Those grainy Moon photos the public saw back in the early days of NASA’s Moon missions were a ruse!
No, not that ruse. Humans really went to the Moon. The ruse is that NASA actually captured much higher resolution images, but didn’t disclose them publicly because they didn’t want the Soviets to know how good their imaging technology was at the time.
Fifty years ago, 5 unmanned lunar orbiters circled the moon, taking extremely high resolution photos of the surface. They were trying to find the perfect landing site for the Apollo missions. They would be good enough to blow up to 40 x 54ft images that the astronauts would walk across looking for the great spot. After their use, the images were locked away from the public until after the bulk of the moon landings, as at the time they would have revealed the superior technology of the USA’s spy satellite cameras, which the orbiters cameras were designed from. The main worry was the USSR gaining valuable information about landing sites that the US wanted to use. In 1971 many of the images were released, but nowhere near to their potential quality, and mainly to an academic audience as public interest in the moon had waned. Up until 2008 most of the reported images from the project were the 1966 versions that were grainy and lower quality.McMoon: How the Earliest Images of the Moon Were so Much Better than we Realised
Instead, they were able to capture pretty high resolution images, like this one:
The story of how this was done, and the later effort to recover these images from storage, is fascinating:
It involves setting up shop in an abandoned McDonalds, and using a variety of old, and new tools to digitise this incredible archive.
You can find the catalogue here: Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project online data volumes (here’s a direct link to the
.png collection). The images are pretty big!
Of course we also have some pretty impressive, high resolution imagery from more recent Lunar missions such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, too: