Apollo 16 Lunar Surface Journal Banner

Data Travel: the Duke Family Portrait

Copyright © 2000 by Markus Mehring.
All rights reserved.

Markus wrote this moving piece for the ALSJ 'Nailsoup' Team on 21 October 2000. We thought it should be shared with others.

Yo gang:

I'm in a philosophical mood, so pardon me if you can't quite follow my train of thought in here. :) It's just that reading Buzz's "we missed the whole thing" got me into thinking-mode, so I'm just letting go a bit at past 4 a.m. local time, if you don't mind.

click for full-size You probably remember me mentioning that the human factor of spaceflight in general and the Apollo missions in particular is what is most interesting to me, that I care about this point the most. And you may or may not have seen my rectified version of AS16-117-18841, which Eric has put in the Journal. Seeing this family portrait lying in the lunar dust still is one of the most outstanding examples of what could be called a 'human factor'. This is an Apollo-photo like any other, a film emulsion on a carrier, assigned with a number among thousand others; but what it shows, the 'data' or 'information' contained therein, just grips me.

Humans on an alien world. Literally. Wow!

Now, this photo is some 30 years old, as is its informational content (in these net.days, people tend to label this as 'virtual'). I just tried to imagine the way in which this particular bit of virtual information - the portrait of a family - already has traveled in these 30 or so years.

Are you still with me? Then let the journey begin.

Not sure when and where exactly this photo in a photo was taken. Probably in the garden behind the Duke's house, late 60s, on a sunny day. Taken by a photographer or family friend or relative, or maybe with a timer or remotely triggered. The film was removed from the camera, taken where you get your film developed, and got developed and printed on paper. Back it went to the Dukes, where it stayed for a while.

At some point, Charlie Duke probably decided that it was a good idea to take it with him on his mission, so he took the necessary steps, like having it packed in transparent foil, and it finally got placed in the spacecraft. It was launched with Apollo 16, travelled all the way to lunar orbit and landed with the LM. On EVA-3, Charlie Duke took it out on the surface, placed it down onto the lunar soil, and took a couple of photos of the scene with his Hasselblad.

Apollo Magazine 117, which now contained this virtual information -the photo of the photo of the Dukes - was taken back inside the LM. Up it went with the ascent stage into lunar orbit, and traveled all the way back to Earth in order to make a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. There it was picked up together with the rest of the equipment and taken to the photo laboratory in the LRL in order to get developed. It got developed, and the resulting film and prints were called AS16-117-18841 and were stuffed away in some archive for the next few decades, just to be pulled back out seldomly, every now and then, in order to have a copy made for whoever desired one.

Along comes Michael Light, doing research for his at-that-point-yet-to-be-released book 'Full Moon'. He picks it for his pre-selection of about 2000 photos, and finally decides to include it in his book. So he gets himself a early-generation hardcopy of this photo, takes it wherever he does his work, and scans it to a large-scale digital format in order to have something to work with. The result of this work is printed into a book, on paper, and sent across the States to bookshops. At some point, Mike decides that it is a good idea to go international, which eventually leads to a German-language edition of his book. That makes it necessary for our virtual data - in printed form - to be shipped (or flown) across the Atlantic; and, then, being reworked and printed here in Germany, it is sent to bookshops. One copy eventually makes it to a local public library, where yours truly discovers 'Full Moon' for the first time - with, of course, the Duke family portrait inside it.

At some point, I thought it was a good idea to grant this absolutely striking photo the attention that it deserves, so I started working on it. It once more got scanned to digital format, cropped, turned, twisted, tweaked, sheared, color-corrected and compressed to JPEG, and the result of this was a file on my harddisk. Sometime later, this file (still containing our virtual data) was sent around the world across the Internet from Germany to Australia, to the place where Eric lived at that time. From there it went via the Internet into the US, to NASA, and got moved back and forth on NASA servers until it ended up in the ALSJ-directory at the known URL. And whenever you or anyone else access that URL in order to get that file, it again travels around the world across the Internet to your place, right onto your monitor screen.

Quite a trip for a simple family portrait, eh?

CU! Markus