Today is Golden Anniversary of First Image of Earth from the Moon

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Original, first-ever image of the Earth from the Moon, August 23, 1966 by Lunar Orbiter 1

Fifty years ago today, NASA published the first-ever image of the Earth from the moon.

Imaged by the intrepid Lunar Orbiter 1, the black and white image above was beamed back from a distance of 380,000 Km (236,000 mi).

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Image of the crater Tycho taken with the Lunar Orbiter 5 medium resolution camera. This crater is famous for its visibility as one of a handful of craters visible without a telescope or binoculars. It is at the center of what appears to be giant spokes (ejecta), visible to the casual observer. Details down to 20 meters are visible in this Lunar Orbiter 5 image.

Lunar Orbiter 1 was the first of five Lunar Orbiters sent to the moon in preparation for the upcoming Apollo missions with the first, Apollo XI, scheduled just three years later. This mission’s principal objective was a landing site survey mission, to image the moon’s surface in preparation for the Apollo missions. For additional details, read about the Lunar Orbiter missions, 1966-1967.

Although this image revealed no detail on the surface of the Earth, I recall how impressed my father was with the image and how impressed I was, my brothers and any others who looked at the image and understood what it represented. Compared to today’s achievements in space exploration, most notably by the recent flyby of Pluto by New Horizons and the July 4th arrival of Juno at Jupiter, it seems almost trivial but, back then, it was quite an accomplishment. What I find remarkable, was how successful the Apollo missions were (Apollo 13 notwithstanding) when a typical mobile phone has far more computing power than the original onboard flight computer of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), designed by Thomas Kelly of Grumman Corporation and manufactured by same at their Headquarters, right here in Bethpage, New York.

In 2008, using modern digital technology, NASA released a new, digitally enhanced version of the original 1966 image.

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Digitally enhanced version of the original image returned to earth by the Lunar Orbiter 1 on this day 50 years ago, 1966.

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