How Microfilm Helped NASA Change Cosmic History Preservation

NASA is at the forefront of space exploration, and it's easy to forget that they have a long history. Founded on July 29th 1958, NASA didn't just take humanity to the moon, they developed the space shuttles that were used in 135 missions, making space missions almost seem routine. NASA is also a part of the International Space Station, a project that is a collaboration of the five major space agencies: Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA and CSA being the other collaborators.

In the last 65 years, NASA scientists and astronauts have achieved a lot, and it's vital we preserve not just the knowledge they've gained, but the challenges they faced. Just as with other pieces of history, NASA's achievements aren't to be taken in isolation, we can learn as much from looking at the geopolitical environment they were working in and the difficulties they faced along the way.

Preserving the Past for Future Generations

NASA's experience with microfilm goes back further than you might imagine. Microfilm versions of the bible were taken to the moon on Apollo 14, and were the subject of a legal ownership battle in 2013. These miniature bibles showcase how effective microfilm is at preserving large amounts of information even then, and it remains a useful preservation method today.

It's easy to forget exactly how much information NASA holds, today. The earliest lunar modules were programmed using punch cards, rather than data being stored on floppy disks or hard drives. There are paper printouts of mission telemetry, meeting records and so much more, all being preserved today by a Records Management team.

Many of the most interesting records are already available to researchers and the general public. The Apollo 15,16 and 17 Command Module ephemerides are now preserved on microfilm, and available online for anyone who wishes to read them. The data has been processed by OCR software and translated into a searchable digital format. The OCR may not be perfect, and there are plans for future passes over the documents to improve the accuracy of the OCR, but even these initial scans are a useful backup of an important part of space exploration history.

Mars Missions - The Past and The Future

NASA themselves have always been aware of the importance of their work, and the data from the 1976 Viking Mission, which landed a probe on Mars, was preserved in microfilm at the time. Thanks to their foresight, the data is still in good condition, and researchers are now able to digitize it so that it can be shared online, searched and processed by today's generation of researchers. Viking 1 may have been more than four and a half decades ago, but the data is still invaluable to researchers today.

One of the reasons that NASA has been so eager to digitize the data from the Viking Missions is that they were conscious of the vulnerability of the microfilm data. They felt unable to lend out the microfilm, because it was all that remained of the missions. If the microfilm were lost, all that knowledge would be lost with it.

By digitizing the data, it becomes possible to make infinite copies, stored all over the world, ensuring anyone who is interested in it can explore it. NASA hopes that providing more people with access to this information will inspire the next generation of scientists.

OCR Unlocks Historic Data

One of the challenges researchers face when working with data that was recorded on paper or microfilm is the difficulty of searching it. Many government organizations, academic institutions and even private companies have entire rooms full of archived paper, microfiche, punched cards and films.

At e-ImageData, we can provide the tools required to process that data quickly, supporting hands-free scanning of film and fast, accurate and high-resolution processing of documents. Our OCR software can take scanned images and pick out text so that documents can be tagged, categorized or searched in the future.

Turning an OCR-ed document into a searchable PDF offers the best of both worlds, retaining the original look of the document, while still making it easy to find keywords or information, copy and paste information from the PDF, and even get Wikipedia links to more information about key terms from within the document.

Using the Right Tools for the Job

There are many microfilm scanners on the market today, but they're often not designed to process large volumes of documents. If you have a lot of documents to process, ScanPro's latest scanners can help you read those documents, OCR them and convert them to microfilm quickly and efficiently. 

If you've got hundreds of microfilm files you'd like to preserve or even start work on restoring, the ScanPro® 500 series range  scanners can quick work of digitizing these files. Once you've got backup copies of the original material, you can start looking at converting it to other formats, touching up the imagery or doing other processing work to help researchers find the content they're looking for.

Video from the first lunar landing has been watched, retouched, shared and poured over by millions of people over the last several decades. Not every event recorded on film is as iconic as the lunar landings, but there are many memories recorded on old film, and even as the written word, that have historic value in a different way. Our goal at e-ImageData is to preserve all those moments, large and small.

There's a huge amount of information out there in physical formats that could easily be lost to decay, damage or accidental destruction. Copying data onto microfilm can help preserve that information accurately and in a durable format so that future scientists, historians and other researchers can learn from it.

If you're involved with an organization, large or small, that is archiving data for the next generation, learn how we can help you preserve your records on microfilm and join the team of archivists who utilize microfilm in history preservation.

Latest Posts



Join Our Newsletter