June 2012 Archives

Lunar Orbiter's Classified Heritage

SAMOS To The Moon: The Clandestine Transfer of Reconnaissance Technology Between Federal Agencies, NRO

"Having acquired, launched, and then terminated work on a near real time imaging satellite, however, NRO officials at that time agreed to consign the SAMOS imaging system to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for use in its deep space exploration program. The surreptitious transfer of this technology, a fact just recently declassified, has remained unknown to many in the NRO and NASA because of the compartmented security measures then in place. It occurred in the following manner.

When in the summer of 1963 NASA requested proposals for a five flight Lunar Orbiter imaging satellite, the Eastman Kodak Company asked for and received permission from the NRO to join The Boeing Airplane Company and bid on the program. In the effort to meet NASA requirements, Eastman would modify its E-1 camera with an 80mm focal length Schneider-Xenotar lens and an off-the-shelf 24-inch telephoto lens procured from Pacific Optical. The two lenses would be bore sighted at the surface of the moon for a planned orbit of about 30 miles altitude. Light would pass through each lens to the film, but the simultaneous images were interspersed with other exposures, and not placed side by side. The camera employed the existing velocity over height sensor to regulate the speed of the focal plane shutter on the 24 inch lens and the between the lens shutter on the 80mm lens, which compensated for image motion. The Boeing Airplane Company, in turn, designed a solar-powered spacecraft stabilized in attitude on three axes that mounted other off-the-shelf hardware, and integrated it with the modified E-1 SAMOS payload."

Printing The Moon

Between 1966 and 1967 NASA sent five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft to the Moon. Their job was to survey the surface to help determine landing sites for the upcoming Apollo missions. In addition to their recon role, these spacecraft also contributed to the nascent scientific understanding of the Moon.

At the time that the images were taken using film that was actually developed aboard the spacecraft in lunar orbit, the ability to send back imagery was nothing like it is today. The photos were scanned much like news photos of the day and the data was sent back to Earth. The images were then printed out on photographic paper and used to construct maps of the lunar surface. In so doing a lot of data from the original photos was lost. Luckily NASA had the foresight to listen to the suggestions of project engineers such as Charles Byrne and stored the original data on analog tapes.

Some 40 years after these missions were completed the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) was begun with the intent of using refurbished tape drives and a complete set of original project tapes (over 1,500). Utilizing funding from NASA the LOIRP team was able to return the original drives to operation such that the data on the tapes could be accessed.

By adding modern computer interfaces and data handling techniques, the LOIRP was able to scan and record the data in ways that simply could not have been accomplished in the 1960s. As a result the images that were obtained had a much higher resolution and dynamic range than had been seen to date. Indeed, in many cases, these images often rival or exceed images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which is currently surveying the Moon.

As clever as we thought we were, we were not the first team to tackle the issue of generating high resolution imagery. Someone tried to do much of what we were doing today - but did so with technology available in the 1960s. We were recently contacted by someone who had seen our project's Facebook page. His name is Joe Watson and he worked on a project that used computer printers that worked like giant electric typewriters - but using varying sizes of squares instead of letters. With this system and a lot of creativity, Watson and his team created immense high resolution versions of Lunar Orbiter images from which topographic maps were made.

We had heard some vague stories about such projects but were unaware of just how audacious they were. So, in Joe Watson's own words, here is the story of a precursor of the LOIRP.

Technoarchaeology: Video of the 1882 Transit of Venus

"Before this century, the last transit of Venus was in the year 1882. What a different world it must have been! We can't imagine what it was like to have been there, but - thanks to this video from Tony Misch and William Sheehan - we can almost glimpse the 1882 Venus transit through the eyes of 19th century astronomers." More at EarthSky

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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Moonrush: Improving Life on Earth with the Moon's Resources
Moonrush: Improving Life on Earth with the Moon's Resources

The Kaguya Lunar Atlas: The Moon in High Resolution
The Kaguya Lunar Atlas: The Moon in High Resolution

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission

Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Near Side of the Moon
Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Near Side of the Moon

The Far Side of the Moon: A Photographic Guide
The Far Side of the Moon: A Photographic Guide

The Clementine Atlas of the Moon
The Clementine Atlas of the Moon

The International Atlas of Lunar Exploration
The International Atlas of Lunar Exploration

Voices from the Moon: Apollo Astronauts Describe Their Lunar Experiences
Voices from the Moon: Apollo Astronauts Describe Their Lunar Experiences

Apollo: Through the Eyes of the Astronauts
Apollo: Through the Eyes of the Astronauts

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