10 October 2010

Oz Assist on First Moonwalk Video

Lost footage from Neil Armstrong’s first footsteps on the moon was shown at the Australian Geographic Society Awards. Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin was present in Sydney, Australia for the showing of the digitally remastered footage. The segments featured at the Sydney ceremony include a clear vision of Armstrong’s lunar descent, reading the plaque and the “most historic phone call ever made” from President Nixon in the Oval Room of the White House to Tranquility Base, Luna. The search and restoration of this lost footage took nearly six and a half years.

Scientists in Western Australia nearly threw away the 100 boxes of dusty and damaged data tapes that were clearly marked “NASA Manned Flight Center” that were buried in the basement of physics lecture hall at the University of Technology in Perth. But astronomer and historian John Sarkessian recognized that the value of the recordings from the Aussie tapes, as it was the best remaining moving images of the mankind’s momentous feat.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong ignored a planned resting time and the Commander decided to attempt his first moonwalk early. Unfortunately, the US receiving station in Goldstone, California was just out of range and had the telemetry set incorrectly. So the black and white footage that 600 million people saw of Armstrong’s descent to the lunar surface looked ghostly and almost obscured by black contrast. After a few minutes, NASA switched to Australian feeds from the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station near Canberra, New South Wales and the Parkes Radio Observatory near Perth, Western Australia.

The video cameras used during Apollo 11 were slow-scan television cameras that were incompatible with commercial television, so a kind a kinescope was used for commercial television, which significantly reduced the picture quality that was broadcast. The higher quality slow scan videos were destroyed in the 1970s and 1980s when NASA was too clever by half and demagnetized the historic Apollo recordings so it could recycle the tapes for future missions, thus destroying the master video feed.

Fortunately, someone made a bootleg copy of the Honeysuckle Creek magnetic tape onto VHS, but that copy was severely degraded. A dupe of that Honeysuckle Creek bootleg revealed that it had the clearer images of Armstrong’s descent than what was originally broadcast from the California signal station.

It is hoped that the clearer video from Oz will conclusively prove that the Apollo Moon Landings were not a hoax ala Capricorn One. Assuredly the film is nothing like the highlights reel from Australian Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

In the year 2000, there was an Australian comedy film entitled The Dish based on the true story of the Parkes Radio Observatory. It seems that the scientists placed the telemetry in the middle of a sheep paddock. Despite the gales, the muddle and the mutton, those Aussie astronomers captured the best moving images man’s first moonwalk.

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