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Moon NASA

The Hackers Who Recovered NASA's Lost Lunar Photos 89

Posted by Soulskill
from the best-thing-to-come-out-of-a-mcdonald's dept.
An anonymous reader sends this story from Wired: "The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project has since 2007 brought some 2,000 pictures back from 1,500 analog data tapes. They contain the first high-resolution photographs ever taken from behind the lunar horizon, including the first photo of an earthrise. Thanks to the technical savvy and DIY engineering of the team at LOIRP, it's being seen at a higher resolution than was ever previously possible. ... The photos were stored with remarkably high fidelity on the tapes, but at the time had to be copied from projection screens onto paper, sometimes at sizes so large that warehouses and even old churches were rented out to hang them up. The results were pretty grainy, but clear enough to identify landing sites and potential hazards. After the low-fi printing, the tapes were shoved into boxes and forgotten. ... The drives had to be rebuilt and in some cases completely re-engineered using instruction manuals or the advice of people who used to service them. The data they recovered then had to be demodulated and digitized, which added more layers of technical difficulties."
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The Hackers Who Recovered NASA's Lost Lunar Photos

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  • Hackers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sunderland56 (621843) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:25PM (#46827319)

    Given the negative connotations of the word "hackers" - how about "dedicated engineers" instead?

    • Re:Hackers? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ThatsDrDangerToYou (3480047) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:42PM (#46827467)

      Given the negative connotations of the word "hackers" - how about "dedicated engineers" instead?

      I prefer restoring the original meaning of the "hacker" badge to its original lofty meaning as "one who hacks and hacks and hacks in the manner of a dedicated engineer until it rocks." ... and this clearly rocks.

      • I agree with you, but you and I don't get a vote. The next time someone convinces someones grandmother to give out their bank password there will be one more story in the media about evil hackers.
        Perhaps it is time to surrender. I gave in when they started calling this "." a dot. It hurt, but I got over it... Mostly.
      • In defense of those 'misusing' the word, the line between the two is thin and blurry in a lot of cases both historical and current. Hackers have always had a tendency to at least bend the rules in pursuit of knowledge. Only in the world of computers do we differentiate people who break into your computer by their intentions. We don't have white hat burglars or white hate rapists, but white hat hackers will sure as hell download your credit card details, 'to prove they can'.
    • Re:Hackers? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by excelsior_gr (969383) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:44PM (#46827479)

      The negative connotation to the word was given by the media. The people that know what they are talking about don't see it as negative.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        Which is now the problem as people who know what they are talking about are a massive minority in this world.

        Thus the word has negative connotations. Though Slashdot and Wired is the proper forum for using the original definition of the word.

    • Well, it is time to bring back the positive connotations of the word "hackers"

  • "Old School" FTW!!
  • by excelsior_gr (969383) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:42PM (#46827455)

    After reading the headline I thought that the lost Lunar landing footage was recovered, but it is sadly not the case.

    The actual story is still pretty cool, however.

    • The actual story is still pretty cool, however.

      I love the photos, but I'd also like an article about the machines they restored/re-built/hacked to recover this stuff.

  • by mmell (832646) <mike.mell@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:17PM (#46827759)
    ... just going back and taking more pictures?

    Probably.

    Is it as satisfying? No. I say it's time we go back for another firsthand look. Perhaps even land there and start doing more research - not into "what is the moon made of" or "where did the moon come from". More along the lines of "how can I build a profitable luxury hotel here?"

    • "how can I build a profitable luxury hotel here?"

      Or how about a "for profit" prison?
      We send up low level criminals like students, pot users, computer hackers, political dissidents, etc up there... While they are in prison they can be taught a trade, like computer programming. Then when they get out tell them they have a debt to society for the trip up, housing, food, water, air, waste disposal, etc, not to mention if they want to return to earth... I'm sure only a few will pull together the required funds.
      Might not be legal in most countries on earth, b

      • by cusco (717999)

        What laws wilI have to break to get sent there?

      • So... you want to turn the moon into Australia 2.0 ?

      • by terjeber (856226)

        Or how about a "for profit" prison?

        And suddenly half of the worlds geeks go and murder someone to get to the moon. Sounds like a great idea.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Or how about a "for profit" prison? [...] Might not be legal in most countries on earth, but the moon doesn't have any laws, right?

        Damn, I'm feeling evil today >:D

        You fell asleep watching Fortress 2 [imdb.com] on TV, again, didn't you?

      • Of course, after so long in Lunar gravity they will be physically unable to return to Earth, and be stuck in servitude in Luna. Eventually they will rebel and found their own republic, with the help of a sentient computer. Earth will capitulate when they threaten to drop moon rocks on major cities. The Moon is indeed a harsh mistress.
    • Was this cheaper or more productive than ... just going back and taking more pictures?

      We're already doing that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L... [wikipedia.org]

    • by mjmcc (1699468) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @05:31PM (#46828379)
      These images contain irreproducible (and thus priceless) data. They show the moon as it appeared in 1966, which allows comparisons to be made to the same lunar areas today. Although the surface of the moon changes very very slowly, it does change. And these pictures may allow us to measure that change. Furthermore, as the article points out, some of the pictures also show the earth as of 1966, allowing comparisons to be made with the earth of today (i.e. the extent of Arctic ice).
      • by Richy_T (111409)

        And those changes in the moon might allow us to more accurately predict the odds of a major impact event with the earth

  • Don't worry, there will still be people who claim the moon landings were faked.
  • A foretaste... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @05:05PM (#46828139) Journal

    ...of what's to come.

    This data's barely 50 years old, of extremely high value (thus worth the extraordinary effort), and relatively low Size.
    We're talking about a couple of thousand high-resolution pictures, so what, each is perhaps what, 10 megabytes (they're all b&w)? So total of 20 gigs of images?

    I know people that take more picture data than that in a single 1st birthday party.

    And in 50 years, will it be gone?

    • ...of what's to come.

      This data's barely 50 years old, of extremely high value (thus worth the extraordinary effort), and relatively low Size.
      We're talking about a couple of thousand high-resolution pictures, so what, each is perhaps what, 10 megabytes (they're all b&w)? So total of 20 gigs of images?

      I know people that take more picture data than that in a single 1st birthday party.

      And in 50 years, will it be gone?

      In 50 years no one will care

      Not all data is created equal. Most of it is useless noise destined to fade away forever, just like old photos, diaries, properties, people, etc.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      ...of what's to come.

      This data's barely 50 years old, of extremely high value (thus worth the extraordinary effort), and relatively low Size.
      We're talking about a couple of thousand high-resolution pictures, so what, each is perhaps what, 10 megabytes (they're all b&w)? So total of 20 gigs of images?

      I know people that take more picture data than that in a single 1st birthday party.

      And in 50 years, will it be gone?

      When my grandmother died and we cleaned out her attic, we threw away a lot of old photos and 8mm movies because no one alive still knew who was in the pictures.

      Someday my thousands of digital photos will suffer the same fate -- when my computer is sold off for scrap and the credit card that pays my dropbox bill is canceled, they will all dissappear except for images that I've specifically chosen to pass on... as they should.

      • by uglyMood (322284)
        Unfortunately, most people have the same impulse as you and your family: if they don't recognize the person in the photo, out it goes. What you need to realize is that in most cases it's not who the people in the photographs are that is important, it's what is behind them. The vast majority of lost information about the past is because no one at the time thought it was worth saving.
        • Re:A foretaste... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by silentcoder (1241496) on Thursday April 24, 2014 @01:37AM (#46830605) Homepage

          Don't be so sure, we think of history as the big things politicians, generals and kings do - but historians tend not to care much about those, if only because they are already as well documented as they are going to be.
          Generally historians are more interested in the end in how ordinary people LIVED at that time.

          One of the most valuable archeological digs ever found from the Roman occupation in Britain was an old trash-heap, because on it we found lots of things which were thrown away as worthless then - but because of that were valuable now as they hadn't been preserved through the usual channels. We found a letter sent from Rome to the wife of a Roman soldier telling stories of what the family has been up to. We found an early forerunner of the ipad (a wax covered slab on which you could scribble notes with a stylus, a quick heat-up let you smooth out the scribbles and reuse it).

          Some of the most insightful pictures we have of more recent events like the American Civil War or the Anglo-Boer war were pictures no newspaper would publish - family pictures which show what the fashions were for example.

          The point is - there is absolutely no way of predicting upfront what will have historical value someday, and the things we tend to assume will have none have a tendency to become the most valuable EXACTLY BECAUSE it was NOT valued at the time and this means that to future historians - those will be rare finds.

      • by Pope (17780)

        Back in the film days, people didn't take thousands of pictures. Best thing to do with digital is sort through them and only keep a few meaningful ones, and print them out on archival paper.

    • I wouldn't want to be the one to give an estimate on how much bytes are required to adequately store the analogue data on the tapes. It could very well be ten times as much or even more. Depending on the quality of the recording, it could very well be that you'd need 32 bits per pixel and the sample rate you could achieve might mean there could be billions of pixels per image in useful data in the recordings. All of a sudden you could be dealing with multiple gigabytes per image in raw data. Derivatives wit
    • Re:A foretaste... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by cusco (717999) <brian...bixby@@@gmail...com> on Thursday April 24, 2014 @12:04AM (#46830353)

      I like the difference this demonstrates between this White House administration and the previous one, which first instructed NASA to "dispose of" old Mariner data and were so upset that NASA handed it over to the Planetary Society rather than shred it that they directly instructed NASA to destroy the still-unanalyzed Pioneer data later. (NASA administrators risked their jobs and pensions to get that data to the Planetary Society as well, with the result that today we have a likely solution to the 'Pioneer Anomaly'.) Obama ain't much, but he's better than what we had.

    • by scsirob (246572)

      Fully agree with you here. Add to that the recent advances in technology that gave us the 'benefits' of encryption, DRM, proprietary formats etc, and you can rest assured that no-one will be able to recover data from this era one hundred years from now. We are living in the digital Dark Age right now.

  • The brilliant and ballsy engineering was typical of NASA during its golden age, a time when it was also more closely linked to other government agencies with an interest in taking pictures from space.

    “These guys were operating right at the edge,” Cowing says with a reverence for these NASA engineers that’s shared by his team. “There’s a certain spy program heritage to all this, but these guys went above that, because those spy satellites would send their images back. These didn’t. They couldn’t. They were in lunar orbit.”

    So NASA sent a few extra spy satellites to the Moon to do a little snooping around. That makes this even better.

    • Electronic readout of on-board film processing was not a new idea, even at the time.

              Brett

      • by tomhath (637240)
        I don't think that's what they did though; early spy satellites didn't process the film onboard, they dropped it for recovery and processing on Earth. It sounds like these guys used the optics they had and coupled them to some kind of analog sensors.

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