NASA project remasters analog space imagery

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project is giving decades-old data storage a digital makeover.

A magnetic tape at the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project at NASA Ames.
A magnetic tape at the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project at NASA Ames. James Martin/CNET

Between 1966 and 1967, the U.S. launched a series of five unmanned Lunar Orbiter missions that photographed and mapped 99 percent of the lunar surface. The spacecraft, equipped with a dual-lens Kodak camera, captured both a 610mm high-resolution image and a 80mm wide-angle low-resolution image and placed the two exposures on a single roll of 70mm film.

In orbit, the onboard system developed the film, scanned the images into a series of strips, and the analog data was then transmitted to NASA back on Earth where it was written to magnetic tape, stored away, and nearly forgotten.

Now, more than 40 years later, a few passionate space enthusiasts have teamed up with NASA to restore and archive those images.

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, which completed its first scan in July 2009, has now processed about 12 percent to 15 percent of the images taken on those five Lunar Orbiter missions more than 40 years ago. To find out more about the project, check out our slideshow "Four decades later, recovering lunar images."

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