Moon landing blunder: NASA admitted original Apollo 11 footage 'erased'

Apollo 11: Brian Cox says ‘aerospace wasn’t ready for it’

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On July 20, 1969, the space agency completed the seemingly impossible mission of landing man on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s goal and brought an end to the Space Race when they touched down at Tranquility Base. Armstrong jumped off the lunar lander Eagle six hours later and delivered his “one small step” speech to the millions watching anxiously back on Earth before Aldrin joined him 20 minutes later.

But some of that original footage was lost forever.

It was recorded in slow-scan, meaning that it had an output of 10 frames per second and so could not be directly broadcast on television.

According to NASA, the footage was converted for broadcast and uplinked to a satellite, then downlinked to Houston before it appeared on commercial television.

As the real-time broadcast worked and was widely recorded, preservation of the backup video has not deemed necessary in the years after the mission.

Apollo 11 happened 52 years ago

Apollo 11 happened 52 years ago (Image: GETTY)

Neil Armstong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin

Neil Armstong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin (Image: GETTY)

The search for the “lost tapes” began in 2006  – the agency conducted an intensive investigation at the time, but could not find the footage.

NASA admitted in 2019: “An intensive search of archives and records concluded that the most likely scenario was that the programme managers determined there was no longer a need to keep the tapes — since all the video was recorded elsewhere — and they were erased and reused.”

In the Eighties, NASA’s Landsat programme was facing a severe data tape shortage, so it is believed the tapes were erased and reused then.

NASA reaffirmed there is no missing footage from Apollo 11 since the video transmissions were relayed to the Manned Spacecraft Centre in Houston during the mission.

The agency restored footage from the landing and released it in 2009 for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.

READ MORE: Moon landing: Hidden files ‘shine light’ on Kennedy’s true Apollo 11 intentions

The original slow-scan television signal from the Apollo TV camera

The original slow-scan television signal from the Apollo TV camera (Image: WIKI)

NASA engineer Dick Nafzger said: “There was no video that came down slow-scan that was not converted live, fed live, to Houston and fed live to the world.

“So, just in case anyone thinks there is a video out there that hasn’t been seen, that is not the case.”

NASA has not lost any of the Apollo footage — only the original tapes with that footage.

It’s not the first time incredible footage has been uncovered from the event though.

Released in 2019, ‘Apollo 11,’ produced by Todd Douglas Miller, took the event which centred around grainy footage and revolutionised it to Hollywood cinematic heights.

Photograph of the original SSTV signal of Aldrin and Armstrong at the foot of Eagle

Photograph of the original SSTV signal of Aldrin and Armstrong at the foot of Eagle (Image: WIKI)

Some of the footage was later restored

Some of the footage was later restored (Image: GETTY)

The 90-minute time capsule is made up of previously unseen archive footage from the Apollo programme and it’s all thanks to Stephen Slater – the archivist who sifted through “years” of newly available 70mm images.

Speaking in 2019, Mr Miller said: “That’s how it really started, could we tell this story of Apollo 11, using only archive materials?”

“He [Mr Slater] was working on this really crazy notion of trying to synchronise mission control footage with the air-to-ground transmissions that were available to the public, and it was really tedious work – important nonetheless because it just makes the imagery come alive.

“If there was ever going to be a medal for synchronisation or archive work, Stephen Slater should get it.”

William Murphy

William Murphy

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