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I have stumbled across the fascinating page Photogrammetric Analysis Of Apollo 11 Imagery: New camera-station map with improved locations at the following website: https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11Photogrammetry.html

There is extensive analysis and discussion there of the panoramic photographs taken of the Apollo 11 site by Neil Armstrong. While mechanical panoramic cameras did exist at the time, they weren't moon-ready, so instead a series of overlapping photographs were taken.

Unlike a proper mechanical panoramic camera, the astronaut version did not pivot about the pupil of the lens, but instead the astronaut just simply turned in place in some fashion. The resulting translation motion between exposures presented the opportunity to analyze parts of the scene that are overlapped by two exposures with photogrammetric techniques.

Think of this as a prequel to the navigation camera pairs used on martian rovers.

If I understand correctly, this was not a planned thing, and more modern analysis techniques and computer image processing made this possible.

So I'm wondering, when was stereoscopic photography first used intentionally on the surface of a solar system body? It doesn't have to be for live navigation, it could be for later analysis. I'm asking when it was done first on purpose.

These include numbered NASA photographs as well as (much) later analysis. Sourced from here. Right click and open each one in separate tab for full size viewing.

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    $\begingroup$ in this list of material left on the Moon (history.nasa.gov/…) there's a 'Camera, close-up, stereo', for Apollo 12. And I wonder if the two video cameras on Lunokhod made a stereo pair? $\endgroup$ – Hobbes May 1 '17 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ Well it looks like the premise of my question is faulty? :) It's an interesting list! I noticed that for Apollo 11 the Portable Life Support System(PLSS) does not have a final lat/lon. Not sure what the acronym directly below it is for. $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 1 '17 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Sadly, it's a typo. You can see the PLSS Remote Control Unit in this document. hq.nasa.gov/alsj/LM05_Crew_Personal_Equipment_ppCPE1-16.pdf $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Oct 30 '18 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble fun(ny) while it lasted. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Oct 30 '18 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ With the next item being a defecation bag it had me thinking it was real for a minute! $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Oct 30 '18 at 3:54
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I believe the first mission that intended to use a stereo pair of cameras was the Luna 13 mission, although one of the cameras failed.

Likely the first mission that intended to capture stereo photos was the Apollo 12 mission, which contained a close up Stereo camera. There was also a deliberate pair of images captured with a single camera on Apollo 11, AS11-40-5943 and AS11-40-5944.

The first unmanned mission that was successful was probably the Lunokhod 1. Images show that it has a pair of cameras that appears to be a stereo pair, and there is no mention of the cameras failing. As the Soviets previously had attempted a stereo pair, I have to assume this one was successful. I've included a replica of Lunokhod 2 below, which is supposed to be a replica. Like most Soviet images of the era, records weren't carefully kept, and thus it is difficult to determine more then early in the mission when the photo might have been taken.

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  • $\begingroup$ I added an image as well. The two cameras are clearly intended to be a stereo pair. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Jan 30 '18 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ "...and there is no mention of the cameras failing." is not exactly evidence of success (to put it mildly). The question is about use. A stereoscopic image would be evidence. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 30 '18 at 0:17
  • $\begingroup$ The last image doesn't show them absent, it is a different angle of the first image you included. You can see the side of the camera barely. $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Jan 30 '18 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ OK thanks. I'm still going to hold out for some evidence of actual use, as asked. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 30 '18 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ Apollo 11 had a deliberate stereopair (AS11-40-5943 and AS11-40-5944) in addition to the accidental stereopairs from the panoramas. Not the world's best, since Buzz Aldrin is busy walking through the scene, but it does give a 3D effect. $\endgroup$ – Mark Apr 19 at 23:04
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Per Astronaut Still Photography During Apollo (found in this answer):

The Apollo 11 Kodak Stereo Close-Up Camera

Seven months prior to the Apollo 11 mission, a new camera was commissioned by NASA. The camera would be used by the crew to take close-up stereo views of the lunar soil and rocks. The camera had a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second, an aperture of f/22.6, film was held approximately 10 inches from the lunar surface, and lighting was provided by an integral electronic flash.

The camera was designed for ease of use by the astronaut in his bulky pressure suit. The camera was rested on the soil and the astronaut would simply press down on a trigger on a long handle to expose the frames. Each exposure resulted in two side-by-side photographs of the same area of the surface. The surface photographed measured three inches by three inches. The size of the exposed film was one inch square.


Found in @TomSpilker's answer are sources of an image of the stereoscopic camera used on Apollo landing missions, as well as some of the actual intentionally taken stereoscopic images of the lunar surface.

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above: "This stereo close-up camera, placed on the soil as shown, took stereo photographs of the lunar surface.", Source Air and Space museum

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From here:

This Eastman Kodak 35mm camera is the same type as those used to take pairs of close-up photographs of the lunar surface. When the camera’s base was placed on the Moon's surface and the trigger under the handle pulled, the camera would photograph the area beneath its lenses. The resulting photographs would give a three dimensional or stereoscopic effect when placed in a special viewer.

This item was transferred NASA to the Smithsonian in 1971.

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above: "ALSCC ON THE LUNAR SURFACE, The Apollo Lunar Surface Closeup Camera (ALSCC) sits on the lunar surface near a rock-strewn crater during the Apollo 11 moonwalk." NASA / Lunar and Planetary Institute, Source Planetary Society

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above: "HARD ROCK SURFACE, APOLLO 11, Catalog description: Hard rock surface." NASA / Lunar and Planetary Institute, Source Planetary Society

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above: "SOIL DISTURBED BY ENGINE EXHAUST, APOLLO 12, Catalog description: Surface not greatly disturbed by LM descent engine exhaust." NASA / Lunar and Planetary Institute, Source: Planetary Society

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The book Mission Moon 3-D: A New Perspective on the Space Race by David Eicher (editor of Astronomy Magazine) and Brian May (musician and astrophysicist) apparently has 150 stereoscopic pairs of the Apollo missions to the Moon.

Amazon link

If the name Brian May sounds familliar, he's the guitarist of the band Queen, and he fairly recently went back and completed his Ph.D. Thesis as discussed in Why is there free magnesium in the ecliptic (if there is) and why would some be orbiting within the ecliptic plane but retrograde?.

In the short video contained in the BBC News article The space race like you've never seen it before, May says that the astronauts were trained to take an occasional stereoscopic pair of photos by taking one photo, displacing the camera to the side and taking a second.

“What you’re trying to do in 3D photography is to recreate that effect, so you take a picture from here and a picture from here, and you make sure that this picture goes to this eye, and this picture goes to that eye.

The astronauts didn’t take stereo cameras up with them, but they were trained in a rudimentary stereo photography method which meant their normal photographs could easily be turned into 3D images.

“Very often they were too busy to remember it and practice it,” May says. “But they were taught to do the ‘cha-cha’ thing – take a picture here and a picture there and eventually it became a 3D picture. Occasionally you’re lucky enough to find one of those.

“You also get someone like Michael Collins, [Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s crewmate on the Apollo 11 mission] while his mates are the first men on the Moon, he’s circling and taking pictures of the craters on the far side of the Moon – he had great presence of mind.

“Recently we spoke to him and asked him if he did it on purpose and he said, ‘Actually no’. He’s deliberately taken the photographs, but he’s not aware of their stereoscopic visibilities.”

Video standalone

We will have to wait for the book to see how many of these there might be.

From Wired.com's This stunning book from Brian May lets you see the Moon in 3D:

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above: Astronaut Charlie Duke, part of Apollo 16, on the Moon, London Stereoscopic Company / NASA

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above: The Apollo 9 Lunar Module, Spider, made its first autonomous test flight orbiting Earth on 7 March, 1969, London Stereoscopic Company / NASA

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above: Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first human to do a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for 12 minutes on 18 March 1965, London Stereoscopic Company

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