If a picture is worth 1,000

words, then the 24 astronauts who launched to the Moon almost 40 years ago returned enough photographs for a tome some 72,000 pages long.

And since their journey from the Moon back to the Earth, their collective 36,000

irreplaceable images have remained in deep-freeze storage at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston

. With just

a few exceptions, the majority of the photos seen by the public have been duplicates made from copies of the originals produced by the space agency between 1968 and 1972.

And like anyone who has duplicated a copy knows, the result is never as crystal clear as the original.

It is with that in mind that Arizona State University (ASU) of Tempe

has partnered with NASA to scan the space-flown camera film in an effort to create a new, high-resolution digital Internet archive for both researchers and the general public.

Begun in June

and expected to take three years to complete, the Apollo Image Archive is the first project to make digital scans of all the lunar photographs – both from orbit and on the surface – captured during NASA’s Apollo missions.

“This project fulfills a long-held wish of mine,” said Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the camera that will fly on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, due for launch in October

2008. “It’ll give everyone a chance to see this unique collection of images as clearly as when they were taken.” Robinson

also is a professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

“We worked with the scanner’s manufacturer – Leica Geosystems – to improve the brightness range that the scans record,”

Robinson said. In technical terms, a normal 12-bit scan was increased to 14-bit, resulting in digital images that record more than 16,000 shades of gray.


to get all the details captured by the film, we are scanning at a scale of 200 pixels per millimeter,” Robinson said. As a result, the grain of the original film is visible when the scans are fully enlarged.

The most detailed images from lunar orbit show rocks and other surface features about one meter

wide. In raw form, the scans of the Apollo mapping frames, each

30 centimeters square

, are 1.3 gigabytes in size.

“That’s bigger than most people want to look at with a browser,” observed Robinson, “even if their browser and

Internet connection are up to the job.” So the archive’s

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.


also can download images in several sizes, up to the full raw scan.

When finished, the archive will include about 600 frames in 35 millimeter

, roughly 20,000 Hasselblad 60 millimeter

frames (color, and black and white), more than 10,000 mapping camera frames and about 4,600 panoramic cam frames.

“These photos have great scientific value, despite being taken decades ago,”

Robinson said. “I think they also give everybody a beautiful look at this small, ancient world next door to us.”