Apollo astronauts were not only history makers – they were also darn good photographers. Still, some of their achievements weren’t captured as they deserved to be, with some photos being underexposed, blurry, or simply limited by the technical capabilities of the gear of the time.
Enter Andy Saunders, an imaging specialist determined to bring Apollo images and films the quality they deserve. For his Apollo Remastered project, Andy digitally remastered and restore the original flight film and images from humanity’s first missions to the Moon. He kindly shared the images with DIYP, as well as the details of the labor-intensive process behind them.
The idea was born from Andy’s desire to see a photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon. There’s only one that we know of, it doesn’t show Armstrong very clearly, and Andy wanted to change that. So, he started digitally processing multiple frames of the 16mm and ended up with the only clear, recognizable image of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, released just in time for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.
“Almost every Apollo image we have ever seen has been based on copies of master duplicates, or copies of copies,” Andy says, “leading to the gradual degradation in the quality of the images we see.” Naturally, this means that most photos from early spaceflight are poorly represented, despite being iconic and of immense value.
Andy explains that the original flight film is securely stored in a freezer at Johnson Space Center, Houston. It lays hermetically encapsulated in its frozen vault, rarely leaving it for half a century. However, the original film for each mission has recently been removed from the vault, thawed, cleaned, and digitally scanned. “There is a huge treasure trove of around 35,000 photographs, the vast majority of which are rarely seen; in part due to the quality or exposure of the film and older, lower quality scanning technology,” Andy explains. And this is the material he’s been working on for his project.
“The new high resolution, high bitrate scans of the original flight film offer a step change in quality to anything seen since the moment the photographs were captured. However, the analog film source must be digitally processed in order to be presented effectively. In their raw state they are typically very under-exposed and difficult to process. Applying the latest digital processing techniques, time and effort to sympathetically remaster this film however, is rewarded with an image of unprecedented detail and clarity.”
For Apollo Remastered, Andy processed the 70mm still photographs, as well as 10 hours of 16mm ‘movie’ footage, frame by frame. He used a complex stacking technique he developed especially for this project. And as you can probably imagine, it took him years – but it was well worth it.
After years of work, Andy published a book Apollo Remastered, containing over 400 full-page Apollo photos he remastered. You can order it here, and make sure to follow Andy’s work on his website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And now, I leave you to enjoy some more photos from Apollo Remastered.
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