This Guy Created HD Apollo 13 Photos by Stacking 16mm Film Frames

NASA’s ill-fated Apollo 13 million launched 50 years ago this month, and it had to be aborted 56-hours-in after an oxygen tank exploded. Now an imaging guru has created new high-definition views of the mission by stacking low-quality film frames.

UK-based imaging specialist Andy Saunders took 16mm film captured during the 3rd moon landing mission and found different but similar frames to stack in order to increase image quality. Slight differences were addressed by realigning parts of the frames, and Saunders also corrected color, contrast, and the fisheye effect created by the wide-angle lens used in 1970.

“It all hinges on the principle that stacking images improves the signal-to-noise ratio,” Saunders tells BBC News. “As the noise in each frame is truly random, then stacking multiple frames of the same scene on top of each other and averaging out the levels of each aligned pixel has the effect of identifying and reducing noise whilst maintaining signal (the signal will be present on all frames).”

Each of the resulting photos was the result of over 20 stitched sections, and each stitched section has up to 75 stacked frames. The technique gives us a new look into these famous old shots.

This panorama made with 1,000 separate samples from commander Jim Lovell’s perspective shows the interior of the Apollo 13 module. Astronaut Fred Haise is seen napping while astronaut Jack Swigert is in the storage area. Lovell’s hand can be seen at the left edge of the frame. (Click to enlarge).
These reprocessed views of the Apollo 13 Service Module are perhaps the clearest views of the damage ever seen.
Commander Jim Lovell with a portable tape player and astronaut Jack Swigert sleeping.
Astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise sitting together prior to re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
A panorama of the command module in a powered-down state.
Astronauts Swigert (left) and Lovell (right) with the control panel in the module.
Astronauts Lovell (left) and Swigert (right) share a smile during the tense crisis.

In case you’re curious, here’s a compilation of the 16mm footage captured by the Apollo 13 astronauts during their mission:

Saunders is known for his HD images of the Apollo 11 mission and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. You can find more of his work and follow along with his projects over on Twitter at @AndySaunders_1.


Image credits: All photos by NASA/Andy Saunders and used with permission.