Apollo 11: NASA and the 'lost' Moon landing tapes

NASA has responded to recent reports of “lost” Apollo 11 Moon landing tapes, but is adamant that no footage of the historic mission has been lost.

“With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing approaching, reports have resurfaced that NASA lost some precious video footage of that first moonwalk,” the space agency explains, in a statement on its website. "There is no missing video footage from the Apollo 11 moonwalk," it adds.

July 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.

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Apollo 11 tapes are in the spotlight at the moment. A set of original videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 Moon landing that were bought for $217.77 at a government surplus auction by a former NASA intern in the 1970s will be auctioned on July 20.

FILE - In this image provided by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969.

FILE - In this image provided by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. (Neil A. Armstrong/NASA via AP, File)

The former intern, Gary George, planned to sell the used tapes, which could be re-recorded, to local TV stations. They could sell for up to $2 million, according to Sotheby's, which is running the auction.

NASA says that the footage on the tapes is already preserved. “In 2019, a one-time NASA intern is selling what he describes as videotapes of the Apollo 11 moonwalk that he bought at an auction of surplus government goods,” the space agency says on its website. “If the tapes are as described in the sale material, they are 2-inch videotapes recorded in Houston from the video that had been converted to a format that could be broadcast over commercial television and contain no material that hasn't been preserved at NASA.”

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This is not the first time that Apollo 11 tapes have made headlines.

Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong reflected in his helmet, during the moon landing in 1969.

Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong reflected in his helmet, during the moon landing in 1969. (NASA)

More than 10 years ago, NASA launched a search for, but could not locate, some of the “original” Apollo 11 data tapes, which directly recorded data transmitted from the Moon. “An intensive search of archives and records concluded that the most likely scenario was that the program 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,” it explains.

According to NASA, data on the tapes, including video data, was relayed to the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston, which is now the Johnson Space Center. “The video was recorded there and in other locations," it said, in its statement, noting that no footage is missing.

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NASA explained that data from the mission was sent from the Apollo 11 spacecraft to a ground station in California and two ground stations in Australia. This data was then retransmitted to the Manned Spaceflight Center. The ground stations also recorded the data on special 1-inch, 14-track tapes, one track of which was for video.

File photo - Commander Neil Armstrong climbs down the ladder of the Lunar Module (LM) the 'Eagle' to become the first man to set foot on the Moon, during NASA's Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, July 1969. Video footage taken during the mission.

File photo - Commander Neil Armstrong climbs down the ladder of the Lunar Module (LM) the 'Eagle' to become the first man to set foot on the Moon, during NASA's Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, July 1969. Video footage taken during the mission. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)

“The video footage was recorded in ‘slow scan’ — 10 video frames per second — which meant it couldn't be directly broadcast over commercial television,” NASA explains. “The video was converted for broadcast and uplinked to a satellite, then downlinked to Houston, from which it was sent out to the world.”

In early 2005, in response to a request from NASA retirees and others, the space agency launched a search for the 14-track tapes. However, the agency couldn’t find the tapes and determined that they had most likely been erased and used again, which, it says “was standard practice at the time.”

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While NASA was unable to locate the tapes, the data had already been recorded elsewhere and was saved by the agency.

File photo - a footprint from the Apollo 11 mission on the lunar surface.

File photo - a footprint from the Apollo 11 mission on the lunar surface. (Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)

"There was no video that came down slow scan that was not converted live, fed live, to Houston and fed live to the world," said NASA Engineer Dick Nafzger, during a press conference in 2009. "So, just in case anyone thinks there is video out there that hasn’t been seen, that is not the case."

However, the researchers did find the video that had been converted to broadcast that was higher quality than they had previously seen.

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Parts of the video were restored, enhanced for viewing in HD, and released in July 2009.

Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant an American flag on the surface of the moon in July 1969.

Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant an American flag on the surface of the moon in July 1969. (NASA)

Only 12 men, all Americans, have walked on the Moon and the Apollo program continues to be a source of fascination.

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Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins recently revealed a previously unseen photo of the famous Moon landing crew members that he “found at the bottom of a box.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers