26Nov2019

Is THIS The Most Famous Moon Landing Photo Find In History?

Anyone with a little knowledge of the Apollo missions, or those who have seen the movie The Dish know that Australia has bragging rights over the original moon-landing footage BUT…could this be one of the greatest finds in history?

Shane Barry Peninton with the book which acknowledges his work.

Shane Barry Peninton with the book which acknowledges his work

When it comes to notable mentions in the annals of historical imaging of that monumental moment, Australia has just earned itself another cookie. And the kudos goes to a Nambucca Valley local – Shane Barry Peninton – who’s probably better known for his music.  Shane has help uncover what is believed to be the first footprint on the moon. That’s right, Neil Armstrong’s very FIRST landing footprint!!!

“I’ve been interested in space stuff since primary school. I was either going to become a musician or a scientist,” he said. “But not many people here know about this side of me – this is my ‘coming out’ so to speak.”

Shane said he even wrote to NASA a bunch of times when he was a kid, impatient at the glacial pace it took news to filter through to Australian reporters, and often received thick wads of official documents which he treasures to this day. He vividly remembers the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972 – it coincided with his birthday. He spent the day snapping polaroids of the tv screen and stitching together the images of the Lunar Roving Vehicle’s (LRV) path across the moon’s surface to create panoramas.

That passion has never faded for Shane, who a few years ago set up two Facebook pages dedicated to both the US and Russian space missions. Rather than the usual hacks, nuts and conspiracy theorists that fan pages tend to attract, Shane – or ‘Prof’ as he’s been known since high school – was pleasantly surprised to find himself chatting with ex-mission control personnel, and other aficionados and people of note, including Rick Armstrong – Neil’s eldest son.

Bringing out the detail using modern digital techniques

Could THIS be the most famous Apollo 11 photograph in history? Bringing out the detail using modern digital techniques.

Another online friend he chanced upon, Jon Hancock, was contracted by NASA to develop technology for imaging, and is recognised as one of the leading space imagers in the world. The pair made exchanges about the latest digital techniques used to enhance space photography. “But it was music that brought Jon and I together,” Shane said. To be precise – the landmark 1938 Carnegie Hall concert by Benny Goodman, which is acclaimed for legitimising jazz as an art form.

“So many in NASA and Roscosmos, ESA, JAXA and space agencies all over the world, are academic musicians working in the space industry as managers of planetary exploration…Even Neil Armstrong, (first man on the moon) played the piano and sang,” Shane said. And so the Mancunian and the boy from Nambucca struck up a deep friendship.

Jon had been working on compiling a book for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing – an exposition of the singular roll of film exposed on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 mission, designated Magazine ‘S’. One evening in January, Shane was chatting with Jon about the archive of scanned images from that mission, and asked him if he’d ever attempted to look into the shadows of the photos. “Funny you should mention that,” Jon replied then sent Shane an image he’d been working on, asking Shane if he could identify anything in it.

“Yes Jon, in amongst the digital noise, and using averted vision, I’m sure I can see a footprint next to the pad – exactly where Neil would have put his foot when he first stepped off the ladder,” Shane said. “Am I seeing the first footprint on the moon? Who else has seen this?” The answer was no-one.

A quote from Jon is appropriate here: “That first footprint was probably only there for about half an hour before it was trampled over when Neil and Buzz unveiled the plaque on the ladder. Here is my latest version of that photo. This and other discoveries are in my book. www.bg1938.com.

The significance of the discovery

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” There’s probably no greater ‘step’ in the history of the human race. Certainly no other single stride has been viewed more. And yet, until now, that momentous footprint has never been visible.

Though Neil Armstrong was the first on the moon and the one to utter those famous words, it was Buzz Aldrin who took the iconic photo of his own footprint, as part of a NASA experiment to study lunar dust and the effects of pressure on the surface.

This photo taken by Buzz Aldrin shows one of the first footprints on the moon, but not THE first.

This photo taken by Buzz Aldrin shows one of the first footprints on the moon, but not THE first.

As 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s successful Apollo 11 mission, many column inches have been dedicated to the speculated feud between Armstrong and Aldrin over who would be the first to step foot on the lunar surface. What is known is that very few photos of Neil Armstrong were taken during that mission. When Aldrin was passed the camera, he generally kept close to his brief, focussing the lens on the environment around him.

There is one shot, however, that Aldrin took of Armstrong working at the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly (MESA), right beside the ladder and footpad he took his first step beside. This photo was taken before the two stood in the very same spot to unveil the commemorative plaque, and, in the process, trampling any evidence of that first footprint.

Around the footpad where the first footsteo was taken was in shadow during the moon walk

Around the footpad where the first footsteo was taken was in shadow during the moon walk

Unfortunately, the Lunar Module landed with the sun behind it, rendering anything in front of it into shadow. Until now, it was impossible to lift any detail from the deep blacks of the Hasselblad images. But with the rapid advancement of modern imaging software, Jon and Shane were able to see into the depths of the underexposed images from those old film emulsions.

“The first thing I did was make a negative image of Jon’s to get a more definable print,” Shane said. Then he tried overlaying multiple copies of the same image, slightly ajar from one another, in an attempt to remove some of the digital noise. After applying various colour filters to enhance contrast further, there was no denying any longer that the pair were seeing mankind’s first footprint on the moon for the very first time.

Jon has just released his book – Apollo 11 Lunar Photography, the epic journey of Magazine ‘S’ – which features for the first time the image the two worked on that evening. And on the page before the preface, titled ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’, is an acknowledgment to Shane Barry Peninton and other notables in the industry who made the book possible.

“I still can’t believe that I was invited by Jon to be a part of his history-making discovery,” Shane said. “It’s funny, I’m just a banana grower’s son from the Nambucca Valley – just a country boy, with his head in the sky.
“My father got me into it – he bought me my first telescope. “If he knew I was going to be involved in this he would not have believed it – not in a million years.” Source:  Guardian News
INTERVIEWS: Any radio stations interested in following this up with an interview are invited to contact me, Dave Reneke, on 0400 636 363.  Email: davereneke@gmail.com
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