This may be a sight you've seen a thousand times, but for me its a first. Now I'm not saying I've never seen the Moon before but this picture is the first decent quality one that I have ever taken of our natural satellite.
Astrophotography is very difficult to master. Sometimes the photographs take nearly 30 minutes to expose and within that time the objects have actually moved in the sky! So to keep your pictures sharp, you have to spend lots of cash on a special tripod that moves your camera at the same rate in the same direction, which prevents the star from drawing a 'line' across the picture.
Fortunately my picture here is rather easier to take. For anyone who wants to know its at 300mm f8 and a shutter speed of 1/40 sec at ISO 100. The moon is very bright (a full Moon casts shadows!) so I have always struggled to capture surface detail and on the other few times I have tried, the air humidity has made it near impossible to keep the image sharp. This evening has been pretty good though and I don't mind admitting, I'm pretty pleased with the picture too.
The light is good, the details are crisp and if you look closely, you can see Neil Armstrong waving, so Maybe it is conclusive proof that we have landed after all?
I did once ask a scientist a question along the lines of "If we point the Hubble Space Telescope at the Moon, would we be able to see the landing sites from Apollo?" The answer was 'no' because apparently the extreme amounts of light reflected off the Moon would break the telescope. Looks like the brightness causes problems for telescopes as well as cameras.
In fact, its been quite a week Moon wise. All of my photography comes amidst the announcement that China looks to be setting its sights on the Moon as well. They have announced the launch of their own 'Apolloesque' missions in 2007. There are 12 men who have walked on the Lunar surface so far and although NASA has announced that they're going back (maybe they left something?), the next people to visit could be flying a different flag.
I've been lucky enough to spend some time with one of the Apollo Astronauts. Charlie Duke was in the backup crew for the ill fated Apollo 13, but was on Primary crew for 16. Its amazing to hear about his time on the moon and he very kindly signed my book for me too. To listen to him speak, you definitely feel that Lunar exploration falls into the "because its there" category of why we do things. So for anyone who may wonder why the Chinese are launching their Lunar series of missions in 2007, I suppose the answer may be "because its still there" Or it was for my photographs anyway.
'X' really does mark the spot here
Charles Duke also left a momento on the lunar surface... A photograph of his own! (image use courtesy of NASA)