After the camera recorded the astronauts' descent onto the moon's surface, they placed it on the moon to record their other activities. NASA hide captiontoggle caption NASA
After the camera recorded the astronauts' descent onto the moon's surface, they placed it on the moon to record their other activities.NASA
Stan Lebar worked at the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and led the team that designed and built the lunar cameras used on the Apollo 11 mission. NASA hide captiontoggle caption NASA
Stan Lebar worked at the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and led the team that designed and built the lunar cameras used on the Apollo 11 missions. The camera on the left was a color camera that transmitted live color television inside the Apollo 11 command module. The camera on the right shows the camera that transmitted live video of the Apollo 11 astronaut's moonwalks.NASA
Just as Stan Lebar and Dick Nafzger concluded that the 1-inch magnetic tapes with the original Apollo 11 footage had probably been destroyed, a surprise discovery gave them renewed hope.
Some old documents revealed that, unbeknownst to Lebar and Nafzger, the lunar camera's signals had also been recorded on a couple of 2-inch tapes by an experimental program run by the Applied Physics Laboratory near Baltimore.
"This was like a miracle out of nowhere, " recalls Lebar. "That opened up a whole new search for us with the possibility that maybe this was the savior that we were looking for."
They tracked down a former APL employee who confirmed that he'd recorded the moonwalk in 1969 and remembered having those tapes at APL.
Lebar and Nafzger scrounged up a vintage device that could play these tapes, in case they were found. And because they knew such old tapes would have to be "baked" to deal with something called sticky-shed syndrome, Nafzger says they bought a vegetable dehydrator that could do the job.
The archivist at APL did find some 2-inch tapes in the right format from that time frame that had no labels.
But when Nafzger and Lebar played the tapes, they were blank. Were those the moonwalk tapes? They have no way to know — and those 2-inch tapes could still be out there, somewhere.
"It could be anything, including an employee having them in his house, " says Nafzger. At one point, following a tip, he and Lebar even considered going to a landfill where 2-inch tapes might have been dumped.
Nafzger says if anyone has any clue about their whereabouts, he'd love to get a phone call, even if it's at "3 a.m., you name it, " jokes Nafzger. "We'll be there and buy them a beer."
An exhaustive, three-year search for some tapes that contained the original footage of the Apollo 11 moonwalk has concluded that they were probably destroyed during a period when NASA was erasing old magnetic tapes and reusing them to record satellite data.
"We're all saddened that they're not there. We all wish we had 20-20 hindsight, " says Dick Nafzger, a TV specialist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who helped lead the search team.
"I don't think anyone in the NASA organization did anything wrong, " Nafzger says. "I think it slipped through the cracks, and nobody's happy about it."
NASA has, however, offered up a consolation prize for the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission — the agency has taken the best available broadcast television footage and contracted with a digital restoration firm to enhance it, so that the public can see the first moonwalk in more detail than ever before.
But the lost tapes mean that the world will probably never again see the original images beamed back to Earth by the lunar camera that is now resting on the moon's dusty Sea of Tranquility, right where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left it.