Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project

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I was surfing through TV channels a few years ago and briefly skipped over what appeared to be a pirated takeover of a McDonalds building. I did not think much of the image or the context at the time, as I was only flipping through the channels. But the black pirate flag with the skull and crossbones hanging in the window of the McDonalds remained with me.

So when I showed up to NASA Ames Research center on the Moffett Field air base, the flag and McDonalds across from my dorm immediately caught my eye.

My curiosity caught up with me and I found myself wandering through the front door hoping to stumble across something other than a ghost building. Treasure I did find! The location is now a hub for the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP); an attempt to digitize the original films from the five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft flown from 1966-1967. The building holds roughly 1500 tapes on reels, all stacked in the kitchen.

These were reconnaissance trips for the Apollo moon missions but the information and images were never used or processed. JPL initially was in charge of the tapes in the 80’s and with a small amount of funding acquiring 4 Ampex FR-900 tape drives (originally designed to record a wideband analog signal of any type for instrumentation). Many recognized that these images could be invaluable comparisons to the high-res images obtained from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009 and that finding resources to process the images was crucial. The hardware aided in getting raw analog data but still required demodulation hardware.

Over the next 2 decades, attempts were made to find funding for the project to build the demodulation hardware and generate the images from the raw data. By 2008, a team finally took over the abandoned McDonald’s, now affectionately referred to as McMoon’s in order to start processing the images.

One of the first images revealed in 2009 was of the crater Copernicus taken from the Lunar Orbiter 2 spacecraft. As of July 2012, one of the Copernicus images was compared to images take from LRO and presented at the 2012 Lunar Science Conference. Cool!


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