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First Earthrise Photo Taken 48 Years Ago Today

Keith's note: 48 Years ago today, on 23 August 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped the first photo of Earth as seen from lunar orbit (Larger view). While a remarkable image at the time, the full resolution of the image was never retrieved from the data stored from the mission. In 2008, this earthrise image was restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project at NASA Ames Research Center. We obtained the original data tapes from the mission (the last surviving set) and restored original FR-900 tape drives to operational condition using both 60s era parts and modern electronics. The following links provide background on the image, its restoration, and reactions to its release.

Here is a comparison of the full image in its original, familiar context (higher res)(print quality). You can download a 1.2 GB version from NASA here. Note: this is a very large file.

- Newly Restored Lunar Orbiter Image of Earth and Moon (Detail)
- How the Photo Was Taken
- House of Representatives Honors Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project
- Nimbus II and Lunar Orbiter 1 Imagery: A New Look at Earth in 1966
- Dumpster Diving for Science, Science Magazine
- What Lunar Orbiter 1 Was Seeing on 23 August 1966

Earth Before Earth Day

Long before man journeyed to the moon and looked back at the tiny, fragile planet that houses humanity, remote orbiters were sending back pictures of home.

Sent to scope out potential landing sites on the Moon, the series of five Lunar Orbiters also sent back the earliest views of Earth from another celestial body. This image, taken in 1966 by Lunar Orbiter 1, is among the first views of Earth from the Moon. In the black-and-white image, a crescent Earth floats majestically behind the lumpy surface of the Moon.

The 'Other' Lunar Orbiter 1 Earthrise Image

A newly enhanced image of Earth taken from lunar orbit 47 years ago has been released. The image, taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966, is the latest in a series of images released by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP).

This image is actually one of a pair of images taken of Earth by Lunar Orbiter 1. Its twin image, taken first, was much more famous and captured the world's imagination when first released by NASA nearly half a century ago. That "Earthrise" image, as it came to be known, was also the first image re-released by the LOIRP in November 2008.

These two pictures were not included in the original mission plan. Taking these images required that the spacecraft's attitude in relation to the lunar surface be changed so that the camera's lenses were pointing away from the Moon. Such maneuvering meant a calculated risk and, coming early in the flight, the unplanned photograph of Earth raised some doubts among Boeing management about the safety of the spacecraft - especially on the very first Lunar Orbiter mission. (see How the Photo Was Taken)

Larger images (various enlargements of 10% of full size image): [medium] [large] [very large] [raw 100% full sized TIFF - approx 1 GB in size - online at NASA soon]

This second earthrise image (Frame 1117) was taken two days after the first image (Frame 1102) on 25 August 1966 at 13:02:05 GMT. As with the earlier earthrise image, you can see a crescent Earth hovering above the limb of the Moon. Most of what you see on the Moon is the farside with the Sea of Tsiolkovsky prominently featured in the medium resolution image. A flaw in the onboard processing of the first image left a large flaw whereas this second image, although it has a similar flaw, is far more uniform in its quality than the first image.

The data chart on the right (larger version) shows time that the two Earth images were taken.

This second earthrise image was taken under circumstances nearly identical to the first earthise image. Indeed the two images look very, very similar. As was the case with virtually all Lunar Orbiter images, this second earthrise always been available to the public albeit in its original, murky, 1966 resolution. But for some reason, this other earthrise never got the same amount of visibility in 1966.

This is not an unusual - the first image was, well, the "first". This happens a lot. Most people are unaware that Yosemite Valley has a nearby twin, called "Hetch Hetchy". It is flooded with water nearly a century ago and has served serves as a reservoir, much of its majesty obscured. People used to know about both as equals - but not any more.

The highest resolution versions of Frame 117 previously available are online at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. You can compare Frame 1117 with the earlier Frame 1102 and see that the images are of similar composition.

The first earthrise image, Frame 1102 (top) and the second earthrise Frame 1117 (bottom) show similar composition and viewing angles. larger image Image credit: LOIRP/NASA

As was the case with Frame 1102, comparing the detail of Earth in the newly reprocessed LOIRP Frame 1117 on the left with that of the original image on the right shows a dramatic increase in dynamic range and resolution. Larger image.

This image shows the orientation of Earth as seen from the Moon at the time that Frame 1117 was taken on 25 August 1966 at 13:02:05 GMT.

NASA flew five Lunar Orbiter missions between 1966 and 1967 to do photo reconnaissance of possible landing sites for the upcoming Apollo Moon missions as well as to conduct scientific research on the nature of the lunar surface.

The LOIRP retrieved this image from the original magnetic tape recorded in 1966 using restored 60s era FR-900 tape drives coupled with modern digital image capture and processing techniques.  This process brought out detail that would have been impossible to see in the 1960s.  

The LOIRP's goal is to recapture the images from all five Lunar Orbiters and to provide the high resolution images for scientists and the public.  All of the imagery and accompanying data will be submitted to the NASA Planetary Data System (PDS) as is the case with all modern NASA missions. The PDS did not exist at the time that the Lunar Orbiter missions were flown.

The primary data capture of all Lunar Orbiter images has been completed. The LOIRP expects to complete these process of retrieving all images and submitting data to the NASA Planetary Data System by the end of 2014.

Support for this project has been provided by NASA, the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, SpaceRef Interactive Inc., SkyCorp Inc., and hundreds of donors via a RocketHub crowd funding campaign last year.

More information on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project can be found at http://www.moonviews.com

Related links

- Another Lunar Orbiter Earthrise Retrieved and Enhanced
- How Life Magazine Revealed "Earthrise" in 1966
- Nimbus II and Lunar Orbiter 1 Imagery: A New Look at Earth in 1966
- LOIRP Releases Recovered Lunar Orbiter V Image of "Full Earth"

The First Earthrise Image Makes a Trip Back To The Moon

On 19 November 2013, the first image ever taken of the Earth rising over the Moon's surface in 1966 was sent back to the Moon.

This historic image, known as "Earthrise", was taken on 23 August 1966 by NASA's Lunar Orbiter 1.  A full resolution electronic data file over 700 Mb in size containing this image was sent to the LADEE spacecraft currently in lunar orbit and then received back on Earth. 

The NASA Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) system being tested during the LADEE mission allowed the image to be sent to and from the Moon in a fraction of the time required to originally send it back to Earth in 1966.

The Earthrise image that was sent to LADEE was a restored and enhanced version created by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) located at the Ames Research Park at Moffett Field, California.  This enhanced image was originally re-released to the public in November 2008.

First Earthrise Photo Taken 47 Years Ago Today

Keith's note: 47 Years ago today, on 23 August 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped the first photo of Earth as seen from lunar orbit (Larger view). While a remarkable image at the time, the full resolution of the image was never retrieved from the data stored from the mission. In 2008, this earthrise image was restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project at NASA Ames Research Center. We obtained the original data tapes from the mission (the last surviving set) and restored original FR-900 tape drives to operational condition using both 60s era parts and modern electronics. The following links provide background on the image, its restoration, and reactions to its release.

Here is a comparison of the full image in its original, familiar context (higher res)(print quality). You can download a 1.2 GB version from NASA here. Note: this is a very large file.

- Newly Restored Lunar Orbiter Image of Earth and Moon (Detail)
- How the Photo Was Taken
- House of Representatives Honors Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project
- Nimbus II and Lunar Orbiter 1 Imagery: A New Look at Earth in 1966
- Dumpster Diving for Science, Science Magazine
- What Lunar Orbiter 1 Was Seeing on 23 August 1966

25 August 1966 Lunar Orbiter Bugle: Waiting For Earthrise

Keith Cowing: In this excerpt from the 25 August 1966 edition of LO BUGL (The Lunar Orbiter Bugle) the Lunar Orbiter team eagerly awaits the first pictures of the Earth taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 - and how fiction and artistry are about to become reality.

Click on image to enlarge

Related link: Coming Soon: The LO BUGL: Online After 47 Years

First Earthrise Photo Taken 46 Years Ago Today

Keith's note: 46 Years ago today, on 23 August 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped the first photo of Earth as seen from lunar orbit (Larger view). While a remarkable image at the time, the full resolution of the image was never retrieved from the data stored from the mission. In 2008, this earthrise image was restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project at NASA Ames Research Center. We obtained the original data tapes from the mission (the last surviving set) and restored original FR-900 tape drives to operational condition using both 60s era parts and modern electronics. The following links provide background on the image, its restoration, and reactions to its release.

Here is a comparison of the full image in its original, familiar context (higher res)(print quality). You can download a 1.2 GB version from NASA here. Note: this is a very large file.

- Newly Restored Lunar Orbiter Image of Earth and Moon (Detail)
- How the Photo Was Taken
- House of Representatives Honors Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project
- Nimbus II and Lunar Orbiter 1 Imagery: A New Look at Earth in 1966
- Dumpster Diving for Science, Science Magazine
- What Lunar Orbiter 1 Was Seeing on 23 August 1966

First Earthrise Photo Taken 45 Years Ago Today

Keith's note: 45 Years ago today, on 23 August 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 snapped the first photo of Earth as seen from lunar orbit (Larger view). While a remarkable image at the time, the full resolution of the image was never retrieved from the data stored from the mission. In 2008, this earthrise image was restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project at NASA Ames Research Center. We obtained the original data tapes from the mission (the last surviving set) and restored original FR-900 tape drives to operational condition using both 60s era parts and modern electronics. The following links provide background on the image, its restoration, and reactions to its release.

Here is a comparison of the full image in its original, familiar context (higher res)(print quality). You can download a 1.2 GB version from NASA here. Note: this is a very large file.

- Newly Restored Lunar Orbiter Image of Earth and Moon (Detail)
- How the Photo Was Taken
- House of Representatives Honors Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project
- Nimbus II and Lunar Orbiter 1 Imagery: A New Look at Earth in 1966
- Dumpster Diving for Science, Science Magazine
- What Lunar Orbiter 1 Was Seeing on 23 August 1966

Lee Scherer

Lee Scherer, KSC's 2nd leader, dies at 91, Florida Today

"Lee Scherer, who led Kennedy Space Center through its last major transition between human spaceflight programs, will be remembered in a service later this month near his home in San Diego, Calif. Scherer, KSC's second center director from 1975 to 1979, died May 7 at age 91. ... Joining NASA in 1962 on loan from the Navy, Scherer managed a program that launched five lunar orbiters mapping Apollo landing sites."

Keith's note: We were beyond thrilled to have Lee Scherer visit our Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) operation at NASA Ames in November 2008 as we released the newly retrieved and restored "Earthrise" image taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966. As he walked into Building 596 (aka "McMoons" - it used to be a McDonalds) Lee was clearly stunned to see that we had found all of this old stuff and got it working again. We all had a tear in our eyes - it was like being in a Star Trek episode where something comes back from the past to a future where it simply should not exist.

At one point Lee told a story about some kids in his neighborhood who asked about an old picture he had hanging in his garage. Of course, it was the famous Earthrise image. You can imagine his reaction to seeing it presented in all its glory in a way not possible (technically) in 1966 - but in a way that now truly matched what one's mind's eye saw when this image first went viral in 1966. More than a generation later this image inspired the mission patch for STS-130 - the shuttle flight that carried a piece of the summit of Mt. Everest and four small Apollo 11 moon rocks that had been to the summit up to the International Space Station. The past meets the future once again.

Ad astra Lee.

(L to R) Greg Schmidt (NLSI), astronaut Yvonne Cagle, Lee Scherer, Lee's son, and LOIRP co-lead Dennis Wingo. Next to Lee Scherer are the original Lunar Orbiter tapes still backed in their archival containers.

(L to R) LOIRP co-lead Dennis Wingo, Lee Scherer, LOIRP engineer Ken Zin, and Nancy Evans. Ken ZIn is explainin gthe restoration process hwereby orignal FR-900 tape drives were brought back to life after 40 years.

(L to R) Lee Scherer, Nancy Evans, and Dennis Wingo stand in front of a restored FR-900 tape drive

Lee Scherer signs the newly operational FR-900 tape drive used to read the original Lunar Orbiter data tapes.

TheLunar Orbiter 1 "Earthrise" image of Earth taken on 23 August 1966. Top: original- bottom: restored by LOIRP.

[Click on image to enlarge] Does any one at NASA Langley Research Center (or elsewhere in/around NASA) know where this large reproduction of the Lunar Orbiter 1 "Earthrise" image (or others like it) are currently located? Please drop an email to lunarorbiter-at-spaceref.com - thanks!

Image date: 12.14.1966 Caption: "Langley Center Director Floyd Thompson shows Ann Kilgore the "picture of the century." This was the first picture of the earth taken from space. From Spaceflight Revolution: "On 23 August 1966 just as Lunar Orbiter I was about to pass behind the moon, mission controllers executed the necessary maneuvers to point the camera away from the lunar surface and toward the earth. The result was the world's first view of the earth from space. It was called "the picture of the century' and "the greatest shot taken since the invention of photography." Not even the color photos of the earth taken during the Apollo missions superseded the impact of this first image of our planet as a little island of life floating in the black and infinite sea of space." Published in James R. Hansen, Spaceflight Revolution: NASA Langley Research Center From Sputnik to Apollo, (Washington: NASA, 1995), pp. 345-346."
Image reference at NASAimages.org

"Attached is a photo that I have of the Lunar Orbiter photo. I got if from my Dad who worked for North American Rockwell at the time this photo was taken. Is about 15" x 40". And states "Historic First Photo of Earth from Deep Space". Robert L. Wells, Salem, AL

"Griffith Observatory has a copy of the print, identical in size to the one shown in your story. It was somewhat worse-the-wear for being on public display for decades, and although it had some cosmetic restoration, it was crated and put in storage (where it remains) when the Observatory was closed for renovation in 2002." - Anthony Cook, Astronomical Observer, Griffith Observatory

"I don't know if it was a reprint or not, but we had one at Michoud Assembly Facility. It was there from the Saturn program. It hung on the Main isle. West side of the plant, on the north wall. It was across from the Mechanical Assembly area. Think around column K-4, but can't stake my life on the exact column number. Hope this helps, maybe give them a call." - Danny

Click on image to enlarge. "Hello... I wished that I had the large version in the story but I have had the smaller version since the 60's rolled up for a number of years and finally had the print framed about 25 years ago. Right now, it is in storage. As you can see, I brought it out to show some friends for a time and took a photo of it in front of my front door.... It is in fairly good shape, still. It was given to me from a friend that worked at JPL. It is one of my prized pictures and it is heart breaking that I don't have a wall to display it.... " Ernie Williams Cerritos, CA

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