After 32 years, NASA's Apollo Program (1961-1972) remains the pinnacle of human exploration. Through the efforts of engineering and scientific teams and courageous astronaut crews, and the dedication of the American public, the accomplishments of the thirteen-flight Apollo program, nine of which traveled to the moon, advanced human knowledge and stirred our collective imagination. Aside from the cold war objective of "beating the Soviet Union to the Moon," the lunar samples and mission data that were returned directly helped answer the fundamental question of why Earth has a moon. The Apollo Program also inspired a generation of Americans, scarred by war and internal conflict, to choose careers in science, engineering, and technology to support future space exploration.
The Apollo Program is documented in its voice transcripts, lunar samples, and extensive media coverage--all predating the internet, personal computers, and digital cameras--but the most immediate and tangible documentation is the 20,000 photographic images taken by the astronaut crews. The 12 men who landed on the lunar surface returned to Earth as interplanetary tourists, and most of us wanted to see their pictures!
The Apollo astronauts used several types of cameras during their missions. Most of the classic images published in magazines of the day were taken by 70 mm Hasselblad cameras, but astronauts also used 35 mm Nikon cameras, a multispectral camera, a stereoscopic camera, and a Hycon Lunar Topographic camera. Both black and white and color film were used; however since that time, some color film has had to be digitally restored to correct for fading and other effects of aging.
In addition to hand-held cameras, the last three flights--Apollo 15, 16 and 17-- carried scientific mapping cameras to perform orbital surveys along the ground track of the orbiting command module. Although they cover only 20% of the lunar surface, the images produced by the orbital metric and panoramic cameras represent the some of the best photographic products of the moon currently available.
Until now, these film products have resided in cold storage or have been shelved and archived at NASA data repositories. Access to them required a trip to Houston, Washington DC, or other locations and for manual searches through binders, microfilm, or other catalogs, for which photographic reprints could be requested and produced. Indeed, the public, because of these limitations, has never had the opportunity to see most of the photos taken by the Apollo astronauts.