"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 Progject 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."
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.
Our plan is simple: we intend to contact the ISEE-3 (International Sun-Earth Explorer) spacecraft, command it to fire its engines and enter an orbit near Earth, and then resume its original mission - a mission it began in 1978. ISEE-3 was rechristened as the International Comet Explorer (ICE). If we are successful it may also still be able to chase yet another comet.
Working in collaboration with NASA we have assembled a team of engineers, programmers, and scientists - and have a large radio telescope fully capable of contacting ISEE-3. If we are successful we intend to facilitate the sharing and interpretation of all of the new data ISEE-3 sends back via crowd sourcing.
NASA has told us officially that there is no funding available to support an ISEE-3 effort - nor is this work a formal priority for the agency right now. But NASA does feel that the data that ISEE-3 could generate would have real value and that a crowd funded effort such as ours has real value as an education and public outreach activity.
Time is short. And this project is not without significant risks. We need your financial help. ISEE-3 must be contacted in the next month or so and it must complete its orbit change maneuvers no later than mid-June 2014. There is excitement ahead as well: part of the maneuvers will include a flyby of the Moon at an altitude of less than 50 km.
Our team members at Morehead State University, working with AMSAT-DL in Germany, have already detected the carrier signals from both of ISEE-3's transmitters. When the time comes, we will be using the large dish at Morehead State University to contact the spacecraft and give it commands.
In order to interact with the spacecraft we will need to locate the original commands and then develop a software recreation of the original hardware that was used to communicate with the spacecraft. These are our two greatest challenges.
The funding we seek will be used for things we have not already obtained from volunteers. We need to initiate a crash course effort to use 'software radio' to recreate virtual versions all of the original communications hardware that no longer physically exists. We also need to cover overhead involved in operating a large dish antenna, locating and analyzing old documentation, and possibly some travel.
This activity will be led by the same team that has successfully accomplished the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP): SkyCorp and SpaceRef Interactive. Education and public outreach will be coordinated by the newly-formed non-profit organization Space College Foundation.
Our trajectory efforts will be coordinated by trajectory maestro Robert Farquhar and his team at KinetX. We are also working in collaboration with the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, and the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) at NASA Ames Research Center.
Please consider making a donation to our project by visiting our RocketHub crowdfunding page.
For information contact Dennis Wingo at 310-403-1346 or by email at wingo -at- skycorpinc.com
A Week With Techno-Archeologists, Static Made
"I've spent the past week in Mountain View, California, hanging out with a group of Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) hackers who are working out of an abandoned McDonald's on the NASA Ames base. For more than five years, LOIRP technologists (or techno-archeologists, as they prefer to be called) have been reverse-engineering analog tape drives and developing new software in an attempt to unearth some of the first images of the moon that were taken by unmanned lunar orbiters in advance of the manned Apollo missions of the late 1960s. Upon entering the building (affectionately called "McMoon's" by those who work within it) for the first time, I was greeted by familiar architecture. The drive-thru windows, menu light boxes, stainless steel counters, fiber glass tables and the ghosts of corporate brand ephemera all remain. However now they coexist under a jolly roger with a literal mountain of vintage 2-inch tape reels that contain trapped data, refrigerator-sized Ampex tape drives, an army of Mac workstations and a seemingly endless supply of analog tape decks, monitors, cables and soldering supplies."
Images from the Carnegie Museum of Art team's visit to McMoons last week on Flickr
- NASA ESMD
- NASA IPP
- NASA ARC
- NASA Lunar Science Institute
- SpaceRef Interactive
- National Snow and Ice Data Center - USGS
- LPI Image Archive
- ARTEMIS - Chandrayaan-1
- GRAIL - Kaguya
- Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
- Lunar Prospector
- Google Lunar X Prize