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  Secret Apollo: A17's Panoramic Camera

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Author Topic:   Secret Apollo: A17's Panoramic Camera
Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 37284
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 11-26-2007 08:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From The Space Review: Secret Apollo
The Apollo program was carried out amid the klieg lights of the press on the world stage. That was, after all, the point — it had to be public, even the failures. However, there were aspects of Apollo that were classified. Relatively minor aspects, admittedly, but ones that still affected American national security.

In the event that an Apollo spacecraft was unable to leave Earth orbit, which could have happened if there had been a problem firing the third stage engine on the Saturn 5 which placed the Command and Service Modules and the Lunar Module on a lunar trajectory, or an early problem with the Lunar Module, the Apollo astronauts had a backup mission. They were supposed to circle the Earth and take photographs of the surface using the various cameras that they had aboard their spacecraft. Although this would have been a scientifically disappointing mission, and a major propaganda failure, it was NASA's best attempt at salvaging something from the mission. For some of the later Apollo missions, the Command Module mounted a powerful camera intended for photographing the surface of the Moon. In Earth orbit, this would have produced relatively good photographs of the ground, better than any publicly released before — in fact, of a quality not publicly released until the 1980s.

nasamad
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Posts: 2048
From: Essex, UK
Registered: Jul 2001

posted 11-26-2007 10:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for nasamad   Click Here to Email nasamad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's a mission possibility I never knew about. It does make sense to use the cameras to their full potential.

I wonder what the photographic targets would have been if they were to affect national security, as the Americans were already working with the USSR on the Apollo-Soyuz flight.

Obviousman
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Posts: 438
From: NSW, Australia
Registered: May 2005

posted 11-27-2007 12:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Obviousman   Click Here to Email Obviousman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Could these cameras have something to do with the classified "Chapel Bell" experiments aboard Apollo? (On edit: See here for discussion.)

Jay Chladek
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Posts: 2270
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 11-27-2007 05:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I believe these cameras formed the basis of the Landsat Earth resources satellite missions of the early 1970s rather then being part of a classified operation.

Rizz
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From: Upcountry, Maui, Hawaii
Registered: Mar 2002

posted 11-28-2007 12:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rizz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would think that the classified nature of the camera being on board had to do with its high resolution imaging capabilities.

That said, why wouldn't they have used it to image the moon?

nasamad
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From: Essex, UK
Registered: Jul 2001

posted 11-28-2007 03:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nasamad   Click Here to Email nasamad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It was used to image the moon, but would have imaged the Earth in the eventuality of the vehicle being unable to leave Earth orbit (see the Space Review article linked above).

moorouge
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From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 05-21-2017 03:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Apologies for coming to this rather late and I'm not sure if this is the correct thread. However, searching the CIA files for something else I came across this evaluation of an Apollo camera.

On edit: There is also this on the release of sensitive photos and with specific reference to Apollo 17, there is this. Finally, was this procedure followed for all the Apollo missions?

YankeeClipper
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From: Dublin, Ireland
Registered: Mar 2011

posted 05-21-2017 06:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for YankeeClipper   Click Here to Email YankeeClipper     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Some interesting declassified Apollo-related reading material here.

Headshot
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Posts: 651
From: Streamwood, IL USA
Registered: Feb 2012

posted 05-22-2017 07:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Peterson's "Book of Man in Space, Vol. 4: A Giant Leap For Mankind," has an interesting feature on Space Photography, including many images of modified Hasselblad cameras.

I also remember reading, but cannot find, an article on extensive terrain photography conducted during the Apollo 9 mission.

Headshot
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From: Streamwood, IL USA
Registered: Feb 2012

posted 05-23-2017 05:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wasn't there a discussion about equipping the Service Module for ASTP with an Itek Panoramic Camera?

schnappsicle
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Posts: 369
From: Houston, TX, USA
Registered: Jan 2012

posted 06-04-2017 08:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for schnappsicle   Click Here to Email schnappsicle     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have to admit I know nothing about the camera or any classified experiment aboard Apollo, but it seems to me that the classified part is not in the images that were shot, but rather with the camera used to capture those images. The pictures would almost invariably be shared with the world. Even that was risky because then others would get a clue about the US earth reconnaissance capabilities. They explained the clarity away by pointing out the obvious fact that the moon has no atmosphere.

The overriding factors would be cost and benefit. In other words, things had to be done cheaply and in a hurry. What better way to cut costs than use existing classified technology to take photographs of future lunar landing sites?

Headshot
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Posts: 651
From: Streamwood, IL USA
Registered: Feb 2012

posted 06-05-2017 07:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Headshot   Click Here to Email Headshot     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The 20 December 1971 issue of AW&ST has a detailed article about the Itek Panoramic Camera used on the Apollo J Missions. Itek was not shy about revealing the camera's details. The engineering magazines of the time, such as Machine Design, were full of stories about the camera and its design. Itek even put out some very classy brochures about it.

What was not made clear was what the differences were (if any) between Apollo's camera and the version used on U.S. military reconnaissance satellites, from whence the camera originated. The main thought was that the military cameras used a higher resolution, classified film than what NASA had available to them. But that was speculation.

Jim Behling
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Posts: 1130
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 06-05-2017 08:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Apollo camera was based on the Itek KA-80 used on aircraft such as U-2 and SR-71 and not spacecraft.

The whole issue is if the camera was used in LEO in the case of a failed TLI. The intelligence community wanted to make sure that no new details of the USSR and USA would be revealed.

Blackarrow
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Posts: 2623
From: Belfast, United Kingdom
Registered: Feb 2002

posted 06-05-2017 04:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Surely the point is that the J-mission Panoramic camera was declassified, allowing two main conclusions:
  • As the camera was no longer secret, it can be assumed that its photographic resolution (whether orbiting the Moon or the earth, at any given altitude) was no secret to the Kremlin;

  • It could only have been declassified if it was considered obsolete for secret surveillance purposes. That must presumably mean it had been replaced by a more efficient system which WAS classified.
As I recall, the U.S. security services gifted two telescopic camera systems to NASA to be launched on scientific missions, again because they were no longer the best available (for secret surveillance).

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