COLUMBIA — The crew of Apollo 11 took its first steps on the moon 50 years ago. And some key maps that would help land them there are now in the possession of South Carolina's flagship university ahead of Saturday's anniversary.
Charles Shull, a 1957 University of South Carolina and 1949 North Charleston high school graduate, was one of many government workers who would aid in answering President John F. Kennedy's challenge to go to the moon.
"In order to do that, they had to have maps," Shull said.
Thanks to some quick thinking by Shull, those maps are now part of USC's Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
Shull was hired by the Army Map Service in 1963 as a cartographer to make maps of "denied areas, mostly Russia or China" using satellite photography.
"The photography was returned from the satellite and snatched from the air by an airplane flying over the Pacific. Sometimes they missed and the package had to be retrieved from the ocean," Shull said.
He joined the agency's Extraterrestrial Branch which was producing maps for Apollo program, he said, four or five months after it was formed in 1967.
Using lunar orbiters, NASA took photos of the moon's surface.
"This photography, though good, was not mapping quality. That is, it had distortions from the transmission," Shull said. So the cartographers had to do calculations to correct it.
Some of the orbital photographs donated by Shull show handwritten calculations where they did the math.
“How do you figure out how to map something you can’t go to?” Michael Weisenburg, USC reference and instruction librarian, said in the university's announcement of Shull's donation.
“No one had systematically mapped the moon before. There were pictures of the moon, but there’s not an actual cartographic study of it as a sphere."
Shull would continue mapping for the Apollo program's duration. By 1973, he was serving as branch chief until the program ended in 1975.
It was then that Shull saw agency personnel gathering up the materials to be destroyed.
"I had worked on those things," he said.
And he couldn't stand to see those years of hard work go to waste.
"They were just going to throw it and out burn it," Shull said, due to the agency's classified nature. "So i rescued a lot of it. I didn't want them to throw my maps away."
Shull said he didn't have time to be selective.
"I took what I could," he said.
He would remain with the agency until retiring in 1989.
"I just enjoyed the work," Shull said. "It was a good job."
Shull's collection includes about 35 maps and some photographs, as well as a three-dimensional model illustrating a site for the Apollo 17 landing.
The lunar maps will be available for research after items have been processed and cataloged, according to the university.
“It provides a snapshot of the labor it took to map the moon, so that informed decisions could be made about where to land each mission for safety and success and to optimize the opportunities for scientific inquiry,” Weisenburg said in the announcement.