A Legacy of Space Exploration
Timeless images released as part of the European Planetary Science Congress reveal milestones in our quest to understand the solar system.
History doesn’t have to be boring. Case in point: the collection of rare historical spaceflight images University College London published online for the first time last week as part of the so-called Festival of Planets. Though none is likely to become as iconic as the picture of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon or earthrise as seen by the crew of Apollo 8, they mark milestones in our history of space exploration.
The earliest spacecraft that visited the Moon were after the same thing as Goodacre: a detailed map. NASA particularly needed maps to determine suitable landing sites for the unmanned Surveyor and manned Apollo missions. One photoreconnaissance spacecraft, Lunar Orbiter 1, imaged 2 million square miles of the Moon’s surface between August 18 and 29, 1966. It also took the first image of Earth from the Moon on August 23rd, and the reprocessed image is among UCL’s collection.
half-assembled mosaics of Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede built from Voyager data, giving a new appreciation to the work required to create those images.
The collection also includes images of other planets that highlight the less popularized side of the Space Race, the race to land probes on other planets. The United States focused on Mars, flying by the planet with the Mariner probes before landing in 1976 with the twin Viking landers. The Soviet Union, after several failed Mars landers, had success on Venus with the Venera landers. Among the UCL images are two original, detailed images of Mars from NASA’s Mariner 9 spacecraft and Viking 1 orbiter, and two images of the surface of Venus taken by the Venera 13 and Venera 14 landers.
Not only are these images incredible, it’s galleries like this one that remind us how far we’ve been and how much more there is to explore.
Amy Shira Teitel is a spaceflight historian and freelance writer. She contributes regularly to Scientific American, Al Jazeera English, and Discovery News, among others, and maintains her own blog, Vintage Space.