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The original Neil Armstrong tape
January 11, 2007 4:17 AM   Subscribe

If you thought the video of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon was rather blurry, it might interest you to know that this was never broadcast as well as it could have been. The original video quality was much better. You can't view the original video today, because NASA has lost the bleepin tape. Nobody seems to care, but the guys who once made the transmission possible are looking for it. An Australian minister is on their side. If the tape hasn't been accidentally degaussed, there's only one machine left that is able to read it.
posted by Termite (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's hard to tell from that 'minister' link what kind of minister is involved, if any. I hope it's not Alexander Downer, because if it is the exercise is doomed to some kind of particularly embarrassing failure - they'll find the tape but accidentally put it inside a shipment of uranium to China where it will be incorporated into a nuclear warhead, or something like that.

This page of photos of John Gorton PM's visit to Honeysuckle is interesting - so that's what an Australian space facility looked like in 1969! Other cool photos here.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:31 AM on January 11, 2007


That certainly would be a shame to have lost the original video.
That said, I recall vividly sitting there late at night, staring at the fuzzy, black-and-white image of Armstrong descending the LEM's ladder, thinking how cool and amazing it was that I was actually watching television from another world (okay...a moon...nitpickers.)
I think the fuzziness just adds to that "live from somewhere far, far away" aesthetic.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:36 AM on January 11, 2007


As I recall, there is no original "tape" to lose. It is a recording of a datastream from which contains the information?
posted by A189Nut at 4:39 AM on January 11, 2007


It's hard to tell from that 'minister' link what kind of minister is involved, if any.

He's a church minister (sorry, I should have made the link to his site clearer). There's a lot to see at his site, about the lost tape, and the Honeysuckle tracking station, which received the raw video from the Moon. Such as this: Ed von Renouard, who worked at the station, filmed the monitors with his super 8 camera. His "recently re-discovered footage is some of the best of the TV of the Moonwalk."
posted by Termite at 4:43 AM on January 11, 2007


To be clear, this has become a much larger issue at NASA recently. While the search for the tapes was once the quixotic hobby of a few old NASA engineers, there's now a pretty large team combing through warehouses, storage rooms and archives looking for the data.

Partially, I think, this is due to the publicity the issue has received of late. Primarily, though, recovering raw TV footage and other data from Apollo has gained importance for NASA since they announced a major initiative to go back to the moon via the ill-named Ares launch vehicles.
posted by killdevil at 5:00 AM on January 11, 2007


(I think the 'minister' confusion may have arisen because of the weird navigation the Honeysuckle website uses. Copying the URL from the location bar just gives the first page of the story; you have to copy it from the 'next' line at the bottom of the previous page)
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:11 AM on January 11, 2007


The Parkes, NSW angle in the moon trip was the subject of a movie: 'The Dish'.
posted by peacay at 5:24 AM on January 11, 2007


Huh. I've wondered from time to time how many eight-track tape players and 8" floppy disk drives are still operational.
posted by pax digita at 5:46 AM on January 11, 2007




Nobody seems to care

I think that's demonstrably false. They're just lost, and it isn't a matter of caring or not if you can't find it. NASA has assisted with the search to the extent it can, even allowing a full-time employee to use part of his workday for it. As well, the Wired article notes that there was a significant cache of tapes discovered as a result.

There's a good summary of the NASA efforts on Space Daily.

As I recall, there is no original "tape" to lose. It is a recording of a datastream from which contains the information?

Well, it was a video camera recording to tape. The only difference was that the camera and the recorder were connected by interplanetary radio. There's a picture of the tape reel type they are searching for in the PDF from the 2nd link.

If the tape hasn't been accidentally degaussed

You degauss a tape to reuse it or to prevent someone from getting what's on it. They are more concerned that it's been sitting in a box so long it will be unreadable.
posted by dhartung at 6:53 AM on January 11, 2007


I'm surprised no one has yet asked the most burning question that first came to my mind. Why was the original broadcast intentionally made blurry?
posted by Yer-Ol-Pal at 7:18 AM on January 11, 2007


God, you're just now finding this out? I've had it in my closet for close to thirty years.
posted by Jeff_Larson at 7:22 AM on January 11, 2007


Yer-Ol-Pal writes "Why was the original broadcast intentionally made blurry?"

To fuel the nutjob conspiracy theories of course.
"Lebar helped devise a smaller "oddball format" – 320 scan lines at 10 fps, transmitted at a meager 500 kHz. Tracking stations back on Earth would take this so-called slow-scan footage, convert it for TV broadcast, and beam it to Mission Control, which would send it out for the world to see."

"When Armstrong opened the hatch on the lunar module, stepped out onto the moon, and uttered his famous words about mankind's giant leap, the tracking stations with a direct line on the Apollo's signal were the ones in Australia. The 200-foot-diameter radio dish at the Parkes facility managed to withstand freak 70 mph gusts of wind and successfully captured the footage, which was converted and relayed to Houston."


"Not long ago, Lebar learned why the footage had looked like mush: The transfer and broadcast had degraded the image badly, like a third-generation photocopy. "What the world saw was some bastardized thing," says Lebar, now 81. "Posterity deserves more than that." Good thing the engineers in Australia recorded the raw feed. Now Lebar and a crew of seasoned space cowboys are trying to get that original footage and show it to the world."
Or you could, you know, read some of the linked material.
posted by peacay at 7:30 AM on January 11, 2007


I'm surprised no one has yet asked the most burning question that first came to my mind. Why was the original broadcast intentionally made blurry?

They used a non-standard video format (see the Wired article for more details) and a lot of detail was lost when the video was converted for TV. (On preview: what peacay said.)

According to Wired it seems likt NASA didn't care much in the beginning: "There was one hitch, though: The space agency itself wasn't being helpful. After a few inquiries into the current whereabouts of the tape, the gang ran into red tape and, more surprisingly, indifference. --- NASA now officially acknowledges that the tapes are missing and has given Nafzger permission to spend part of his workday searching for them."
posted by Termite at 7:36 AM on January 11, 2007


I loved the photos that A Thousand Baited Hooks linked to (and which may also have inspired those behind "The Dish"). This was back in the day when suits were suits and nerds were nerds - no problem telling which is which.
posted by rongorongo at 7:48 AM on January 11, 2007


Fascinating, thanks Termite!

there's now a pretty large team combing through warehouses, storage rooms and archives looking for the data.

I know someone who's working on this; they said that there's also a lot of stuff that people simply carried out of NASA in cardboard boxes when they retired. So the first step is to find those people ...
posted by carter at 8:38 AM on January 11, 2007


Everyone knows the lunar landing was a fraud.
posted by dead_ at 9:58 AM on January 11, 2007


I never would have guessed this. Termite is a damned dirty NASA disinformation agent. How do you live with yourself, man?
posted by nanojath at 10:44 AM on January 11, 2007


carter writes "they said that there's also a lot of stuff that people simply carried out of NASA in cardboard boxes when they retired."

Here's hoping it's not in some secretive private collection somewhere.
posted by Mitheral at 11:43 AM on January 11, 2007


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