Opinion: Houston, we lost the moon tapes


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Today we honored the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 that brought astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to the moon’s surface. But we also discovered that NASA indeed taped over the footage of that first landing.

NASA TV specialist Dick Nafzger, who headed the search for the tapes, spoke to KPCC this morning:


‘I don’t think anyone in the NASA organization did anything wrong,’ Nafzger says. ‘I think it slipped through the cracks, and nobody’s happy about it.’

After a three-year search for the tapes, NASA concluded that the original footage was deleted when the program started erasing old magnetic tape so it could record satellite data. Search team members say that as they discovered that tens of thousands of magnetic tape boxes had disappeared from the enormous government records center, their hope waned for ever finding the original moon landing footage recorded on the lunar camera operated by the astronauts. NASA says the picture was much clearer than the TV broadcast of the historic moment. How sad...

But wait! There’s hope.

After piecing together a complete version of the moonwalk from a variety of broadcast television sources from around the world, NASA has contracted with Lowry Digital in Burbank, the digital restoration firm responsible for restoring movies from ‘Bambi’ to ‘Star Wars,’ to make the ‘original’ better. They’re touching it up, making it less fuzzy and brighter so you can actually make out Neil Armstrong descending from the ‘Eagle’ instead of the dark blob viewers saw in 1969.

So while technology makes it so that our generation and future generations will see the moonwalk with more clarity than ever before, the fact remains that it’s not the original. Are we tampering with history, or preserving a moment?

--Catherine Lyons