Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lunar Orbiter 1 and snap of home

The Writer's Almanac...

On this date in 1966, Lunar Orbiter 1 took the first photograph of the Earth from space. The Orbiter program began in 1964; its purpose was to take pictures of as much of the Moon's surface as possible so that scientists could scout potential landing sites for the upcoming Apollo missions. Lunar Orbiter 1 was launched on August 10 and recorded images from the 18th to the 29th. There were five Orbiters in all — the last one launched on August 1, 1967 — and by the time the project was completed, they had images of 99 percent of the lunar surface. The data was recorded on large magnetic tapes, and the resolution wasn't great by modern standards, but it proved invaluable for mapping purposes. It's since been restored and digitized, and the level of detail has allowed scientists to study the weather patterns of that day.

On August 23, just as Orbiter 1 was about to pass behind the Moon, mission controllers sent the command to change the angle of the cameras so that they were pointing at the Earth rather than the surface below. They just managed to capture our home planet's first portrait: a silvery, cloud-swirled crescent rising over the Moon's pockmarked face. Down on Earth, the Beatles were preparing for their last concert at Shea Stadium, the Vietnam war was raging, Muhammad Ali was applying for a "conscientious objector" exemption from the draft, and Star Trek, one of the most influential depictions of space travel in pop culture history, would premiere only two weeks later.

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