Millions of people witnessed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface 50 years ago on TV, but sadly, VCR wasn’t yet a thing in households in 1969 to let people record this historic moment. However, NASA being a highly advanced organization did and it has just been sold for a beefy $1.82 million at the recent Sotheby’s Space Exploration Auction, and it wasn’t NASA that sold it.
It’s a long tale on how these video recordings were sold at this astounding price; we will try to keep it tight here. So here goes… The footage, which was recorded by a very high-tech custom camera, was transmitted live to Earth to Parkes Observatory in Australia, and recorded to a set of large-format reel-to-reel videotape. It was then re-transmitted to Houston where the recordings were transferred to a 2-inch Quadruplex videotape.
Anyways, the original slow-scan tapes were overridden (what were they thinking???) and that left the Ampex tapes as the only copies of the Apollo 11’s lunar EVA (Extravehicular Activity). Even that almost didn’t survive. The Ampex tapes were sold at a government surplus auction because, apparently, people of the 70s never thought those tapes were no longer needed. Seriously, what were the people smoking when they were sieving thru those reels?
Thankfully for the tapes, though, George who was an intern at NASA’s Johnson Space Center picked it up with the thought of reselling them to TV stations for a profit since he got them for a bargain $217.77 (equivalent to almost a thousand today). George’s father noticed the label “APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1[-3]” and “VR2000 525 Hi Band 15 ips” on three of the boxes and George decided it may be worth hanging on to them.
Well, as it turned out, what George had in his possession was the best surviving NASA videotape recordings of the history Apollo 11 Moon Landing. The quality in terms of image clarity and contrast were said to fair superior than the footage half billion people had watched on TV.
So far, it had only been viewed three times since June 1976. The first time was when George brought it to DC Video to verify the content of the tapes in October 2008 and on December 2008, it was viewed for the second time for the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing and it was at this time, the recordings were digitized in its original, uncompressed format and stored in a one terabyte hard drive. The last time it was viewed was by the Sotheby’s experts as part of the verification process for the auction.
So, there you have it, a long arduous journey for this precious artifact of modern times, finally preserved and now, an asset to an unnamed collector. It also made George a very happy, retired fellow.