Race To The Moon with Richard Furno, Part 1 (Kelso)

Follow along with Richard’s first hand narration of how historic events shaped the map, the cutting edge science involved in assembling the photographic base material, and the many explanatory notes included on the final design. The wall map is a piece of art, please enjoy :)

Please join me in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Race to the Moon! Map co-author Richard Furno has allowed me to turn his keynote presentation into a post on my blog illustrating the trials and tribulations of creating this fabulous wall map for the National Geographic Society’s magazine.

This is part 1. Skip to part 2. View zoomable map at National Geographic.

My friend and cartography colleague Richard Furno retired from The Washington Post as of January 1st, 2009. He had a long and productive career first at National Geographic Maps starting in 1963 and afterwards for the newspaper making daily, deadline driven maps for publication in the next day’s newspaper from 1978 to 2008. He was a victim of a changing media landscape and dreery economic times. Read more about Richard Furno.

Richard has been a great mentor to me and we officially honored him last week in the NewsArt department. While he was at National Geographic, Richard worked on The Moon Map and I’d like to share it’s story with everyone around the globe. Because of it’s length, this blog post will be in 2 parts.

NOTE: You may also be interested in my photo essay on Toni Mair-Terrain Artist Extraordinaire.

The remainder of this post is taken directly from Dick’s Keynote presentation. Any references to “I” are in his first person, not mine. Photo and illustrations either (c) National Geographic or variety of  unnamed sources.

While I worked at the National Geographic, no map produced there was so closely tied to events occurring on the country’s and world’s political stage. With each of many developments — a new satellite, a capsule crash, an important space photo — our enthusiasm for or anticipation of actual publication of the Moon map was affected.

The principal author of the National Geographic’s Moon map was Dave Cook, not myself. The history below relates my involvement. Dave was virtually the sole designer. He was also the main researcher and writer of all the material on the map. He established contact with all the phenomenal people who took part in reviewing and editing the final map, many of whom were involved in NASA’s push to the Moon.

After the Moon map was finished, Dave went on to produce the Geographic’s Mars map showing the newly discovered topography as photographed by the spacecraft of the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

When I finished this presentation, I sent it to Dave asking for his edits and urged that he make abundant additions of his own. He said it was “great” but didn’t take the time to add details of his own. I wish he had. This story is far from complete without his part.

Dave and I have been best of friends from 1963 to today and we continue to love astronomy and all things “space-programish”.

1959: Luna 3

In 1959, the Russians sent a spacecraft called Luna 3 into space that looped around the moon and took the first pictures of the… Far Side of the Moon.

There were many Russian space mission that jolted the citizens, and politicians, of the United States from Sputnik in 1957 well into the 1960’s. The Soviets seemed to be able to do anything in space that they chose. These were truly spectacular events.

At the time, the Soviets did not reveal the results of their space missions unless the Kremlin chose to do so. Much of what happened during their space effort wasn’t learned until after 1990. Their secrecy simply enhanced the U.S. drive to beat the Russians to the Moon.

Luna 3’s Far Side Photo

But the photos Luna 3 took were extremely disappointing (above). The right hand two-thirds of the photo is the Far Side of the Moon. The Russians made detailed maps out of this and a few other comparable photos, but they were simply attempts to apply a mass of Russian names to any and all possible features that they could discern. Eventually, only two features here are somewhat clear and their names have stuck. At bottom right is a dark crater with a bright central peak. They named it Tsiolkovsky. The dark patch toward the top was named the Sea of Moscow.

1959: Mercury Program Announced

America’s rollout of its first Mercury space capsule to the launch pad was literally an afterthought. When the US had its first test launch of a Mercury capsule, NASA hadn’t thought of a way to move it to the launch pad. Someone volunteered their flat bed truck. To prevent bumps on the road from being transferred to the capsule, a mattress was placed on the truck to act as a cushion (it’s just noticeable in the picture sandwiched between the capsule platform and the flat bed). Compare this jerry-rigged contraption with…

(Preview) Dec. 16, 1969: Apollo 13 Rollout

Ten years later in 1969 rocket technology had advanced (above). But let’s get back to our story…

1961: Alan Shepard Rockets into Space (Barely)

“Why don’t you light this candle?!!” Alan Shepard on the pad, May 5, 1961

Following the Soviet Union’s dramatic, first manned orbital flight by Yuri Gagarin, the U.S. sent Alan Shepard into space. But Shepard’s flight was suborbital, far less dramatic and a month later than Gagarin’s flight. It lasted 15 minutes, traveled 116 miles high and went 298 miles downrange.

1961: Quest for the Moon

With just those 15 minutes worth of experience in space, President Kennedy made a startling announcement.

May, 1961: President Kennedy Announced We Were Going to Land on the Moon within 8 years!

America was well behind Russia in its space program. The Russians were succeeding in their space missions at an alarming yet. Yet with nothing more that 15 minutes of manned spaceflight experience,  Kennedy made a speech before Congress proposing the moon landing. The speech followed this exploratory memo sent to Vice President Johnson asking if there was any kind of space effort in which the U.S could catch up and beat Russia. President Kennedy wanted to devote “maximum effort” to such a program.

After meeting with NASA administrator Jim Webb and NASA scientists, Johnson came back with their mutually agreed upon idea to go to the Moon. Kennedy then drafted his famous speech. I was still in college but I was getting interested in astronomy and this got me interested in the MOON.

1963: Joining the National Geographic Society

I started working at the National Geographic in July of 1963 at age 21 as a cartographer but because I had architectural experience, I was quickly drafted to work on the committee that was planning the move of the Geographic’s offices to the brand new M St. building in downtown Washington, D.C. from Gaithersburg, Maryland. Experience in architecture would become relevant to my work on the Moon map. [Editor’s note: The photo above is from after 1984. The M St. building in the photo’s left was dedicated that year; in 1963 it would have been a parking lot seperating the old 16th St. (not pictured) and 17th St. buildings (photo’s right).]

1964: JFK’s Funeral

I went back to work in the map department in early 1964 shortly after JFK’s funeral on March 14. I had watched the procession go into St. Mathew’s cathedral, a block away from the M St. building. The future of everything Kennedy represented, including the space program and the Moon Landing, was thrown into question.

One of my best friends in the department was Dave Cook whose interests in astronomy I shared. We both were caught up in the space program’s progress and he was getting the idea to propose a Moon map for publication. But we weren’t sure if the program would stay on track after JFK’s death.

In fact, no map produced while I was there was so closely tied to events occurring on the country’s and world’s political stage. With each of many events – a new satellite, a capsule crash, an important space photo – our enthusiasm for or anticipation of actual publication of the Moon map was affected.


But we really thought this was a different age. We were going into space. We still had confidence that the U.S. could accomplish any task we set our minds to. So obviously…

…We Had to Map the Moon!

We were going to make a map of the Moon. This map by Johann Homann circa 1720 bears an amazing resemblance to the Geographic map that we ultimately produced. But the two hemispheres you see here are not the front and back of the Moon. Rather, these are versions of the Near Side hemisphere drawn by the two leading astronomers of the 1600’s – Johann Hevelius, his version on the left, and Giovanni Riccioli.

The really important difference that remained controversial for more than 100 years is that they used different naming schemes. More about that later. Notice the diagram in between the two hemisperes – the bottom diagram. It shows the moon orbiting the earth, represented by a point in the center of the orbit, but at the same time it shows how the the moon is in locked orbit around the earth. That is, the same side of the moon always faces the earth.

Hidden Side, Near Side, Dark Side, Far Side, Fun Side

This is the “Far Side of the Moon”

This is the “Dark Side of the Moon”

The side that doesn’t face us is called by several names. But the official name is the “Far Side”. Keep this in mind when you hear anyone say “Dark Side of the Moon”. 99% of the time, it’s wrong.

Locked Orbit

The moon is in Earth-Locked orbit. The same face, shown as the blue hemisphere, is always turned toward earth. The light and dark sides are relative to the sun, not the earth. The light side = sun lit, the dark side = no sun. The Far Side gets just as much light as the Near Side. On the Homann map you just saw, the sunlight is coming from the top. Here it is coming from the left. That’s the only difference between the two diagrams.

Circa 1964: First Layout

I don’t remember the date of first layout but it was much before Orbiter 1 which was 1966 and was after 1963 when I got to the Geographic. We had just a blurry picture showing a couple of dark spots on the far side from Luna 3. Dave’s layout was comprehensive, full of specific proposals for notes and diagrams. At the time, there was no relief drawing and a full moon photo was used for the near side portion of the map . He sent it up to the ninth floor to the Geographic’s Editor Melville Bell Grosvenor who ultimately had to approve of all our supplement maps. He sent it back…

Returned by Editor

With this subtle note scrawled across the face of the Moon, Dave went right back to work on a second version. But he really didn’t change too much with the peripheral material. Instead, he changed the map only, and sent it back up.

Second (and, Incredibly, Final) Layout

Miraculously, in keeping with the cosmic events going on in space, it was accepted. And even more astounding, that concept and execution of the map survived to the end. As to the content, we thought there was a good chance that the far side hemisphere would have little more data and end up being reduced in size with other diagrams filling the area. Perhaps it would have been true if the US effort had stalled. Or if the map project had been killed entirely.

From this point on, a good deal of Dave Cook’s time was spent working on research and note writing for the Moon. I was his chief consultant because of my intense interest in the map and worked with him as my time would allow. We were constantly batting ideas back and forth, coming up with new ones and changing old ones.

We were, and are, information people. We wanted to put all the information we could possibly fit onto the map. At this point, except for the consultants he contactacted outside the Geographic, he and I were the only ones working on it. In the end, there were 4 of us who were responsible for the content of the map.

Dave Cook was the designer, researcher, writer, mover and shaker. His name should be twice as big as the other three. I did a lot of research on the diagrams and codesigned and cowrote a few of them. I did the name compilation on the map, i.e. selecting and placing the names that would appear, and did the Far Side selenodetic control.

1965: End Mercury, Begin Gemini

On May 15, 1963, Gordon Cooper’s 22-orbit flight wrapped up the Mercury development. Cooper died in 2004 at age 77. There was a 2-year hiatus as the Gemini program reached maturity. Gemini 3 flew on March 23, 1965 manned by Gus Grissom and John Young.

Above/left: Cooper’s Faith 7 on the launch pad.


We were real persnickety working on the notes and diagrams.

1965: Wake-up Call

The first of the Geographic’s “Vietnam” maps was issued in January, 1965. The war was just beginning to heat up as President Johnson sent in large numbers of troops. Kids were getting drafted in increasing numbers.

The Moon map wasn’t on our front burner. Dave had foreseen the need for this map far in the future because his interest in astronomy. But because of the war, people’s interests started to shift.

Dec. 1965: Cramped for 2 Weeks

(Above) In December, 1965, the 2-man Gemini VII rendezvoused with Gemini VI. Frank Borman and James Lovell spent 2 weeks in space, enough to prove viability of a journey to the moon and back.

The main purpose of Gemini VI, crewed by astronauts Walter Schirra and Thomas Stafford, was the rendezvous with Gemini VII. The main purpose of Gemini VII, on the other hand, was studying the long-term effects of long-duration (up to 14 days) space flight on a two-man crew.

Jan. 1966: Luna 9

On Jan 31, 1966, the Soviets, once again, jolted the US space program with the first soft landing on the moon. As with all the Soviet missions during the 60’s, the mission was only announced after its success. This meant there was no anticipation, just the shock that once again, they were ahead of the US despite best efforts. This photo was intercepted by  the British rather than directly released by the Russians.

March 1966: Busy Work

In March of 1966 the Vacationlands map came out. It had taken up a good portion of my time for the last half of 1965. After this map, I split my time, working a little on the Moon, but mostly on the large supplement scheduled for February, 1967 – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

Aug. 1966: Orbiter 1

Launched Aug 10, 1966, Orbiter I started taking pictures of the moon on Aug 18 and transmitting back Sept. 14. On board was an innovative photo lab developed by Kodak in which pictures were taken by advancing film movement to correlate with the satellite’s speed movement, then developed, scanned and transmitted back to earth. It did away with heavy, cumbersome TV system previously used on satellites. It had never had a test run in space and succeeded beyond NASA’s wildest dreams.

View photo gallery of Orbiter images

First Look

We started to see some selected pictures from Orbiter I around that time. However, we didn’t know where most of the photos actually fell. This became clear to us only much later (part 2 covers technical aspects). The Far Side area that was actually covered by the Orbiter are shown in blue.


Oh, what’s that? Orbiter I gave us the first high quality photos of the far side. One was this spectacular, cosmic photo of Tsiolkovsky with the earth in the background.

May 1966: Surveyor: Solving Riddles

Analyzing soil required a lander. Survey 1 blasts off.

In combination with the Orbiter program, the U.S. launched the first of the Surveyor series. The heated, ongoing argument among astrogeologists was “what formed the Moon’s craters?” Certainly, many were formed by meteors but what about volcanoes?

Volcanologists in particular favored a hot moon over a cold one. A “hot moon” meant many, or most, craters were volcano-formed. A “cold moon” meant virtually all craters were meteor-formed.

Surveyor 1 was launched May 30, 1966. It made a successful soft landing on June 2, 1966 in the Ocean of Storms with hopes to begin unraveling the mystery. The touchdown itself immediately disproved a prevalent theory that the Moon was covered with a thick layer of dust that would swallow anything that landed.

View photo gallery of Surveyor images

1966: Copernicus

This 1966 Orbiter 2 photo of Copernicus crater was called the “Picture of the Century”. At bottom right is an earth photo of the crater. At top is a lined-up cross section with vertical scale exaggerated. Copernicus is 56 miles across. And there’s no haze problem. The photos coming in from the US Orbiters, Surveyors and the Soviet missions were stunning.

Literally, nothing like these photos had ever been seen by anyone before and they held the world spellbound. As NASA made rapid progress toward the Moon-landing schedule, clearly we had to start on other parts of the map. The first Apollo mission (earth-orbit) was scheduled for January 1967, just months away.

Relief Drawing

The appearance of the map would be entirely determined by the relief drawing (a drawing technique that shades elevation to give the viewer and sense of the shape of the physical landscape and its mountains).

Our long-time relief artist, John Brehm had retired and a new artist, Tibor Toth, had come on board. He was given some photos of the moon so he could make some sample drawings. As always, he did it in pencil and the samples looked something like the one above.

Those first efforts gave the effect of a raised crater rim and the crater floor looked about the same elevation as the surrounding area. Tibor worked toward improving his technique and Dave and I hovered over his shoulder. Even though he made progress, we felt the end product wasn’t as good as what we’d seen on the maps produced by the…


(Above) This was the kind of relief we were looking at from the US Geological Service. After Tibor had taken his pencil drawings as far as he could, Dave called the producers of these charts and arranged for Tibor to go out to Flagstaff, Arizona to learn their techniques.

1967: Apollo 1 Fire
A Shadow Falls over the Moon Map
January 27, 1967

1967 opened with NASA’s first-ever major tragedy. The Moon program was filled with incredible, emotional highs and lows. This was no less true for watchers as it was for participants. We had just gone through a string of unprecedented successes, a few years when NASA built its reputation, and our anticipation of certain success. Orbiter 1 and 2 worked nearly flawlessly. Even NASA’s very first attempt at a soft, Moon-landing, carried on live TV, (Surveyor I) succeeded. Because of NASA’s policy of carrying missions in live and in public, these results were electrifying as all those watching learned of seemingly impossible feats at the same time as NASA’s control rooms.

The upcoming Apollo launches were anticipated to be perfect. Instead, fire broke out on the launch pad and killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. NASA’s management was devastated. Congress, of course, launched an investigation. Suddenly, the Moon program was in serious jeopardy. We looked at the Moon map in an entirely new light.

Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand
March issue, 1967

The fire was only one factor that was changing the mood of the country. The Vietnam war was at its height and the anti-war movement was getting stronger. In response, the Geographic published a large scale map of Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand for which I spent a month or two doing the Thailand compilation.

Student activism against the war plus the drive for civil rights made more and more people question government spending on war, “non-essentials” and “waste” and asking for more attention to be paid on the home front — to help people. “Why waste money in space? Why not spend it to help those who need it here on earth?”

Soon, many in congress began demanding cuts of NASA’s budget, jeopardized NASA’s Moon program.

James Webb at NASA

James Webb administered NASA from February, 1961 to October, 1968 when he left due the tragedy of Apollo 1.

In the 1960’s, government was not looked upon as “part of the problem” much less than as “THE problem”. The Apollo program is an example of the government working at its best. James Webb had managed NASA brilliantly since his appointment by President Kennedy. In fact, his management is often used as an example to be emulated. It was largely due to his skill that NASA was able to meet the deadline of landing a man on the Moon before 1970. But following the fire, he became the sacrificial lamb. Following the congressional hearings where he was raked over the coals, Webb worked toward turning over the helm to a new administrator.

1967: Tutelage

Despite the fire, 1967 was still a busy one on the Moon front. As long as NASA was still on its schedule to make the landing before 1970, we would have to keep up. Tibor flew to Flagstaff and was tutored in using, first, the airbrush, and, second, the special technique in drawing Moon relief. Jay Inge was one of the gifted artists there. Eventually, when the government’s funding of extraterrestrial relief was cut, the Geographic was able the hire him. Here, (above) he is drawing one of the gores for a USGS Moon globe.

Jay Inge (pictured above) learned to draft the topography of the Moon in the 1960’s with the USGS. When he was hired by the Geographic, he redrew the lunar topography to go with the Geographic’s 1976 revision of the Moon map. He left the Geographic about that time to his beloved Arizona and, during the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, he went on to make flawless topographic renderings of many of the Solar System’s planets and moons. See Mapping Mars by Oliver Morton.


A series of drawings of the Moon’s phases was designed go go across the bottom of the map. This was assigned to Dave Moore, an artist who had started taking particular interest in astronomy and the moon. The Geographic bought him a small telescope with camera mount and drive and he went to work, systematically photographing the Moon. By the way, taking good pictures of the phases from Last Quarter up to New Moon means getting up in the middle of the night.

Nov. 1966: Orbiter 2 — Far Side

Orbiter 2 was also a success in the Orbiter series of five. It was launched Nov. 6, 1966 and by the 25th, had transmitted 211 photos of the Near and Far sides. NASA was only interested in mapping the equatorial region because that was the area where the Apollo spacecraft would orbit and land. Far Side photos by Orbiter 2, shown in purple, were taken only as opportunities allowed. As a result, the gradual photo coverage of the Far Side expanded.

Feb. 1967: Orbiter 3 — Far Side

Orbiter 3 took pictures in February 1967 and though it only took pictures of a small area on the Far Side, it still added to the total coverage.

May 1967: Orbiter 4 — Far Side

Orbiter 4, launched May 8, 1967 extended NASA’s streak to 4 for 4.The Orbiter satellites were a spectacular success. Five were proposed hoping to assure the success of one or two of them. They were dedicated to photographing the near side, along the Equator, taking high resolution pictures of potential Apollo landing sites. Orbiter 4’s coverage of the far side fell only at the edges, or limbs, of our map. Nevertheless, adding all of the Orbiter’s far side coverage together gave us this area as “known” territory.

The Far Side coverage of Orbiters I through IV

By adding up all the photos of the four Orbiters, here’s what was known (above). Up to this point, we assumed that NASA was incorporating all these photos into a master map of the Moon. In fact, they were not.

Since all the photos needed for the Apollo landers were now in hand, scientists prevailed upon NASA to change Orbiter 5’s mission to take photos of as much of the remaining unknown part of Moon’s surface as possible (area shown in grey, not green, in map’s right side above).

1967: Congress Hearing on Apollo Accident

The days of automatic congressional approval of NASA was over. But the NASA report and congressional hearings was done in record time.

Fire: January 27, 1967
Report: April 5, 1967
Hearings end: May 10, 1967

Just as Orbiter 4 started returning photos, congressional hearings on the fire were wrapping up. And even though we were continuing with the map, we didn’t know which way congress was going to take NASA. Several members of congress started to attack NASA, their management, and then the whole idea of spending enormous amounts of money to land a man on the moon. We were equally unsure if national discontent would cause the Moon landing to be delayed. All this left us unsure how to schedule our Moon map.

It would be a real fight to meet the decade deadline. Meanwhile there were 400,000 people working in government and for NASA contractors who were dedicated to hitting that date and toward delivering the best possible rocket and lander. It was remarkable how fast the investigation was done – and done well. The fire was at the end of January. The hearings were over on May 10. NASA went back to work!

Komorov’s Death
April 24, 1967

Vladimir Komorov and the Wreckage of Soyuz 1.

At the same time as these hearings, in April of 1967, the Soviet Soyuz 1 space capsule, designed to carry a single Russian to the Moon and back, crashed on its maiden voyage. This was one of a string of failures that eventually doomed any chance of the Russians beating the US to the Moon.

April, 1967: Surveyor 3

On April 20, 1967, Surveyor 3 landed in the Ocean of Storms. Ultimately, it was visited by the astronauts of Apollo 12. But the fire still kept the Moon mission in doubt.

Orbiter V had not yet flown, much less succeeded. If it didn’t take the needed photos, we would simply make the map with partial coverage of the Far Side. But we didn’t know that NASA was limiting all its Far Side mapping to the equatorial region, ignoring the rest of the Orbiter photos which would give us no source material from which to make the map.

Please stay tuned for the next post to read how the map was constructed and to read the exciting conclusion to The Race to The Moon!

Continue reading in Part 2 . . .

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10 Responses to “Race To The Moon with Richard Furno, Part 1 (Kelso)”

  1. […] he was at National Geographic, Richard worked on The Moon Map and I’ve posted an extensive photo essay on that project here. This is just one of the many fabulous projects he’s worked […]

  2. […] Similar PostsRace To The Moon with Richard Furno, Part 1 (Kelso) […]

  3. Tibor Toth says:

    As I was giving Part 1 a second look, I came to the part “1963: Joining the National Geographic Society”, and found the NGS building picture to be out of timeline. I know so because in 1964, the year when I started working at NGS, we still had the old 16th Street building separated from the 17th Street building by a parking lot. The new M Street building was not finished and dedicated until June 1984. This, too, I know because I wrote the following poem for the occasion:


    The flag designed by Elsie Bell Grosvenor waves in the breeze,
    Its colors bring to mind the sky, the land, and seven seas.

    On this very special day it waves to dedicate
    A building to the memory of those since eighty-eight –
    Men who had a vision, men who dared to have a dream,
    And people who worked hard to make it happen as a team.

    With every flutter, every wave it celebrates the past,
    And motions in the future that – no doubt – will bring the best!…

    June 15, 1984”

    This certainly does not have much to do with the Moon Map specifically, but I thought you and Dick might want to take a second look at it.


  4. nathaniel says:

    Tibor, the post has been updated to note the inconsistent picture date for the NG building.

  5. […] by retired cartographer Richard Furno, who worked on the project, on Kelso’s Corner: part one, part two. The real challenge was the far side: the work involved in taking photographs from lunar […]

  6. […] Race To The Moon with Richard Furno, Part 1 Race To The Moon with Richard Furno, Part 2 Meet Richard Furno View map online from National Geographic […]

  7. Fusion Power says:

    A race to the Moon will be more interesting when the aneutronic nuclear fusion reactor can be a reality to power spacecrafts towards the space.

  8. […] dealing with the creation of this map, told by the cartographer who was actually working on it: Part 1 and Part 2. The work started back in 1964, before the detailed imagery of the Farside was even […]

  9. Dave Moore says:

    Dick: Thanks for including me in your story of the Geographic Moon map. I have enjoyed reading about you and my other old colleagues of days gone by. Would love to hear from you if that’s possible.

  10. Kevin says:

    To the Moon and beyond, fusion-powered relativistic space drive is a technology designed to traverse the stars. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSkxPghXTCg