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After watching the IMAX Apollo 11 film today I wondered if there was any film footage from outside of an Apollo Command Module (CM) re-entry (or even color stills). It does not have to be from 11.

The problem was probably the splashdown point being in the Pacific.

I've seen some black-and-white stills of Apollo 13 re-entry, and re-entry film footage shot from inside some of the CMs (some of this was in the film) but not externally taken footage or color pictures. I suspect that the people that assembled this film would have used it if it existed.

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There are at least stills from Apollo 8:

enter image description here

In this historic photo from the U.S. space agency, a reentry photograph of Apollo 8 which was taken by a U.S. Air Force ALOTS (Airborne Lightweight Optical Tracking System) camera mounted on a KC-135A aircraft flown at 40,000 ft altitude. Apollo 8 splashed down at 10:15 a.m., Dec. 27, 1968, in the central Pacific approximately 1,000 miles South-Southwest of Hawaii.

The reentry phase was nicely visible, but a long way away from the splashdown point.

enter image description here

Assuming the end of blackout is also the point where the capsule no longer leaves a bright trail, that's 400 miles out from the splashdown point (where most of the cameras would be).

So they used long-range land-based aircraft to observe this (KC-135 is more or less a Boeing 707).

ALOTS is a high-speed film camera capable of 10-80 frames/s. This source calls ALOTS a 'still film' camera though. And the way this is worded, I don't think there was an attempt to capture the reentry in motion picture (for Apollo 11).

ALOTS was part of the Apollo Range Instrumented Aircraft (ARIA) program.

For Apollo 8 they captured 4 images:

enter image description here

enter image description here

the brightest streak at the top is probably the SM breaking up: enter image description here

enter image description here

That site lists some other ARIA missions in support of Apollo returns, but those seem to have been radio relay missions only.

Several Apollo reentries were seen by crew and passengers on airliners, and photos were taken. This is one of Apollo 13:

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ The graph shows two slight increases in altitude (after 1st peak g and at the end of the blackout). Is it due to trading kinetic energy (velocity) for potential energy (altitude) (zoom climb)? $\endgroup$ – Manu H Jul 10 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know, I recommend you ask that as a new question. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Jul 10 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ Done $\endgroup$ – Manu H Jul 11 at 9:17

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