Inside an abandoned McDonald’s adorned with pirate flags in NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, a motley collection of hackers and old technology is working to recover lost and damaged photography from NASA’s early moon exploration. Dubbed McMoon’s, but officially known as the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, the site was chosen because of the project’s particular requirements for heating, cooling, and water. Inside the former fast food restaurant, the LOIRP is basically “dumpster diving for science.”
Two buildings near the research center were identified as possible work sites, a former barber shop and this McDonald’s. The fast food restaurant had closed a couple weeks before the image recovery effort started in 2007 and offered more storage space and adequate parking for employees. You can see a few more photos from inside McMoon’s in Flickr user agentmouthwashfanclubpresident’s photostream.
In July of 2008, the project had finally moved in to the McDonald’s and in November of that year, the team announced the successful recovery of a 1966 photo of the Earth rising as seen from the moon’s surface. In fact, it was the first photo taken of the Earth from the moon. To recover the image, the team found the last set of tapes containing the data and restored 1960s-era tape drives to operational condition using both original and modern parts. There’s also a brief explanation of how the 1966 photo was taken.
You can see a comparison of the original image and the recovered image below.
The team has an actively updated website about the project called Moonviews, which includes information about recovered pictures. They started by working to recover and restore images from the 5 Lunar Orbiter missions flown between 1966 and 1967. The first three of these missions were done to identify and survey potential landing sites for the subsequent Apollo moon missions, while the last two were of a more scientific nature. The posts at the Moonviews website are fascinating. In this piece about a Lunar Orbiter image last seen 47 years ago, there’s some detail about the method by which photos were sent back from the moon.
Now, the team now also works on other historical satellite imagery and, with the help of a crowdfunding campaign, have now taken over an abandoned NASA satellite with an aim to open up satellite data for anyone who wants to use it. The website, A Spacecraft for All: The Journey of the ISEE-3, offers information about this new project.
And while we’re on the subject of lunar photos, computer graphics card manufacturer NVIDIA just released an odd little video that debunks moon landing conspiracy theorists by modeling the lighting in the well-known shot of Buzz Aldrin leaving the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. Aldrin appears to be illuminated from the side opposite the sun, but there were no other light sources on the moon. The engineers recreated the shot in a computer model and analyzed other footage available, eventually realizing that Neil Armstrong’s white spacesuit worked as a reflector in the image.