The original high resolution Moon landing tapes might still be missing, believed wiped, but NASA has unveiled the next best thing to getting them back.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission, the space agency has released an enhanced version of the television footage featuring Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking one giant leap for mankind on the surface of another world.
The digital restoration of the material has been done by Lowry Digital, a Burbank, California film restoration company that specialises in digitally restoring old feature films, including Casablanca, Moonraker and Star Wars. To obtain the best results, the firm sourced images from four copies of the TV broadcast, including one from the archives of American television network CBS.
For those familiar with the fuzzy, grainy and indistinct Moon landing footage broadcast live on TV around the globe back in July 1969, the enhanced version will seem much improved with clear outlines of space suits and more details in the lunar surface.
“There is nothing being created or manufactured here,” said Richard Nafzger, a NASA engineer who back in 1969 headed the team responsible for broadcasting the iconic images. “We are restoring and extracting data from the video.”
The restoration project is still on-going with an expected completion date of September, when more improved images will be released.
But what of the original recordings of the live feed from the Moon?
Among the many technological marvels of the Apollo 11 mission was a specially-designed magnetic tape lunar camera strapped to the side of the landing craft (“Eagle”) which recorded in a “slow scan” format that was vastly superior in quality to the images broadcast on TV.
What an estimated 600 million viewers watched on their television screens at the time was essentially a copy of a copy, coming from a television camera pointed at the giant wall monitor at Houston mission control.
Sadly, the tapes containing the original, pristine lunar feeds went missing from NASA many years ago, with agency officials now concluding that the priceless images were probably wiped over in the 1970s or ’80s when it was standard practice to reuse the 14-inch tape reels as a money-saving measure.
“I don’t believe that the tapes exist today at all,” said Stan Lebar, the designer of the original lunar camera, on America’s National Public Radio. “It was a hard thing to accept. But there was just an overwhelming amount of evidence that led us to believe that they just don’t exist any more.”