Today is the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the fifth manned mission in NASA’s Apollo program, and the first to land humans on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 11 was the culmination of a decade of work to develop the technology necessary to meet President Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” As it undertook each mission that would act as a building block for Apollo, NASA recorded its growing body of knowledge in many formats, including motion picture film. Many of these films are available to researchers through the National Archives and Records Administration.
The Lunar Orbiter program was an essential step toward the Moon landing, and it is documented in a fascinating NASA film titled Close Up of the Moon: A Look at Lunar Orbiter.
NASA launched five Lunar Orbiter missions between August 1966 and August 1967 with the intention of photographing the surface of the Moon and identifying potential Apollo landing sites. Described as an “orbiting photographic laboratory,” each Lunar Orbiter spacecraft used a camera to shoot high-resolution and wide-angle images onto 70mm film. The film was developed with an onboard processor and then scanned line-by-line for transmission back to Earth. Altogether, the Lunar Orbiter missions photographed 99% of the surface of the Moon.*
*For more about the Lunar Orbiter images, check out the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project! LOIRP, funded by NASA and private partners, is successfully digitizing and recovering images from analog tapes holding the data sent back to Earth by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft.