Moon’s South Pole Gets Close-Up in Restored Photos

Moon’s South Pole Gets Close-Up in Restored Photos
Lunar Orbiter IV took this photo of the moon's south pole in May of 1967. It has been digitized and restored through the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project. For more images like this one, please visit the project's Web site, (Image credit: LOIRC)

Newlyrestored photographs of the moon's dark south pole, taken by lunar orbiters in1967, were released this week in anticipation of NASA?s planned Thursday launchof two new probes that will investigate the region in search of undergroundice.

Through theLunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP), experts have scanned and digitallyrefurbished nearly 1,800 photographs of the moon that satellites snapped in1966 and 1967. This week, the project released new versions of images showing permanently shadowed craters at the moon's south pole, a prime target for NASA's new lunar scouts set to launch tomorrow.

DennisWingo, who directs the project, was 6 years old when the first images weretelevised. "Even as a small child I was very much a follower of the spaceprogram," he told

Theorbiters took photographs and developed the film onboard before scanning themand relaying them to stations around the world. NASA scientists used the imagesto plan the Apollomoon landings. They were recorded on 2-inch analog tape and stored forposterity. Now, more than 40 years later, Wingo is using the only remainingtape players capable of extracting those images for digitization. He publishesthe restorations on the Web site

A precursorof the project to restore the tapes began in the 1980s. That attempt stalledwhen funds dried up. Twenty years later, Wingo noticed a blog post thatmentioned the tapes. Nancy Evans, co-founder of the NASA Planetary Data System,had the tape players storedin a barn and was looking for someone to finish the process she hadstarted.

"We'reconverting them to digital, then processing them on the computer to show themin their original glory," Wingo said. NASA could later compare the40-year-old images with those the new probes will gather, he added.


This week?srelease of images comes as NASA prepares for the Thursday launch of a newmission to investigate whether there is water ice on the moon's south pole.

The missioninvolvestwo probes, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and a pair of crash-landingimpactors, which will be lifted to space by an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from theCape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Liftoff is set for 5:12 p.m. EDT(2112 GMT).

The lunarorbiter will map the moon's surface from orbit in unsurpassed resolution,capturing even the tracks that lunar rovers left behind. Accompanying theorbiter, NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite will droptwo impactors into the south pole of the moon.

Followingup on data collected by past missions that revealed hydrogen at the poles ? asign of water ? scientists will analyze the debris that explodes from theimpact sites in its search for underground lunar ice.

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