Today’s the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, so understandably I’m breaking my normal rule that a “Scientific tourist” post has to contain an image from a place you could conceivably get to. At least soon…
Today’s image was taken of the Apollo 11 LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) descent stage by NASA’s LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), from about 70 miles high. If you go to the press release page, you’ll see that LRO has been able to image 5 of the 6 LEMs so far. Since the Sun has to be close to the horizon at the landing site for the descent stage to be well seen (thanks to the shadow it casts), and since LRO just recently got into lunar orbit, Apollo 12’s site couldn’t be imaged yet. Expect an image of Apollo 12’s LEM to be released soon, as well as better images of the other sites (from lower altitudes).
In the meantime, the LRO images that we currently have are impressive — you can clearly make out the descent stages, and in many cases also see the scientific packages that were deployed, along with the paths the astronauts wore in the lunar soil as they bounced and shuffled along. The final LRO images should be about 2 to 3 times crisper than what’s been released already, so I can’t wait to see what they’ll show us…
Meanwhile, of course, plenty of other Apollo-related material is out there for you, tied in to the anniversary. A quick list:
Other coverage of the LRO images
Lost tapes and restored video
Remember the story of NASA’s “lost tapes?” In short, at the time of the Apollo landings, NASA sent along some experimental TV cameras. These transmitted video in an odd format that was incompatible with normal broadcast TV — so the signals received on the ground were displayed on a TV screen, then re-scanned by a (broadcast) TV camera for replay by the networks. The received signal was also recorded on magnetic tape — but since this was all a monumental kludge, and the astronauts were recording much crisper photographic stills and video on film, the tapes with the TV video were treated as engineering telemetry.
Basically, they were erased and reused on later missions. Oops…
So since the original recordings are long gone, NASA did the next best thing for history — rounded up a bunch of recordings of the (broadcast) signal, and sent the best off to a Hollywood lab (Lowry Digital) that makes a business of restoring noisy video. Video and writeups are available here:
Odds & ends
Lots of other material is available too:
NASA’s got a whole mini-site up for the Apollo 11 anniversary
We choose the moon is tracking events in the Apollo 11 mission in real time
The Boston Globe’s Big Picture contributes a photo essay on the Apollo 11 mission
Space.com presents The Moon: Then, Now, Next — a nice wide swath of lunar coverage