Astronaut Charlie Duke, part of Apollo 16, on the Moon London Stereoscopic Company / NASA After half a century of photos of the Apollo Moon landing popping up in the media – with many images becoming iconic – publishing yet another book of Apollo pictures might be a tough sell. But Brian May, the 71-year-old lead guitarist of rock group Queen, who is also an astrophysicist, and David Eicher, the editor of US-based Astronomy magazine, have done just that.
Their trick: nothing more than a technology that predates the moon landings, with the type of stereo photographs and 3D glasses that first became popular in the 1950s. Some Queen fans may have seen May’s book Queen in 3D from 2017. That's probably because the guitarist has one of the world’s largest collections of Victorian stereo photographs. Now he has decided to take the idea to the Apollo and the Moon, ahead of next year’s 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing on July 20, 1969. The reason? To help space enthusiasts better relive the lunar adventure. The result is the Mission Moon 3D, a book that includes rare images from the Apollo 11 flight, sourced from NASA and Russian space archives. The 3D glasses that are included with the publication trick the brain into combining two pictures into one. May says that the book is the story of the Soviet-American space race and the Apollo Moon landings told from both sides of the race. The Apollo 9 Lunar Module, Spider, made its first autonomous test flight orbiting Earth on 7 March, 1969 London Stereoscopic Company / NASA If you don't use the goggles, a first browsing of the book feels weird: every image is shown twice, one next to the other. They seem identical, yet aren’t: there is a very subtle differences, a different angle, which makes the two images combined merge into one stereo image. Suddenly, that iconic image of a footprint of Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface acquires depth and structure. But this is about more than looking at incredible human achievements. “You also get a perspective on what was happening viewed against the backdrop of the rest of the world – politically, socially, artistically and musically – you get a very vivid picture of what it was like for us to witness that incredible event when we were kids, 50 years ago,” says May. “It’s hard to communicate the full excitement that we felt, and I’m hoping the new generation will get it from this book – from the text but also from the pictures, because they are immersive, and you feel like you’re actually on the Moon.”For both Eicher and May, it was important to tell the story not just from the point of view of the US space programme, but the Soviets too. “When you think about the story of the race, you think of Apollo 11, about the men on the Moon, and Neil and Buzz,” says Eicher. “But of course, the Soviet Union was far out in advance in the whole early epoch of the race to the Moon.” The first human in space, Yuri Gagarin (left), with fellow cosmonaut Sergei Korolev, 1961 Sputnik Back in the mid-20th century, after the Soviets blasted Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, into orbit on 4 October 1957, successfully circling the Earth, they jump-started the space race with the US. At first, it was the Soviets who were winning, sending several animals into suborbital and later orbital flights. The first dog to blast off and reach the orbit, Laika, died from stress and overheating between five and seven hours into the flight - she was never supposed to come back, and the cause of death was only publicly disclosed in 2002. Other dogs, among them the famous Belka and Strelka, did come back, along with a bunch of mice, flies, rats and a rabbit. Then Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go to space. His home is now a largely forgotten museum in the tiny village of Klushino just outside of Moscow. After Gagarin’s tragic aircraft accident and death, Soviet cosmonaut Alexey Leonov was supposed to be the first person on the Moon. But “the story of why and how this happened lost momentum because of the tragedies and other circumstances,” says Eicher. “So we really haven’t had a book that tells the story equally from both sides in that way.” Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first human to do a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for 12 minutes on 18 March 1965 London Stereoscopic Company In total, the book sports more than 150 unique 3D views, the largest-ever collection of stereo photos of the Apollo program. Not all the Apollo images existed in several takes, though. After all, the astronauts of the 1960s and 70s didn’t have digital cameras to snap away at will. So some images that do look 3D are based on only one single picture that has been processed to make it appear stereo. One of these images adorns the cover, showing Charlie Duke, a member of Apollo 16 and one of only four NASA astronauts who walked on the moon and are still alive. Duke, who joined the book launch at London’s Science Museum via Skype, said that 3D photography “certainly” has a role to play in future explorations. “[It] was important to us to get slopes and depth of craters. In the future it’ll be very, very important on moon and Mars,” he said. Stereoscopy goes back to the 1830s, when Charles Wheatstone showed that one could trick the brain to combine two ordinary images drawn from a somewhat different perspective into one three-dimensional picture. His stereoscope was more complex than today’s goggles though: it involved mirrors to show separate images to the left and the right eye. At about the same time, photography was invented and people started experimenting with taking the very first pictures in 3D. Just over a decade later, in the late 1840s, David Brewster developed a portable stereoscopic device, which was known to have intrigued Queen Victoria. Her interest reportedly helped boost sales of the viewer, with more than half a million being sold by 1856. This iconic image of Buzz Aldrin, taken by Neil Armstrong, during the Apollo 11 mission, is also in the book London Stereoscopic Company / NASA Fast-forward to the early 20th century, and 3D jumped onto the movie screen. The Power of Love was the first 3D film for the public, shown on September 27 1922 at the Ambassador Hotel Theater in Los Angeles. The concept was in and out of fashion over the years, with the peak in popularity in the early 2000s – think IMAX with its early nature documentaries and later James Cameron's feature film Avatar, released in 2009. In 2010, 21 per cent of North America’s total box-office revenue came from 3D tickets sales. Ever since, though, 3D films have been on a steady decline; in 2016, 3D revenue in North America stood at a mere $1.6 billion, down 8 per cent from the year before. There were also plenty of attempts to make 3D televisions popular, but they never took off. For his part, Brian May is especially interested in 3D pictures. He says that he has been obsessed with stereography – also called stereoscopy - since he was a child, after finding a card with two images of a hippo with an open mouth side by side, inside his breakfast cereal box. Today, he publishes his stereo books through the firm London Stereoscopic Company.More great stories from WIRED– Why you don't need to skip sleep to be successful– Scientists explain why Hyperloop is so dangerous and difficult– The suspicious Facebook page pushing Brexit ads to millions– Why India is turning off the internet to fight fake news– These photos show the devastating impact of human progressDon’t miss out. Sign-up to WIRED Weekender to get the best of WIRED in your inbox every weekend