Did you know? When Armstrong and Aldrin left the lunar surface they left behind: 1) An American flag, 2) A patch to honour the fallen crew of Apollo 1, and 3) A plaque on one of Eagle's legs that says, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."Far from misplacing a set of keys, it seems that NASA has misplaced the original tapes from Mankind's first moonwalk! On August 20, 2006, almost 37 years after the first steps were taken on the moon, NASA reported that key footage of the event has been misplaced. Now, the hunt for these lost treasures is in full swing.
On July 21st, 1969 Neil Armstrong made history when he took those first steps onto the moon's surface. Many of us have grown up with images of Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, all tweaked out in their space suits, with the lunar landscape behind them during the Apollo 11 mission. Those choppy, low resolution images, broadcast live to half a billion people on Earth, were not, however, the only recordings of that monumental event. In fact some much clearer recordings were made on that day, and the tapes of these original recordings are the ones that have gone missing.
When NASA set out to put men on the moon, they also set out to record the event. The extra-vehicular activity (EVA), a term used to describe work done by astronauts outside of their space crafts, was recorded by three separate tracking stations here on earth. Those three tracking stations, Goldstone Station in California, as well as Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and Parks Radio Telescope, both in Australia, all simultaneously recorded Armstrong's first steps outside of the lunar landing module known as the Eagle. FUN FACT: There is a copy of the contingency memo entitled "In Event of Moon Disaster", at the National Archives in Washington, DC. It was to have been read by President Nixon if the astronauts had been stranded on the moon.
To record this event, organizers had to use technology that fell within the restrictions resulting from space travel. They chose to use a non-standard, high resolution, slow-scan TV format. It took five years to develop the camera that could withstand the harsh conditions of the moons surface and produce high quality images.
However, to allow people to watch this historical moonwalk on television, the original footage was first converted from the non-standard format to TV format and then transmitted from the tracking stations to Houston, for public broadcasting; at each step a significant amount of detail was lost, resulting in the grainy television images that we are so familiar with.
The tapes are believed to be located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center; the Goddard Flight Center had requested them for permanent storage from the National Archives in 1984. Well, the tapes, unfortunately, do not seem to be there...or anywhere, for that matter! FUN FACT: Over the next 3.5 years, 10 other astronauts would follow in the footsteps of the Apollo 11 crew.
So now, the hunt is on to find these lost treasure troves of high quality video information; but time is of the essence! Information stored on magnetic tape degrades with time, so the sooner the tapes can be recovered the better.
Other tapes from that time period have been found and have not show any indications of degradation, giving hope that the tapes may be recovered and restored to their original state. Meanwhile, as the search continues for the lost Apollo 11 landing tapes, we will have to content ourselves with the old-fashioned images that have followed us through our childhood.
CHECK OUT THE ORIGINAL IMAGES: Download the attached PDF ("Apollo 11_Image Comparison") to see a comparison between images that were broadcast on TV and the original footage from the three tracking stations.
N.A.S.A. Update: Apollo 11 Tapes. [webpage] 2006 Sunday, August 20, 2006 7:43:40 PM
Available from: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo_tapes.html.
N.A.S.A. Apollo 11 at 35: Celebrating the Past with a Vision for the Future. [webpage] 2004 Sunday, August 20, 2006 7:38:20 PM
Available from: http://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/features/apollo11_35th.html.
Colin Mackellar, S., Australia. Apollo 11 Tape Search Flyer 5.0. [PDF] 2006
Available from: http://www.honeysucklecreek.net/.
Mann, J., The Story of a Tragedy That Was Not To Be. Horizons, 1999. 23(9): p. 17.
Sarkissian, J., The Search for the Apollo 11 SSTV Tapes 08 corrected. 2006, CSIRO Parkes Observatory.
For more information about Apollo 11 and other NASA space missions
For more in-depth information on the honeysuckle creek station and the search for the lost SSTV tapes
For Info on the tracking stations involved in recording the Apollo 11 lunar landing
Goldstone Deep Space Communications Center: hhttp://www.gdscc.nasa.gov/
Honeysuckle Creek: http://honeysucklecreek.net/
The Parks Observatory: http://www.parkes.atnf.csiro.au/
Nicole Arbour is a Biochemistry PhD student at the University of Ottawa, where she studies how neurons die. When she’s not making new and exciting scientific discoveries, Nicole spends her time scuba diving, skiing, or playing underwater hockey (come on…you know you wanna know what this is, don’t ya???).