Finding and using Space Agency images

One of the things that conspiracy lovers get hung up on is the idea that something is being hidden from them, that NASA is the entire repository of all space research and they are engaged in a massive operation to prevent the average citizen from finding important stuff.

The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. There are many national space agencies undertaking planetary research,  not just NASA, and the data they collect are published in a variety of places online. One US source has the Planetary Data System website that holds Tb of data on the Moon alone from a variety of probes and countries.

The problem for amateur researchers, whatever their motive in looking at the data, is that the images are often in obscure formats that require specialist treatment to turn into something pretty to look at. The reason for this is that the images often don’t just contain visual information, they may combine other features like co-ordinates and elevation. They may also be intended for analysis in combination with other information such as spectral mapping, where the surface colours in different spectra (visible, infra-red and so on) are used to produce maps showing (for example) the distribution of other properties like mineral deposits. Frankly, the science is too expensive to waste bandwidth on expensive cameras to take pretty pictures, they are more useful as a way of identifying where a picture was taken so they get second billing to more complex analytical instruments.

Luckily, there are a variety of techniques available to us that allow us to extract the available images so that we can admire the beauty of our solar system. This page will look at a number of sources for lunar data and how to get visual information from them. It does not pretend to be the definitive methodology, there are many ways to skin a wireframe cat, it just presents ways that I have discovered to get useful information for my own research into the moon. Other planets are available.

Follow the links below to look at each agency’s data and how to extract images:

JAXA

ISRO

China

LROC

Eventually there will be links on this page to 3D projections of the Apollo landing sites. For a sneak preview of these files, look in this Dropbox folder.

The files are compressed using winrar, and you need to open the .html file in the archive once you’ve decompressed it. Any warnings about security and ActiveX controls can be ignored - use Chrome if any other browsers give you problems!

I strongly recommend the use of QGIS - an open source GIS package that will allow you to do cool stuff with the images you download.