The Sciences

NASA releases partially restored Apollo 11 footage

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJul 16, 2009 2:24 PM


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Today, NASA released a sneak preview of restored video from Apollo 11! The footage is digitally cleaned from archival tapes, and is part of an ongoing project (due to finish in September) to get all the video processed and restored for release. The footage was obtained using archival tapes found at the National Archives as well as CBS archives. The tapes were scanned and cleaned using state-of-the-art digital techniques, and clearly show visible improvement. Many of the noisy artifacts from the archived tapes have been removed, and the new footage shows details not previously available. I have uploaded a montage of the Apollo 11 footage to YouTube (the higher-def version can be seen at this link): Let me be clear here: this video is not from any "lost" tapes!There were rumors that NASA had found tapes that were lost years ago, and these showed the Apollo 11 footage in unprecedented detail. These rumors are false. The deal is that the telemetery from Apollo was downlinked from the Moon to two radio telescopes in Australia and one in the U.S. The data were recorded on tapes and then processed. The tapes themselves were stored for some time, but after the data were secured it was deemed that the original tapes were no longer needed. They were wiped and reused for LANDSAT and Shuttle telemetry -- we're talking hundreds of thousands of tapes here, so reusing them saved NASA a lot of money. That decision may seem silly now, but at the time was deemed necessary. So no lost tapes were found, and no previously unseen footage has been found. What we're seeing here is broadcast footage that has been digitally restored. Still, there is value to this. For example, in the last few seconds of the montage you can see (I think) Aldrin moving across the lunar surface as he and Armstrong plant the flag. As he skips by, you can see the lunar regolith (the finely ground dust on the surface) scudding up from his boot. On Earth, that dust would billow up in the air, and travel perhaps a few centimeters. In the footage you can clearly see the dust moves on a ballistic path, barely arcing at all and moving a meter or two. Clearly this was filmed in an airless, low-gravity environment. Incredible! It'll be a few more months before all the video is cleaned up and released. I can't wait to sit and watch the whole thing! Today marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Saturn V rocket that carried the first humans to the Moon, and this is a very fitting way of celebrating that pivotal moment in history.

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