The Road to the Moon Landings – Lunar Orbiters – National Geographic, 1969

In the upcoming two weeks, Iconic Photos would cover the NASA missions to the other space and the Moon as they appeared in leading picture magazines of the time: Life, Epoca, Paris-Match, Look, Sunday Times, etc.

These documents are not just historical records: they are tributes to the bravery and ingenuity of the astronauts and engineers who took humanity’s first steps into the vastness of space. They celebrate a time when space was a new and dangerous frontier, and each mission captured the world’s imagination.


Apollo 8 mission (December 21–27, 1968) was the first crewed spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit and the first human spaceflight to reach the Moon. The crew orbited the Moon ten times without landing, as the largest-ever television audience thus far looked on.

Due to its publication schedules, the articles in National Geographic were published several months after the missions they covered, and thus lack the immediacy of other magazine. National Geographic knew for instance that Apollo 8 mission would not appear in the magazine for months. So it took a different approach, using photos from the Lunar Orbiter program from previous year to create a giant map of the Moon.

The Lunar Orbiters were five uncrewed missions launched between 1966 and 1967, to help select Apollo landing sites by mapping the Moon’s surface; 99.6 percent of the lunar surface was mapped from photographs taken with a resolution of 60 meters (200 ft) or better.

The “Map of the Moon,” published in the February 1969 issue (above), was the first map to show the entire lunar surface — including the far side of the moon — on a single sheet of paper. It was one of the best lunar maps and measured 28″ × 42.″ It was designed by National Geographic staff cartographers, Richard Furno and David Cook. The photo of the team designing the map also appeared in the magazine.

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