To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, walk on the moon, NASA July 16 released newly restored video of mankind’s first excursion to the lunar surface. The initial release, part of an Apollo 11 moonwalk restoration project and posted on NASA’s Website, features 15 key moments from the trip.
“The restoration is ongoing and may produce even better video,” Richard Nafzger, an engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement. “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.”
That’s good, since apparently the original video is lost to history.
The black-and-white images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descending and walking on the moon were provided by a single small video camera aboard the lunar module. The camera used a nonstandard scan format that commercial television could not broadcast, so 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. NASA engineers recorded the data beamed to Earth from the lunar module onto 1-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.
No one has seen those telemetry tapes for years, and NASA has conceded they are probably lost forever, most likely written over years ago.
For the restoration project, a team of Apollo-era engineers who helped produce the 1969 live broadcast of the moonwalk acquired broadcast-format video from a variety of sources. These included a copy of the tape recorded at NASA’s Sydney, Australia, video switching center; 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 the Johnson Space Center.
The restoration was done by Lowry Digital, of Burbank, Calif., which specializes in restoring aging Hollywood films and video. Lowry took the highest-quality video available from the recordings, selected the best for digitization and significantly enhanced the video using the company’s proprietary software technology and other restoration techniques.
Under the initial effort, Lowry restored 15 scenes representing the most significant moments of the 3.5 hours that Armstrong and Aldrin spent on the lunar surface.