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NASA admits it is has engaged in a strenuous scientific effort; of giving some of the oldest pictures of the surface of the Moon, taken in the late 1960s, a digital makeover. The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) initiative works on enhancing the properties of each of the images sent back by the series of space probes the American space agency sent to Earth’s satellite in an attempt to find a suitable spot for the landing of the manned missions to the Moon.

At the time, the probes that NASA sent were able to take high-resolution images of the lunar surface and to chart potential landing sites. Naturally, what was understood through high-definition at the time is something radically different from the meaning we give to the word today, in that the level of detail we can now obtain supersedes by far the maximum capacities of the 40-year-old technology. By working on the old pictures, LOIRP has managed to provide strikingly “fresh” insights into the lunar landscape.

“We’re going to be releasing these to the whole world. We’ll be able to get crater counts. LRO imagery of the same terrain imaged decades ago will provide a crater count over the last 40 years,” LOIRP team leader Dennis Wingo told Space. He also made details of the work available at the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held last week. Now, the initiative is scheduled to orient its efforts on the 1969 video of the first human landing on the Moon, in an attempt to digitally enhance the pictures for a better view.

One of the main uses for the new images is something that the researchers have become aware of shortly after their work on beefing up the photos was completed – they can cross-reference the old pictures with the ones that are to be sent back by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. The differences between the two photo sets will yield some new answers for astronomers seeking to find out exactly how many asteroids or meteors have stricken the satellite in this time frame.

Such knowledge could be beneficial in the future; if a lunar outpost is to be constructed and operated by a human crew. As such a forward base will need to be self-sufficient and all potential threats to its integrity will need to be thoroughly assessed beforehand. It would take up to a month to mount a rescue mission, and, by that time, there might not be anything left to save, if a meteor is to hit a scientific base on the Moon.