“Our memory is dissipating. Hard drives only last five years, a webpage is forever changing and there’s no machine left that reads 15-year old floppy disks. Digital data is vulnerable. Yet entire libraries are shredded and lost to budget cuts, because we assume everything can be found online. But is that really true? For the first time in history, we have the technological means to save our entire past, yet it seems to be going up in smoke. Will we suffer from collective amnesia?”
The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project is featured starting at 17:15. This segment was filmed in early 2014.
NIMBUS: Recovering the Past
Dumpster Diving for Science
“Last month, researchers working out of an abandoned McDonald’s restaurant on the grounds of NASA Ames Research Center recovered data collected by NASA’s Nimbus II satellite on 23 September 1966. The satellite soared over Earth in a polar orbit every 108 minutes, taking pictures of cloud cover and measuring heat radiated from the planet’s surface, and creating a photo mosaic of the globe 43 years ago. The resulting image is the oldest and most detailed from NASA’s Earth-observing satellites. It’s also the latest success story in what researchers call techno-archaeology: pulling data from archaic storage systems. Once forgotten and largely unreadable with modern equipment, old data tapes are providing researchers with new information on changes in the surfaces of Earth and the moon…”
Nimbus II and Lunar Orbiter 1 Imagery: A New Look at Earth in 1966
“The LOIRP required a lot of what has come to be called “techoarchaeology” that is, going back in time to the original data and recording devices, using modern enhancements. The expertise gained by the LOIRP team eventually caught the attention of the folks at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Data from the Nimbus weather and earth observation satellite – in orbit at the same time as the Lunar Orbiters were circling the Moon – had languished for years in the national archives until John Moses NASA Goddard Space Flight Center had them digitized. Dr. Walt Meir of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, after seeing the work that the LOIRP team had done in potentially identifying the Antarctic sea ice in the Lunar Orbiter 1 Earthrise image, and recognizing the similarity between the raw data of the Nimbus and Lunar Orbiter data, provided a grant to the LOIRP team to process the Nimbus data into a modern format and to correct image artifacts that are common to both types of images. The LOIRP team accomplished this, and rendered the images into the Google Earth format using a variety of internally developed techniques and elements of the NASA Ames developed NASA World Wind Java software development kit.”
Techno-archaeology rescues climate data from early satellites, NSDIC
“Starting with the methods developed for the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) at NASA Ames Research Park, a team at NSIDC worked with Dennis Wingo at LOIRP to search NASA archives for the original Nimbus tapes containing raw images and calibrations. Their first goal was to read and reprocess the data at a higher resolution, removing errors resulting from the limits of the original processing.”
LOIRP Aids In Finding Google Earth Images from 1966
“After determining that it was highly unlikely that any of the early Nimbus 2″ analog tapes still existed we began our work to rectify some of the image artifacts in the Nimbus II HRIR data files. The data that we were working with is remarkably similar to the Lunar Orbiter raw analog data, but this is two generations removed from the raw data, the sync pulses and the calibration data had been removed. This was probably in order to save tape back in the 1960’s. The surviving original data today is of fairly poor quality.”
Technoarchaeology: Nimbus and LOIRP
In Part 3 of The Invisible Photograph, see how the “techno archaeologists” of the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project digitally recovered the first photographs of the moon taken by a set of unmanned space probes in the 1960s. More information and Gigapan imagery.
Would-Be Rescuers of Wayward Spacecraft Previously Solved a NASA Mystery, New York Times
“Before reviving a zombie spacecraft, Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing traveled to the past to rescue a trove of early moon photographs that otherwise would have been destined for oblivion. They did not actually time travel, but that might have been easier. Mr. Wingo, an entrepreneur and an engineer, and Mr. Cowing, the editor in chief of the NASA Watch website, had confidence that they could decipher decades-obsolete NASA equipment, because, as Mr. Cowing said, “we’ve done this before.” … The earlier project involved 1,500 magnetic tapes and a couple of old, broken tape drives. In 1966 and 1967, NASA sent five robotic spacecraft, the Lunar Orbiters, to photograph the moon’s surface to help find safe landing sites for the Apollo astronauts. The tapes, which recorded the original high-resolution images, and the tape drives ended up in the garage of a former NASA employee, and Mr. Wingo and Mr. Cowing embarked on a quixotic mission to retrieve the images.”
“YouTube sensation Veritasium visits an abandoned McDonalds on the NASA Ames campus to reveal the first original lunar images, now being converted from film to digital media with the NASA LOIRP project. Watch the transformation of the original lunar Earth rise!”
Note: Lunar Orbiter Segment starts at 1:28
“The Lunar Orbiter program was a series of five unmanned lunar orbiter missions launched by the United States from 1966 through 1967. Intended to help select Apollo landing sites by mapping the Moon’s surface, they provided the first photographs from lunar orbit. All five missions were successful, and 99% of the Moon was mapped from photographs taken with a resolution of 60 meters or better… All Lunar Orbiter craft were launched by an Atlas-Agena D launch vehicle. The Lunar Orbiters had an ingenious imaging system, which consisted of a dual-lens camera, a film processing unit, a readout scanner, and a film handling apparatus. Both lenses, a 610 mm narrow angle high resolution (HR) lens and an 80 mm wide angle medium resolution (MR) lens, placed their frame exposures on a single roll of 70 mm film… The film was then processed, scanned, and the images transmitted back to Earth. During the Lunar Orbiter missions, the first pictures of Earth as a whole were taken, beginning with Earth-rise over the lunar surface by Lunar Orbiter 1 in August, 1966.”
This audio is from a Lunar Orbiter tape made on 24 Feb 1967. In the tape you can hear the techs talking about whether the “Surveyor” or “Luna 9” spacecraft could be seen in any images. Both spacecraft had landed on the lunar surface.
This audio is from a Lunar Orbiter tape made on 24 Feb 1967. In the tape you can hear the techs talking about an image they were expecting to download the next day – an oblique shot of crater Kepler. At one point, one tech says “The Russians said that they saw smoke rising from Kepler but in the medium [resolution image] there is no smoke present.”
This video compares the best Lunar Orbiter Image and one of the best LRO Images of the Apollo 11 landing site. The photos were taken over 40 years apart. The Lunar Orbiter photo was taken in 1967 before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, whereas the LRO image was taken on December 22, 2009 and shows the LM Eagle’s descent stage resting on the lunar surface.
LOIRP Mentioned at Apollo 11 Anniversary Celebration, MoonViews
“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.”
Damaged Tape and Murky Moon Views, MoonViews
“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.”