Sunday 30 December 2018

Apollo Mission 17 Lunar Photography Index Maps (1973)

Just after midnight on December 7th 1972, the Apollo 17 mission launched from the  Kennedy Space Center in Florida with three crew; Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt. The launch was the first to be made during the night. The science fiction writer Isaac Asimov was watching the launch from a cruise liner off the coast of Florida;
It lit the sky from horizon to horizon, turning the ocean an orange-grey and the sky into an inverted copper bowl from which the starts were blanked out.
The 12 day long Apollo 17 mission was the sixth and final mission to land humans on the surface of the Moon. In total only 24 people have ever left Earth orbit, and of those only 12 have stepped on the surface of the Moon. Since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 nobody has ventured further from the Earth's surface than low Earth orbit (160-2,000 kilometres). 

One of the lasting legacies of the Apollo missions is the huge archive of high quality photographic images - over 30,000 in total. Apollo missions 15,16 and 17 deployed a high quality Panoramic camera, that could obtain pictures of narrow strips of the Moons surface as the service module orbited the Moon. At the scale of the Moon's surface, these images were 20 kilometers wide and nearly 320 kilometers long,  with high resolution that could be used to identify features down to about 2 meters in size. During Apollo 17, the panoramic camera was used on nine orbits and obtained nearly 1600 usable images. 

The Panoramic camera automatically recorded images, but the Apollo 17 crewmen could intervene to control the camera power and operational modes. The film cartridges were retrieved from the external location. 

The image shown here is part of an index map, on which the locations of the image strips were plotted. This index map shows the Moon's surface close to the crater Copernicus (which can be seen on a clear night from the Earth using binoculars). The crater is located slightly left of and above 20° W, 10° N, which is at the centre of the side of the Moon that faces the Earth. Further south is the Mare Cognitum (literally the Sea that has become known). Several spacecraft have landed on, or near to, Mare Cognitum, including; Luna 5, Ranger 7, Surveyor 3, and Apollo 12. The landing site of Apollo 14, the Fra Mauro formation, is also close to Mare Cognitum.

Many of the features on the surface of the moon are named after pioneering astronomers or optical scientists. These names are not well known outside of astronomy, but when the names of these pioneers are collected together they form surprisingly lyrical stanzas; 
Kepler, Flamsteed, Wolf.Marius, Milichius.Lalander, Loewy. Gassendi, Euclides.Gambart, Lippershey, Kies.

In the the early 1990's the American landscape photographer Michael Light obtained permission from NASA to work with the archive of original photographic negatives from all of their Moon missions. The result of this collaboration included the publication of a book by Light called Full Moon in 1999. This was his imagined photographic narrative of a single Moon mission created by composite. Light also created very large digital prints from the images and made a travelling exhibition of them. A selection of these prints are on permanent exhibit at the America Museum of Natural History in New York.

Scanned copy of Original HERE.

Image Caption: Part of sheet 2 of the Apollo Mission 17 Lunar Photography Index map. This map provides a spatial index of the strips of large format black and white images that were taken by the 610 mm focal length ITEK panoramic camera used on the mission. The high-resolution panoramic photographs were recorded in stereoscopic and monoscopic modes. The orbital altitude for the panoramic images was 111 kilometres above the moon's surface.


Asimov, I. (1975). The tragedy of the Moon. London.

Light, M. (1999). Full Moon. Jonathan Cape Ltd. London.

Smith, A. (2005). Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth. Harper Collins. London.