In a surprising revelation Thursday, NASA acknowledged that they treated one of the iconic recordings in American history like just another tape, erasing the Apollo 11 moon footage years ago in an effort to reuse the tape. Luckily for NASA, Hollywood is the land of second chances, and that is exactly what the agency is getting.
Lowry Digital, of Burbank Calif., is digitally sharpening and cleaning up the ghostly, grainy footage of the moon landing, making it even better than what TV viewers saw on July 20, 1969. Even more remarkable about their effort is that they are working with only four copies of the landing that NASA was able to pick up from across the world. In a move that seems eerily similar to re-releasing a film on its anniversary as a means of promotion, the first group of restored footage was released just in time for the 40th anniversary of the landing.
The refurbishing effort has only just started and is expected to cost $230,000 and take months. However, improvement has already been seen in the areas of Niel Armstrong walking down the ladder, Buzz Aldrin following him, the two astronauts reading a plaque they left there, and the planting of the flag on the moon’s surface, one of the most famous images in American history.
“There’s nothing being created; there’s nothing being manufactured,” said NASA senior engineer Dick Nafzger, who is in charge of the project. “You can now see the detail that’s coming out.”
Nafzger stated that a huge search that began three years ago led to the realization that 45 tapes of the Apollo 11 mission were erased and reused. Nafzger was in charge of TV recordings during the Apollo years, and his response to those who ask how one of the countries most important agencies could treat the material on these tapes with all the love and care of any old home recording, is that they were seen after the landing as mere data tapes. Nafzger says he was only tasked with making the tapes work and nothing else.
Smithsonian Institution space curator Roger Launius, a former NASA chief historian, said the loss of the original video “doesn’t surprise me that much.”
“It was a mistake, no doubt about that,” Launius said. “This is a problem inside the entire federal government. … They don’t think that preservation is all that important.”
In my mind, it is certainly a sad day for NASA when it is revealed how little the company cares about their most important historical records, which signify not only the most impressive accomplishments in the organizations history but also some of the most important scientific and cultural advances in American and world history. The moon landings were a significant part of the of the cultural and social fabric of their time, and can be used to teach the very same things to today’s generation. For NASA to act so bureaucratically and coldly to treat Apollo 11 as just another in a long line of Apollo missions, it is disingenuous and a blow to the truth. NASA never should have erased the tape, and they should have undergone this effort a long time ago. How can you get rid of an image that is so beautiful? (Via NPR)