Virtual Archeology

I was born a few years after the last Apollo mission landed on Earth on the way back from the Moon, so I never had a chance to experience the thrill of watching humans setting foot on another world. Growing up, I was always fascinated by the American and the Soviet space programs, reading all the books, watching all the films, and glueing all the plastic model kits together.

In my work I have been using photogrammetry for a while now, which is a fascinating tool by itself. Besides being practical and speeding up workflows, it also enables ideas to be born that otherwise would not be feasible, or would be outright impossible.

 I found this incredible resource, called Project Apollo Archive, a couple of years ago, which is a NASA collection of some of the scans from the Apollo missions. Recently I started to run these through photogrammetry software not expecting too much, but by experimenting a bit, I have managed to create a few interesting little bits out of those brilliant images.

Some of them exist just as point clouds, some of them have been meshed and textured. I spent a little time making a 3D printable model of the famous lunar footprint, which you can download and print. If you position your light source the right way, (fairly low, about 10-12 degrees and roughly from the south east) you can pretty much reconstruct the iconic photograph yourself.

What started out as an experiment to see if I could find enough information for photogrammetry in these analogue photographs, scanned a long time ago and compressed into JPGs, evolved into a surprisingly profound experience. Some of it those images were created without the astronauts being able to see what they are actually capturing, some of them were shot through panes of glass, and some of them are blurry, so it is really incredible in a way that there is a lot of them that could be processed this way. Some of those were shot as stereo pairs, and some of those small steps one the Moon enabled the algorithms to make sense of them in 3d space.

I have always admired the beauty of those 70-millimetre Hasselblad images but what I found particularly fascinating is when the computer creates these three-dimensional representations it really brings it home how it could have felt for Armstrong and Aldrin, or any of those men to be on the Moon. By the time the computer finished its calculations, those zeroes and ones became a part of something much bigger, suddenly elevating those images into a more tangible story.

I find it fascinating how flat images suddenly leap into the third dimension and you can view the craters and boulders, the famous moon rocks, and even the Moon itself that the astronauts left behind, as three-dimensional objects. Suddenly camera positions are visible and understandable, so you see where the command module or the astronauts themselves were in relation to the surface of the Moon when those images were captured.

This is not a scientific experiment, and it is neither complete nor perfect, but as a fun little project it certainly helped me, - and hopefully some of you out there - to understand the achievements of brave men and women behind the Apollo program a little better.