Lot #3662
Lunar Orbiter 'Dark Side of the Moon' Photograph

This lot has closed

Estimate: $200+


Original glossy 10 x 8 photograph of the 'dark side' of the moon, seen for the first time in high resolution from recovered Lunar Orbiter tape storage at NASA Ames. Marked in the corner in felt tip, "BC-133." In fine condition, with some light surface creasing.

Before Apollo, the United States flew robotic satellites around the moon taking analog photos in strips. The film had to be developed inside the satellite in the onboard dark room (since the satellite would not return to Earth). The film was then raster scanned with a 5-micron beam and transmitted back to Earth. A lot of work before digital cameras!

This image is an aggregate of many strips, each an orbital pass around the far side of the moon. But none of the original photos were released to the public. In every NASA press release, they showed a degraded photo of a photo. It was the Cold War period, and the U.S. did not want the Soviets to know how good our spy sat camera resolution really was.

We never see the far side of the Moon from Earth (given the tidal lock of our moon, the slightly heaviest side always faces Earth). So, this image, degraded from this original, seen in the U.S. in the 60's for the first time, was a detailed unveiling of the space frontier, of the unknown.

And we found a ginormous impact crater (Mare Orientale), which stands out as the dominant feature of our moon from this new perspective. A young George Lucas must have seen that image from 1967, inspiring the Death Star of his imagination: 'That's no moon!'

Details from Denis Wingo, leader of the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project: 'This image, Lunar Orbiter IV-187M is a medium resolution image taken by the 80mm focal length camera on the fourth Boeing built Lunar Orbiter. This is the first of the five Lunar Orbiters to fly in a polar rather than a near equatorial orbit. After the success of the first three missions in mapping the near side equatorial region of the Moon to 1 meter resolution, NASA decided to use the fourth orbiter to map the entire Moon at moderate resolution. This image, the 187th medium resolution image of the series, was taken from an altitude of 2675 kilometers and has a resolution of 442 meters.'

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Space
  • Dates: #619 - Ended October 21, 2021