Friday, July 17, 2009


The press is atwitter this week about the 40th anniversary of the moon landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin,with Michael Collins orbiting the getaway vehicle. (I suppose Twitter is atwitter, too.)

Sunday will be the highlight of the weekend's reminiscences, when there will be a rare joint appearance of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins in Washington.

According to an article in today's Times of London:

The crew of Apollo 11, however, have not shared the cosy friendship one might have expected since they splashed back to Earth on July 24, 1969. “Amiable strangers” is how Michael Collins — the third astronaut, who remained aboard the command module orbiting the Moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and took a walk — once described their relationship.

On Sunday, the eve of the 40th anniversary of their return to Earth, the three will be reunited in public for what is likely to be the last time. With all of them nearing their 80th birthdays, they will deliver a joint lecture on space history at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Perhaps the best news of the week is that Hollywood restoration artists are using digital magic to piece together the videotapes of the 1969 moon landing, which had been erased and reused by NASA in the early 1970s. (The same thing happened at NBC, which reused the videotapes of the earliest episodes of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. People had a different attitude toward archival videos back in those days.)

Maggie Fox of Reuters explains:
The original recordings of the first humans landing on the moon 40 years ago were erased and re-used, but newly restored copies of the original broadcast look even better, NASA officials said on Thursday.

NASA released the first glimpses of a complete digital make-over of the original landing footage that clarifies the blurry and grainy images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon.

The full set of recordings, being cleaned up by Burbank, California-based Lowry Digital, will be released in September. The preview is available at
A NASA news release gives more details:
A team of Apollo-era engineers who helped produce the 1969 live broadcast of the moonwalk acquired the best of the broadcast-format video from a variety of sources for the restoration effort. These included a copy of a tape recorded at NASA's Sydney, Australia, video switching center, where down-linked television from Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek was received for transmission to the U.S.; original broadcast tapes from the CBS News Archive recorded via direct microwave and landline feeds from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston; and kinescopes found in film vaults at Johnson that had not been viewed for 36 years.

"The restoration is ongoing and may produce even better video," said Richard Nafzger, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who oversaw television processing at the ground tracking sites during Apollo 11. "The restoration project is scheduled to be completed in September and will provide the public, future historians, and the National Archives with the highest quality video of this historic event." ....

On July 20, 1969, as Armstrong made the short step off the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module onto the powdery lunar surface, a global community of hundreds of millions of people witnessed one of humankind's most remarkable achievements live on television.

The black and white images of Armstrong and Aldrin bounding around the moon were provided by a single small video camera aboard the lunar module. The camera used a non-standard scan format that commercial television could not broadcast.

NASA used a scan converter to optically and electronically adapt these images to a standard U.S. broadcast TV signal. The tracking stations converted the signals and transmitted them using microwave links, Intelsat communications satellites, and AT&T analog landlines to Mission Control in Houston. By the time the images appeared on international television, they were substantially degraded.

At tracking stations in Australia and the United States, engineers recorded data beamed to Earth from the lunar module onto one-inch telemetry tapes. The tapes were recorded as a backup if the live transmission failed or if the Apollo Project needed the data later. Each tape contained 14 tracks of data, including bio-medical, voice, and other information; one channel was reserved for video.

A three-year search for these original telemetry tapes was unsuccessful. A final report on the investigation is expected to be completed in the near future and will be publicly released at that time.
NASA also gives a more specific link to the preview of the restored footage.

In 2005 and 2006, I mused about my own memories of the Apollo 11 landing.

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