Restoring Instant Analog Photographic Technology

The five Lunar Orbiter missions took photographs of the Moon and processed them – on film – in lunar orbit – via a chemical process developed by Eastman Kodak – one that is somewhat similar to Polaroid’s instant film products. The developed images were scanned and sent back to Earth and stored as analog data. After the missions were completed the tapes and rives were stored and then forgotten. A generation later, in 2008, the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) re-engineered the original tape drives and re-processed the original mission analog data tapes – using 21st Century processing capabilities to produce dramatically enhanced versions of these iconic and historic images. We wholeheartedly believe that there are new things than can be learned from old stuff. As such, when we learned of this effort to save – and continue – the Polaroid analog image process (Kodak’s competitor), well, we had to support it.
According to Wikipedia:
“Polaroid Corporation is an American-based international consumer electronics and eyewear company, originally founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land. It is most famous for its instant film cameras, which reached the market in 1948, and continued to be the company’s flagship product line until the February 2008 decision to cease all production in favor of digital photography products.[1] The company’s original dominant market was in polarized sunglasses, an outgrowth of Land’s self-guided research in polarization after leaving Harvard University after his freshman year—he later returned to Harvard to continue his research.”
According to the project’s website:
“We’re always dreaming about making the impossible possible and lately we can’t stop thinking about a new Impossible camera. We envision a high quality camera that is optimized to make the best out of our new, constantly improving film materials.
Therefore we have now started the Impossible Camera Project. Together with a small team of real analog camera experts, amongst others long time Polaroid camera expert Henny Waanders, we are currently evaluating and researching all possible and impossible possibilities regarding the production of a new analog instant camera.
Our idol is the legendary Polaroid SX 70 camera. Discontinued more than 30 years ago, this Polaroid cam is one of the most wanted instant cameras worldwide. The reasons are obvious: the high quality lens combined with the revolutionary folding design and the premium materials are simply irresistible. In 1972 this camera was simply the revolution and it changed the world of photography taking hearts in storm. Since today the SX-70 has not lost anything of its magic and it is still our hero as well as inspiration in all undertaking towards an Impossible camera.
Stay tuned to learn more as soon as things evolve.”

According to ITT (which bought Kodak):
“Photos were processed automatically by the Orbiter’s photographic system as the spacecraft orbited the Moon’s dark side. This operation was performed by a KODAK BITMAT diffusion transfer process using ‘dry’ chemistry. A high-intensity light beam then optically scanned the photographic prints, and the images were transmitted to receiving stations on Earth.”
Additional information

Guide to Lunar Orbiter Photographs

Thomas P. Hansen, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia
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The Lunar Orbiter program initiated in early 1964 consisted of the investigation of the Moon by five identical unmanned spacecraft. Its primary objective was to obtain detailed photographs of the Moon. This document presents information on the location and coverage of all Lunar Orbiter photographs and is one in a series of four NASA Special Publications documenting Lunar Orbiter photography. The others are references 1 to 3. Reference 1 contains 675 photographic plates and provides coverage of the complete Moon with more detail than any other publication. Reference 2 is a collection of approximately 180 selected photographs and portions thereof at enlarged scale, and includes captions for each photograph. Reference 3 shows each named feature on the near side on annotated highresolution frames from mission IV. It also includes (1) an alphabetical index of features, (2) cross-indexes between listings in the catalog of the University of Arizona and the catalog of the International Astronomical Union which was published in 1935, and (3) listings of named lunar features on the near side covered during missions I, 11, 111, and V, and their photograph numbers.

Continue reading “Guide to Lunar Orbiter Photographs”

Data User’s Note: Lunar Orbiter Photographic Data

NSSDC 69-05, Beeler and Michlovitz, June 1969
Download document (2.7 MB PDF)
The primary purpose of this Data User’s Note is to announce the availability of Lunar Orbiter 1-5 pictorial data and to aid the investigator in the selection of Lunar Orbiter photographs for study. In addition, this Note can give some guidance to the interpretation of the pictures. As background information, the Note includes a breif description of the mission objectives and the photographic subsystem. The National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC) can provide all forms of photographs described in the section on Format of Available Data. It is recommended however, that the user frst order the 35-mm film to facilitate selection of those frames for which high-quality reproductions are needed.

Lunar Orbiter’s Kodak Camera Profiled

The Kodak Lunar Orbiter Camera, American Society of Cinematographers Blog
“The recent media attention given to the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, with its dramatic restored video of Neil Armstrong’s first steps onto the lunar surface, has re-ignited our nation’s interest in extra-terrestrial exploration. But this mission would not have been possible had it not been for a series of lunar surface mapping missions that were made several years before.  It is a story that is not as dramatic as that of the first humans to walk on the moon. But it is a fascinating story, nonetheless, of the way that the entire Apollo program pushed beyond the then perceived limits of technology. And the Eastman Kodak Company was a major player.”
“The recent AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists) symposium held at the Dunn Theater of the AMPAS Pickford Center in Hollywood featured jaw-dropping presentations by Al Sturm and Ralph Sargent of the history of this program as well as the forensic-like work to find and restore its lost images. It is this latter theme I will take up soon along with the recent new photos also taken by a high resolution Kodak digital camera.”

Lunar Orbiter In The News

Kodak has played big role in space program, Democrat and Chronicle
“Kodak designed and built the cameras and film processing used in the five lunar orbiters sent to photograph the moon’s surface in 1966 and 1967 in preparation for the manned landing. Those orbiters shot panoramic strips of the lunar surface and transmitted them back to Earth before the orbiters crashed into the moon, said Todd Gustavson, curator of technology at the George Eastman House.”
To the Moon – with extreme engineering – Spontaneous, improvised – would it be allowed to happen now?, The Register
“It’s a temptation, watching many of the 40th Anniversary retrospectives, to think of the Apollo space program as a triumph of power and industrial might. The superpowers’ space programs were, of course, political and chauvinistic, designed to showcase national wealth. But there’s a better way of looking at the program, Dennis Wingo reminded me recently. Masses of money helped put man on the Moon of course, but the Moon program is really a tale of engineering improvisation and human organisation. … The Lunar Orbiter astonishes even today. It had to take pictures, scan and develop the film on board, and broadcast it successfully back to earth. Naturally, the orbiter had to provide its own power, orient itself without intervention from ground control, and maintain precise temperature conditions and air pressure for the film processing, and protect itself from solar radiation and cosmic rays – all within severe size and weight constraints. This was far beyond the capabilities of the newest spy satellites, which back then returned the film to earth in a canister, retrieved by a specially kitted-out plane. The Orbiter challenge was the Apollo challenge in miniature.”

Man’s First Look at Earth From the Moon….

Describing the spectacular, historic view above, FLOYD L. THOMPSON, then Director, Langley Research Center, wrote: “At 16:35 GMT on August 23, 1966, the versatile manmade Lunar Orbiter spacecraft responded to a series of commands sent to it from Earth, across a quarter-million miles of space, and made this over-the-shoulder view of its home planet from a vantage point 730 miles above the far side of the Moon.
“At that moment,” Thompson continued, “the Sun was setting along an arc extending from England [on the right] to Antarctica [on the left]. Above that line, the world, with the east coast of the United States at the top, was still bathed in afternoon sunlight. Below, the major portion of the African Continent and the Indian Ocean were shrouded in the darkness of evening. “By this reversal of viewpoint, we here on the…
… and an Oblique View of the Moon Itself
….Earth have been provided a sobering glimpse of the spectacle of our own planet as it will be seen by a few of our generation in their pursuit of the manned exploration of space. We have achieved the ability to contemplate ourselves from afar and thus, in a measure, accomplish the wish expressed by Robert Burns: ‘To see oursels as ithers see us! ”
Also visible in dramatic new perspective in this photograph is the singularly bleak Iunar landscape, its tortured features evidently hammered out by a cosmic bombardment that may have extended over billions of years.
Because the airless, weatherless Moon appears to preserve its surface materials so well, it may serve science as an illuminating record of past events in the solar system. ROBERT JASTROW, Director Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has called the Moon “the Rosetta Stone of the planets.”