The NASA Project Operating in an Old McDonalds

By Norman Chan

For the past five years, the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project has been scanning and restoring high-resolution photographs of the Moon.

Between 1966 and 1967, NASA sent five Lunar Orbiters on missions to the Moon with the purpose of photographing the Moon's surface to identify safe and suitable landing sites for the ensuing Apollo missions. Thousands of photographs were captured of the Moon's surface, in addition to the first ever photographs of Earth from the distance of the moon. These high-resolution photos were actually developed on the Orbiters, then raster scanned and beamed back down to Earth. The data was then stored onto proprietary magnetic tape and packed away in heavy shielded canisters. These canisters were saved by a NASA JPL archivist in the mid 80s, and for the past five years, NASA has funded a project to recover and restore those original Lunar Orbiter photos. As there are only a handful of working tape players that can still read these magnetic tapes, it's not an easy task.

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recover Project (LOIRP) is one of those odd NASA projects that's not well publicized, but is still run by a group of dedicated individuals enthusiastic about their cause. That's apparent in photos and videos of the operation, which takes place in a closed-down McDonalds building right outside NASA Ames. In one photo taken by a visitor, you can see stacks of tape canisters lining the walls of what used to be the McDonalds' kitchen, with a sleeping bag on the floor for tape machine operators.

Bloomberg Businessweek recently visited the "McMoon's" operation and interviewed Dennis Wingo, the co-lead of the LOIRP. You can watch their video tour of McMoons here. More information about the LOIRP and the latest photo recovery updates can be found on the Moonviews website.