05 May 2018

Did someone wipe the moon landing tapes?

  • Written by 
Armstong photographs Aldrin - Armstong photographs Aldrin - NASA


Missing, presumed wiped

They also though started to come across many references to a chronic shortage of one-inch magnetic tape inside NASA in the early 80s, as a couple of satellites (LANDSAT among them) were going through tape at way above the predicted rate. And, coupled with this, was the fact that in 1981 NASA procured 164,220 reels of magnetic tape from its own labyrinthine network of internal organisations to make up for that shortfall.

In other words, around a decade after the last human walked upon the surface of the moon, it looks like the 45 tapes of the original moon landing were degaussed, recertified, and reused to satisfy a NASA-wide shortage of one-inch tapes.

Of course, that particular breed of the lunatic fringe, the moon landing deniers, have had a bit of a field day with all this, but while the original footage has been lost there have been enough scraps lodged in the complex transmission chain used that day to assemble better quality footage of the event than was once thought possible. A copy of the landing footage was made in a Sydney video switching centre before the downlinked signal from Honeysuckle and Parkes was squirted over to the US (with all the additional degradation satellite transmissions suffered back in the last 1960s); a Super 8 film was made of the slow scan monitor display at Honeysuckle Creek; the CBS News Archives found some original tapes; and more kinescope footage (film recordings made from TV pictures) was also found at the Johnson Space Centre.

All these were rounded up and given to Lowry Digital for enhancement before the 40th Anniversary celebrations and on July 16 2009, 15 key enhanced scenes were released to the world's media. According to the very few people who had seen both, they weren't as good as the slow scan 320 line originals, but they were substantially better tha nwhat people hade been viewing for four decades.

For subsequent moon landings, the events of Apollo 11 had revealed to NASA engineers that normal broadcast standards could be supported live from the Lunar surface, so the whole saga is destined never to be repeated. You can only hope though that NASA has somewhat tightened up its media storage policies...


Andy Stout

Andy has spent over two decades writing about all aspects of the broadcast and film industries for a variety of high-profile industry publications on both sides of the Atlantic. During that time the industry has moved from 4:3 SD to 16:9 SD to HD and now on to 4K HDR. He's getting kind of curious to see where it goes next.

Twitter Feed