The first Earthrise as captured by Lunar Orbiter 1 on August 23, 1966. Image Credit: NASA / Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

In the haste of the space race, troves of scientific data were gathered and locked up in surplus warehouses. Typically, most of these surplus storage items got destroyed or were trashed. Thankfully, a NASA biologist named Nancy Evans made sure some heaps of this extra data were saved in the 1970s.

Currently posted on Rockethub (a crowdfunding website similar to Kickstarter) is a project that accentuates the everlasting value of scientific investment. Coining the phrase “technoarchaeology,” they are making an attempt to “mine the past to support science in the future.”

A few years prior to NASA’s moon landing, five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft were launched to the Moon. Seeking Apollo landing sites by taking photographs, these orbiters were equipped with 70mm film and were able to develop its lunar images within an on-board darkroom. Then, these images were sent back to Earth via signal transmission.

These missions gave us many noteworthy pictures such as the renowned “Earthrise” and “Picture of the Century.” They were stored on analog data tapes, which, in order to be reprocessed, require being driven through large tape drives.

Tape drives like the one shown are a rarity; priced around $330,000, not many were produced, and the ones that were all had been purposed within the military. Evans was able to acquire four of these machines, yet for twenty years she was unable to get them fixed.

Tape drives like the one shown are a rarity; priced around $330,000, not many were produced, and the ones that were all had been purposed within the military. Evans was able to acquire four of these machines, yet for twenty years she was unable to get them fixed.

Many of these images were not seen by the general public, but what we saw were simply snapshots of the originals. You can imagine how much quality was lost, yet we as a public were still incredibly engaged by this overview effect felt from seeing our planet and its moon like never before. After being denied time and time again for funding from NASA, Evans decided to go public with her project in 2005. She was able to enlist the help of Ken Zin, an army vet who had spent years doing engineering repairs for top-secret machines. They were able to get their machines running, yet there is still much work to be done.

Currently sitting near $14,000 of their $75,000 goal, the project has cost far less than NASA’s estimate of over $6 million. Donations will go towards refurbishing the tape drive heads, which continually get worn down from reading the image tapes. There are over 700 tapes left to process, and each tape takes one hour to play through. Once they are processed into digital data (over 20 terabytes processed so far) they are able to then create the images and do the archival paperwork. Donations will also go towards paying the team members that do all of the aforementioned work of tape processing, digital processing, and paperwork. Over 600 images have been processed so far, but there are still 850 more to finish!

Once this digital work has been completed, all of the images will be provided for free, at full resolution to the public since the five Lunar Orbiter missions were funded from public tax dollars.

Link to the crowd-funding project: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/14882-lunar-orbiter-image-recovery-project

Project’s official webpage: http://www.moonviews.com/