The Digital Moon: cool news for science geeks, lunar conspiracy theorists, and everyone in between
Back in the primitive days of space exploration, when the computers on spaceships had less computing power than a new car’s clock, they did have one nice piece of technology. Cameras. The American Apollo Missions to the moon had nice cameras, since camera technology was fairly advanced even in the 70s. And by advanced, I mean well developed long established technology with excellent reliable equipment. The Apollo Moon Missions didn’t do a whole lot of science, it was kind of tacked on as an afterthought, but they did take a lot of pictures.
36,000 of them to be exact. Many from orbit, many on the ground. And none of them ever seen by the public. Well, OK, that’s an exaggeration. None have ever been seen by the public in full resolution, these images are on film and have been carefully stored for decades. All the public has ever seen for the most part are copies made from prints. That’s all about to change, these images are going to be digitalized. They will be such high resolution that viewers will be able to see the grain of the film at high zoom levels.
And yes, they will be available on line. As my readers may know, images produced by the federal government are public domain under US copyright law. As of course they damn well should be, these were made with our money. (At least in this respect the federal government is still of and for the people, it serves us, as it should be.) It’s still three years from completion, but the Apollo Image Archive is going to be a really cool development in the field of space exploration. I’ll be checking it out.
Aside from its coolness to old science geeks, this also has a few other aspects that are curious. This will of course be a big boon to Apollo Hoax theorists. (I use the word theorist here in the loosest sense of the term.) There’s a whole raft of them, but the main two are the idea that the Moon missions were faked and/or that evidence of alien civilization/UFOs can be seen in the pictures the astronauts took. I haven’t blogged about them because there’s no real point. They aren’t terribly credible theories, which kind of robs them of interest in my opinion. Still, the people who exhaustively comb over this sort of evidence for proof of their theories will have a field day, and who knows what curious stuff they might spot. The face on the Moon? Could be loads of fun.
Along with people looking for aliens, there will be geologists and just plain normal folks viewing the images. People using Google Earth have discovered previously unknown impact craters on Earth, who knows what they may spot on the Moon. We are seeing a wave of technology now that is opening up scientific exploration to lay people, in a way that hasn’t really existed since the nineteenth century. This is also too cool for words. Heck, there even was a Radio Shack plan to allow tourists to drive remote control rovers around on the Moon. If it gets restarted who knows what Joe or Jill Normal might stumble across up there?
And finally this story illustrates how much wonderful data collected by even the oldest space exploration remains sitting in archives to be mined for science and discovery. The Apollo Missions are just the tip of the iceberg, there is all sorts of other old data sitting on film and magnetic tape. The original Russian Venus lander tapes were recovered fairly recently for example. Every successful space provide provides a wealth of raw data that will be studied for decades. Aside from the wonder of it all, this alone makes space exploration one of the best values money can by. In a future blog I will discuss the practical spin-offs from space exploration and research, science and discovery is far more than just pretty pictures.
(The above Apollo 16 image of the far side of the Moon is public domain under US copyright law. The far side of the Moon has no “seas” like the near side, probably because the crust is thicker and impacts couldn’t penetrate it to allow the enormous lava flows that created the flat plains on the near side.)