Apollo archive casts new light

August 3, 2007

For nearly 40 years, the complete photographic record from the Apollo moon project sat in a freezer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, almost untouched, until now.

A new digital archive – created through a collaboration between ASU and NASA – is making available on the Internet high-resolution scans of original Apollo flight films. These startling images will be accessible to both researchers and the general public, to browse or download, at: apollo.sese.asu.edu. Download Full Image

The moon images filmed by astronauts during NASA’s Apollo program have never been seen in high-resolution detail by the public, or even by most lunar scientists.

The new digital scanning project at ASU will use the original Apollo flight films. Previous scanning projects have been limited in scope, and none have used the original films that came back from the moon.

Mark Robinson, professor of geological sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, is the lead scientist on the project. It's appropriate, as the moon has long been a focus in his career. In grade school Robinson avidly followed the Apollo missions, and after becoming a scientist, he worked on Clementine, a robotic moon mission in 1994.

Today, Robinson is the principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), a suite of three separate, high-resolution imagers on board NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, due for launch in October 2008.

"The scanning project fulfills a long-held wish of mine," says Robinson. "It'll give everyone a chance to see this unique collection of images with all the clarity they had when taken."

Second-hand moon

Between 1968 and 1972, NASA sent nine manned Apollo missions to the moon. Both from lunar orbit and on the surface, astronauts snapped about 36,000 photographs in various formats, from 35 mm to specially modified aerial-camera frames.

The orbital photographs record lunar surface features as small as 40 inches (1 meter) in size. The photos snapped on the surface, widely published and familiar to millions of people, document the astronauts' fieldwork while portraying the stark lunar landscape in all its grandeur.

Until now, this immense image archive from Apollo remained largely unexplored in complete detail. The reason is simple: Apollo photographs are all on film.

Each 35 mm roll, every Hasselblad and mapping camera magazine, contains a unique, first-generation record, preserved as it was when it came back from the moon. In fact, several Hasselblad rolls of film taken on the lunar surface show streaks and smudges from moon dust that worked its way into the camera.

Knowing the films were literally irreplaceable, NASA made duplicate sets immediately after the missions, distributing them to various scientific libraries and research facilities around the world. Understandably reluctant to risk the originals, NASA has given only a handful of researchers access to the actual flight films.

This means, however, that lunar scientists have almost always worked with second- or third-generation copies. And publications aimed at general readers have had to make do with copies still further removed from the source. Multiple copying reduces sharpness and increases contrast, both effects combining to blur details the original films recorded faithfully.

Out of the cold

Maura White is an image archivist at NASA Johnson; she heads the Apollo scanning project on the Johnson side. Preparing each roll of film to be scanned, she says, takes a couple of days.

"We bring each film canister out of freezer storage," she explains. "And we leave the canister in a refrigerator for 24 hours." The freezer temperature is set at zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius), while the fridge holds a steady 55 F (13 C).

"This lets the film warm up slowly," she says. "Then we leave the canister – still sealed – at room temperature for another 24 hours."

Once the film has warmed to room temperature, the canister is opened. The scan crew then inspects the film for damage, cleans it if needed and places it on the scanner. Once the roll has been scanned, project technicians return it to the canister. Then it's back to the deep freeze, where NASA hopes the film can remain forever, now that a digital version exists with full fidelity to the original.

"One of the great things about this project," White adds, "is that some of the people who worked here back during Apollo are working with us now. They were involved in handling the films when the astronauts came back from the moon and they are involved in the scanning. It's wonderful having their experience and knowledge on hand."


The project will take about three years to complete and will scan some 36,000 images. These include about 600 frames in 35 mm, roughly 20,000 Hasselblad 60 mm frames (color, and black and white), more than 10,000 mapping camera frames, and about 4,600 panoramic camera frames.

To extract all the details from the film, Robinson decided to scan the black and white images at a resolution of 200 pixels per millimeter, far beyond what most scanning involves. Color images are at 100 or 120 pixels per millimeter.

Says White, "We're going well past the film grain."

The scanner, built by Leica Geosystems, had its software specially modified for the project to increase the brightness range from the normal 12-bit tone depth to 14 bits. This means black and white images record more than 16,000 shades of gray. Color images will use 48-bit pixels to capture the full dynamic range of the film.

Combining high resolution and wide brightness range produces very large raw image files, notes Robinson. For example, in raw form, the scans of the Apollo mapping (metric) camera frames, each 4.7 inches square, are 1.3 gigabytes in size. Panoramic camera frames, each 5 by 48 inches, are 11.8 gigabytes each.

"Those are much bigger than most people would want to look at with a browser," explains Robinson, "even if their browser and Internet connection are up to the job."

So the Web site uses a Flash-based application called Zoomify, which lets users dive deep into a giant image by loading only the portion being examined. Links are available at the site for downloading images in several sizes, right up to the full raw scan.

Getting the images from NASA Johnson to ASU meant a return to an old form of moving files, usually dubbed "sneaker-net." Instead of clogging the Web servers at Johnson and ASU with enormous files, each week the scan crew loads the images onto 500-gigabyte removable hard drives, and ships them via UPS to the Tempe campus.

Once the images are on campus, undergraduate student workers load the files into the ASU system, and do basic processing, such as creating the smaller-resolution versions and assembling ancillary data on each image.

Nothing happens on the moon?

"One of the most interesting uses of these decades-old images," notes Robinson, "is that we can compare them with the images we'll get from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter." Robinson notes that, while scientists could always visually compare an Apollo-era photographic print with a new digital image from LROC, having both in digital form speeds up the job and makes it more accurate.

Looking for lunar changes isn't just academic. Scientists have a good idea of how many tiny meteorites zip through space, thanks to studies made using satellites in Earth orbit. "And we know from the sizes of asteroids how many large impacts are likely," says Robinson.

"But if we're sending astronauts back to the lunar surface for extended visits, we need data on how often medium-size meteorites strike the moon," notes Robinson. "Calculations tell us we should see some new lunar craters when we compare LROC's images with the old Apollo ones."

Beyond its utility for lunar exploration, Robinson is delighted the Apollo digitizing project is underway for another reason: "I think these images give everybody a beautiful look at this small, ancient world next door to us."

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Candelaria named associate dean

August 3, 2007

Cordelia Chávez Candelaria, widely acclaimed for her scholarly and pioneering work promoting understanding and appreciation of the rich diversity of American society, has been named associate dean for strategic initiatives in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU.

A 2006 Regents’ Professor of English and Chicana/Chicano Studies, and most recently vice provost of academic affairs at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, Candelaria will provide expertise in the implementation of college initiatives designed to transcend academic disciplines. Additionally, she will oversee efforts to provide a diverse college environment for students. Download Full Image

“Dr. Candelaria’s unique background, scholarship and leadership at ASU will be a valuable asset to our foci on reinventing what a liberal arts education means in the 21st century and in creating a challenging yet nurturing academic environment that contributes to the retention, success and graduation of our students,” says Quentin Wheeler, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, ASU’s largest and most diverse college. Liberal Arts and Sciences encompasses 30 schools, departments and programs; 29 research centers and institutes; more than 13,000 undergraduate students; nearly 2,700 graduate students; and 725 tenured/tenure track faculty.

Candelaria began her career at ASU in 1991, when she joined the university as an English professor and researcher for the Hispanic Research Center. She went on to chair the former Department of Chicana/Chicano Studies from 2000-2005, a position where she honed her administrative knowledge for creating new academic enterprises, developing curriculum and recruiting faculty.

As a researcher and author, her scholarly work has helped redefine the mainstream of American literary and cultural studies. Candelaria has published more than 200 titles, including 15 books and monographs, as well as numerous book chapters, essays, reviews, poems and other writings. She is the author of “Chicano Poetry, A Critical Introduction,” published in 1986, which was the first comprehensive study of Mexican-American poets. One of Candelaria’s books – “Seeking the Perfect Game: Baseball in American Literature” – is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s library named for former Yale University president and baseball commissioner, A. Bartlett Giammatti. She also co-edited the first women’s studies journal focusing on Chicanas and the first “Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture,” a two-volume set published in 2004.

“Dr. Candelaria brings to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences a unique combination of academic skills and experience; expertise we will count on as we seek synergy from our richly diverse faculty. Just as our transdisciplinary schools are challenging assumptions about discovery and problem solving, Cordelia will help us connect the dots to create bold new linkages across and within the humanities and the social and natural sciences,” Wheeler says.

“I’m honored to be asked to serve my home college in advancing strategic initiatives to reinforce a vibrant college culture that applies the many benefits of diversity to transdisciplinary teaching and research activities,” Candelaria says. “Such pluralistic approaches combine the latest creative and substantive discoveries with the profound lessons of history to inspire future generations.”

Among her many honors are: 2005 Outstanding Latina Cultural Award in Literary Arts and Publications from the American Association of Higher Education; 1996 Fulbright Scholar in American Literature to the Universidad Católica de Lima, Peru; 1997 Inaugural ASU Visiting Professor at Richmond College in London; voted 2001 Scholar of the Year by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies; and in 1991, she was the third recipient of The Americas Award previously awarded to Carlos Fuentes and U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye.

Elizabeth D. Capaldi, ASU’s executive vice president and university provost, notes: “Dr. Candelaria’s accomplishments are well known, inside the university community, throughout Arizona and the country. She is a superb scholar and a natural leader who has contributed greatly to ASU.

“Her community activism epitomizes ASU’s vision of diffusing boundaries between the university and the communities it serves, while her research and scholarly work is of great importance in a core area of the humanities,” Capaldi says.

In the 1970s, while employed as a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Candelaria initiated the inclusion of women and African-Americans in the NEH research database. In the 1980s, she helped establish the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race in America at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Regents’ Professor Candelaria describes her goal as a teacher “is to help students better understand the totality of their cultural place in society in order to better themselves, strengthen their communities, and, thereby, help transform the planet.”

Most recently at ASU, Candelaria was tapped to oversee academic affairs at the university’s Downtown Phoenix campus, which opened last year.

Says Mernoy Harrison, vice president and executive vice provost of the downtown campus: “As a new campus, we were facing unique challenges and Dr. Candelaria possessed a passion and energy that allowed us to have a successful first year.”