NASA Laments Missing Apollo 11 Film, Makes Do With What’s Left

Article written: 16 Jul , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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The engineers who helped beam images of the lunar surface to Earth in 1969 are doing a little hand-wringing these days – because original film of the historic event got recycled at NASA rather than preserved.

Still, the agency has teamed up with a Hollywood restoration team to collect and improve on backup copies of the Apollo 11 feat. The clearer, digitized versions will be available in a few months.

Dick Nafzger, a NASA engineer at Goddard Space Flight Center who oversaw television production of Apollo 11, said the initial tape was stored in the national archives until the Apollo program no longer needed the data it contained.

Sometime after that, NASA thinks, the tapes were pulled from their boxes, erased and used to record data for subsequent missions.

It wasn’t until years later that Nafzger and others understood the historical value of the tapes — and the gravity of their loss.

“When I was a 28-year-old engineer, maybe I didn’t understand that. But I certainly do now,” said Nafzger, who spoke at a NASA press conference on Thursday. He hastened to add that he wasn’t in the loop when the tapes were being erased; he and others discovered the tapes’ fate only later, when they became interested in improving the notoriously grainy footage.

Because backup tapes of the mission weren’t so readily discarded after the celebrated lunar landing on July 20, 1969, the engineer-turned-historian has been given another chance.

Nafzger was joined at the press conference by Stan Lebar, the now-retired Westinghouse electric program manager who spearheaded the lunar camera, and Mike Inchalik, president of Lowry Digital in Burbank, California. Together, the men have managed to secure tapes from Sydney, Australia and the archives at CBS, where the live footage was streamed from Houston on that monumental day.

They’re bringing the best of digital technology to bear on what was at the time the cutting edge of videography, even though it was made harder on the eyes of television audiences by conversion to broadcast form. For restoration purposes, the original footage that’s been recovered is actually quite useful, Inchalik said.

“Every frame in that sequence has some information that it shares with others … if you can extract what doesn’t belong, you can make those pictures clearer,” he said.

The team showed four short clips from the $230,000 restoration project at the press conference — including moments where both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the lunar surface. The “after” images are indeed clearer, with more accurate lightning and sharper contrast.

Inchalik said his company is sensitive to preserving the historical integrity of the footage, and aware that any missteps could fuel conspiracy theories that the lunar landing was faked.

“There are elements in the original where we’re not touching or making corrections we would normally make,” he said. “There’s some value in the fact that we’re not a special effects house; we’re a restoration house.”

Nafzger was careful to point out that no new footage will be issued of the landing; all the restored tape comes from video that has already been released. The final product is expected in September.


3 Responses

  1. Pvt.Pantzov says

    they’re right. the lunar conspiracy guys are going to have a field day with this.

    i’m not a lunar conspiracy guy myself, but even i have questions about how such important footage was simply “recycled” at an agency with an emormous budget that could easily afford all of the fresh tape and archive space that they desire.

    “…initial tape was stored in the national archives until the Apollo program no longer needed the data it contained.
    Sometime after that, NASA thinks, the tapes were pulled from their boxes, erased and used to record data for subsequent missions…”

    ^ wow. they don’t know or won’t say the date that the tapes were erased nor who is responsible for the action. i guess it was the cleaning lady eh?

    the only saving grace is that there appear to be “backup tapes”, for which no further detail is given.

  2. Jim Krug says

    Great call, Pvt. Pantzov.

    This “accidental” erasure of the tapes bears an eerily semblance to how the majority of data recorded on the 2 nights of the Rendeslam Forest, England UFO encounter vanished without a trace, and how all evidence surrounding the Roswell crash was admittedly illegally destroyed.

    I know that some NASA astronauts have confessed that they were “tailed” to and from the Moon, though whether the Apollo 11 astronauts themselves ever said it is still up for debate.

    JIm

  3. Nexus says

    Personally, I think that if the restorers are worried about giving ammunition to the moon hoax loonies then they’ve got they’re priorities all wrong. Who cares what those fools think?

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