July 16, 2009--
This earthrise has come a long way through space--and time.
Taken on August 23, 1966, by NASA's unmanned Lunar Orbiter 1, the picture was part of an effort to build a map of the moon's surface in advance of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which began 40 years ago this month. (See the 1969 National Geographic article and photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing.)
The photographs were made via remote control, developed in orbit, and scanned with analog technology. The static images were then radioed to Earth and displayed on TVs, which were photographed. Those pictures were printed in tiny strips, collaged together, and photographed again.
All these steps took their toll on the quality of the images: Much like making a photocopy of a photocopy, the images of the moon created 40 years ago were fairly fuzzy and lacking in detail.
But some NASA scientists had the foresight to make magnetic tape recordings of the radio-wave transmissions mid-way through the process.
Now, after recovering the decades-old recordings and refurbishing outdated tape drives, a team of volunteers has begun digitizing the most famous images from the 1960s Lunar Orbiter missions with much-improved clarity and detail.
(Related video: Apollo 11 moon-landing footage restored
(View the "Earthrise" image in zoomable high-res and compare it to the unrestored image.)
Photograph courtesy Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project