Lunar and Planetary Institute






Apollo 17 Mission


Science Experiments - Metric and Panoramic Cameras

Astronaut Ron Evans is pictured retrieving film canisters from the Mapping and Panoramic Cameras in the Service Module.Astronaut Ron Evans is pictured retrieving film canisters from the Mapping and Panoramic Cameras in the Service Module. He is holding a handrail on the Service Module, and his body is extended over the open instrument bay. The Mapping Camera film canister is near his left elbow. At the rear of the Service Module, the Lunar Sounder Experiment's VHF antenna extends toward the top right corner of the photograph.

Apollo 15, 16, and 17 carried a set of cameras in the Scientific Instrument Module of the Service Module. These cameras were used to obtain high-resolution photographs of the lunar surface, for use both in studying the geology of the surface and for producing detailed topographic maps of the surface. These cameras included a Metric Camera, a Panoramic Camera, and a Stellar Mapping Camera. The Metric and Stellar Mapping Cameras were operated as a unit along with the Laser Altimeter. The Panoramic Camera was operated separately, but was often used at the same time as the Metric Camera. The film canisters used by these cameras were retrieved from the Service Module and stowed in the Command Module during a spacewalk by the Command Module pilot on the return trip to Earth.

The Metric Camera obtained pictures of the surface covering 165 kilometers on a side, with a horizontal resolution of 20 meters, based on a nominal spacecraft altitude of 110 kilometers. The Stellar Mapping Camera obtained photographs of star fields at the same time, which were used to establish the spacecraft's precise orientation, thus improving the accuracy of the resulting lunar maps. The Panoramic Camera obtained pictures of narrow strips, 20 kilometers wide in the direction of spacecraft motion and 320 kilometers long across the spacecraft's ground track. These pictures had extremely high resolution, showing features just 1 to 2 meters across. Photographs with both cameras were taken so that there was substantial overlap in the ground coverage of consecutive photos. This allowed the technique of stereo photography to be used to determine the heights of features shown in the photos. Under ideal conditions, the heights of these features could be determined to an accuracy of better than 10 meters. The results of this stereo photography project were used in producing topographic maps.

During Apollo 17, the Metric Camera was used on 15 orbits and during the early hours of the return to Earth, obtaining 2140 usable photographs. The Panoramic Camera was used on nine orbits and during the early hours of the return to Earth, obtaining 1574 usable photographs. This covered virtually all of the Moon visible in sunlight to the Apollo 17 crew.