Earthrise over the Moon as seen by Lunar Orbiter 1 on August 24, 1966.
Sitting incongruously among the hangars and laboratories of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley is the squat facade of an old McDonald’s. You won’t get a burger there, though–its cash registers and soft-serve machines have given way to old tape drives and modern computers run by a rogue team of hacker engineers who’ve rechristened the place McMoon’s. These self-described techno-archaeologists have been on a mission to recover and digitize forgotten photos taken in the ‘60s by a quintet of scuttled lunar satellites.
The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project has since 2007 brought some 2,000 pictures back from 1,500 analog data tapes. They contain the first high-resolution photographs ever taken from behind the lunar horizon, including the first photo of an earthrise (first slide above). Thanks to the technical savvy and DIY engineering of the team at LOIRP, it’s being seen at a higher resolution than was ever previously possible.
“We’re reaching back to a capability that existed but couldn’t be touched back when it was created,” says Keith Cowing, co-lead and founding member at LOIRP. “It’s like having a DVD in 1966, you can’t play it. We had resolution of the earth of about a kilometer [per pixel]. This is an image taken a quarter of a fucking million miles away in 1966. The Beatles were warming up to play Shea Stadium at the moment it was being taken.”
This is a pretty interesting story on reverse engineering. And just learning the technique the original lunar recon missions used is pretty impressive.
A couple years after this picture above, the “definitive” earthrise picture would be taken by astronaut Bill Anders aboard Apollo 8, the first lunar orbit mission. Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman all took pictures of the beautiful appearance of the earth rising above the lunar horizon.
And that’s where I come in. Shortly after Frank Borman left NASA, he took the reins of Eastern Airlines as President. To better prepare himself for the job, he attended the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. The Navy happened to send my dad to the same HBS-AMP course as Borman, and they both studied together, and socialized quite a bit.
And Borman, as a token of his esteem, gave our family autographed, framed copies of the famous picture, one for my folks, and one for each of us children.