-format copies of the lunar excursion, some of which had been locked away for nearly 40 years. The initial video released Thursday is part of a comprehensive Apollo 11 moonwalk restoration project expected to be completed by the fall. The Newseum is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. The news conference will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency's Internet homepage."

LRO's First Images Of The Moon

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First Moon Images From NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

"NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has transmitted its first images since reaching the moon on June 23. The spacecraft's two cameras, collectively known as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC, were activated June 30. The cameras are working well and have returned images of a region in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds). As the moon rotates beneath LRO, LROC gradually will build up photographic maps of the lunar surface.

"Our first images were taken along the moon's terminator -- the dividing line between day and night -- making us initially unsure of how they would turn out," said LROC Principal Investigator Mark Robinson of Arizona State University in Tempe. "Because of the deep shadowing, subtle topography is exaggerated, suggesting a craggy and inhospitable surface. In reality, the area is similar to the region where the Apollo 16 astronauts safely explored in 1972. While these are magnificent in their own right, the main message is that LROC is nearly ready to begin its mission."

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