NASA Marks Apollo 11 Anniversary With Restored Video Footage

Forty years ago Thursday, Apollo 11 blasted off on its 280,000-mile journey, fulfilling President Kennedy's 1961 call to reach the moon by the end of the decade.

To commemorate the anniversary, NASA released newly restored video footage of the Apollo 11 moon landings — but the fabled "lost" moon tapes weren't among them.

Those tapes, alas, which preserved the highest-quality raw feed from the moon in July 1969, appear to have been accidentally erased.

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Instead, what NASA officials unveiled at a press conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., were partially restored versions of the compressed signal sent to Mission Control in Houston from three ground receiving stations in California and Australia.

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While the video footage unveiled Thursday was not new, many of the details in them were.

For example, mission commander Neil Armstrong's face visor was too fuzzy to be seen in the original-quality recordings. The refurbished video shows his visor and a reflection in it.

"There's nothing being created; there's nothing being manufactured," said NASA senior engineer Dick Nafzger, who's in charge of the restoration project.

The recordings of the special "slow-scan" video signal from the lunar lander were probably taped over more than 20 years ago.

They had been recorded on data, not television tapes, which may have confused archivists back then.

NASA officials at the press briefing said they regretted that proper procedures were not in place to preserve the best-quality recordings of the moon landing.

Rumors had been circulating on the Internet for weeks that NASA had found those recordings in the basement of a university campus in Perth, Australia.

But Thursday's press conference dashed those hopes.

The $230,000 refurbishing effort is only three weeks into a months-long project, and only 40 percent of the work has been done.

But it does show improvements in four snippets: Armstrong walking down the ladder, which includes the face visor image; Buzz Aldrin walking down the ladder; the two astronauts reading a plaque they left on the moon; the planting of the flag on the moon.

The restoration used four video sources: CBS News originals; kinescopes from the National Archives; a video from Australia that received the transmission of the original moon video; and camera shots looking at a TV monitor.

The original videos beamed to earth were stored on giant reels of tapes that each contained 15 minutes of video, along with 13 other channels of live data from the moon.

In the 1970s and 1980s, NASA had a shortage of the tapes and erased about 200,000 of those tapes and reused them. That's apparently what happened to the famous moon landing footage.

On July 16, 1969, the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew, capsule and lunar lander lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 9:32 a.m. EDT.

Millions of people watched the event live on television, including President Nixon in the Oval Office.

Twelve minutes later, the spacecraft entered orbit around the Earth. It circled our planet one and a half times, then got one last boost from the Saturn V's third stage and was set off on its way to the moon.