NASA Officials Lacked Foresight To Archive Apollo 11 Footage

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  Space News Business

NASA Officials Lacked Foresight To Archive Apollo 11 Footage

By DEBRA WERNER
Space News Correspondent
posted: 27 July 2009
10:39 am ET






SAN FRANCISCO
— When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon’s surface
July 20, 1969
, the historic moment was captured by a small video camera aboard the lunar module.

Because the camera used a non-standard video format not suitable for broadcast, NASA tracking stations in
Australia
and the
United States
converted the live feed to the
U.S.
broadcast standard before transmitting the video to mission control in
Houston
via microwave links, Intelsat comsats and AT&T land lines, with substantial image degradation occurring along the way.

While the tracking stations made magnetic recordings of the Apollo transmissions, they were treated as routine data backups, not important historical records.

After an exhaustive three-year search, NASA officials have nearly given up hope of finding these original telemetry tapes. Dick Nafzger, the NASA engineer who oversaw the agency’s effort to convert the original images to broadcast format for live television, says the original tapes were inadvertently erased and reused in later missions.

Nafzger
explained what happened to the tapes during a July 16 briefing NASA held at the Newseum in
Washington
to commemorate the Apollo 11’s 40th anniversary with the release of a newly restored version of the Apollo 11 broadcast.

During the search for the original Apollo tapes, NASA officials discovered a wide range of broadcast recordings, including the original broadcast tapes from the CBS News archive and kinescopes – recordings made by filming the picture from a video monitor – found in vaults at the
Johnson
Space
Center
.

By compiling the best of those recordings and hiring the Burbank, Calif.-based film restoration specialists Lowry Digital to reduce the static or noise in each image, NASA hopes to produce the best possible video record of the Moon walk, Nafzger said. Portions of the $230,000 work-in-progress were released July 16.

Lowry Digital’s job would be a lot easier, and the final results better, if NASA still had the tapes recorded at the tracking stations.

Nafzger
said because they were created as a backup video of the landing to be shown if NASA was unable to produce the live broadcast, safe storage of the tapes was never given a high priority.

After the mission, NASA shipped the magnetic tapes, which contained slow-scan video footage and extensive telemetry data, to the
Washington
National
Records
Center
in
Suitland
,
Md.

During the early 1970s, NASA brought thousands of tapes out of storage, tested their performance and used them to record data from other space missions. “The inescapable conclusion is that the tapes were reused,” Nafzger said.

While Nafzger is convinced that the tapes he was seeking have been lost, his investigation has produced one ray of hope. The
Johns
Hopkins
University
‘s Applied Physics Laboratory in
Laurel
,
Md.
, created a separate set of tapes whose existence has never been disclosed and was not even mentioned to Nafzger at the time of the Apollo program. An Applied Physics Lab engineer created magnetic tapes of the lunar landing using recording equipment in Parkes. “We don’t know where they are, but we are still open to finding those two-inch tapes,” Nafzger said.