May 25, 2022

Science: Surveyor Digitization Project Will Bring Thousands of Unseen Lunar Images to Light and Public Domain

From The Planetary Society:

In 1964 and 1965, three camera-equipped spacecraft called Ranger crash-landed into the moon, giving scientists their first up-close look. The Soviet Union’s Luna 9 gently touched down in the Ocean of Storms in February 1966, becoming the first spacecraft to send home images from the surface. Four months later, the U.S. followed suit with Surveyor 1, the first of seven robotic spacecraft sent to investigate Luna firma between 1966 and 1968. Two didn’t make it in one piece, but of the five that did, some 87,000 images were relayed back to Earth via television cameras.

Astonishingly, less than two percent of those images have ever been seen. That’s according to a team of scientists at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL), which plan to bring Surveyor’s unseen work to light. The group, led by Dr. Shane Byrne, will digitize the entire collection and release it into the public domain.


Justin Rennilson, a Surveyor co-investigator and digitization project team member, said one of the reasons most of Surveyor’s images have never been seen is the enormous amount of resources that were required to process the images in the late 1960s. The Surveyors relayed their television signals back to Earth in the form of radio waves, which were received by NASA’s Deep Space Network satellite dishes. There, the signals would be recorded onto magnetic tapes, and later converted to reels of 70 millimeter film negatives. These negatives comprised a so-called first generation copy of the images, which could then be duplicated to make second-generation reels, or converted to other formats like 35 millimeter film.

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Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.