WASHINGTON, 16 August 2006: NASA no longer knows the whereabouts of the original tapes of man’s first landing on the Moon nearly 40 years ago, an official of the U.S. space agency said on Tuesday.
“NASA is searching for the original tapes of the Apollo 11 spacewalk on July 21, 1969,” said Ed Campion, a spokesman for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, a Washington suburb.
The tapes record the famous declaration of Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, as he set foot on its surface: “That’s one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.”
The original tapes could be somewhere at the Goddard centre or in the archives network of the American space agency, Campion said.
The search for the tapes began about a year and a half ago when the Goddard Space Flight Centre’s authorities realised they no longer knew where they were after retired employees asked to consult them.
Armstrong, the first human to walk on the Moon, was the commander of the first U.S. lunar mission aboard the Apollo 11 capsule, with astronauts Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, the latter of whom is also a member of the COSMOS Editorial Advisory Board.
Armstrong’s landing on the Moon’s surface on 21 July 1969, was watched live by millions of television viewers worldwide.
The original tapes of the Apollo 11 mission were recorded at three tracking stations: Goldstone in California and, in Australia, by Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and Parkes Observatory in New South Wales state.
They were then sent to the Goddard Space Flight Centre, which transferred them to the National Archives in late 1969. Later, NASA asked to recover the tapes and that is where the trace disappeared.
“A search is being planned, aimed at finding what happened to the Goddard-recalled Apollo 11 mission data tapes,” Campion said.
The search effort involves sifting through 30-year old records and contacting retired Goddard personnel, he added.
The task is challenging. Richard Nafzger, a Goddard engineer, said there were 2,612 boxes of tapes that NASA believes are related to the space missions, including the Apollo 11 mission. The boxes were returned to the space agency between 1970 and 1975.
With about five tapes in each box, “you are talking 10,000 to 13,000 tapes in the boxes,” Nafzger said in a teleconference.
The data tapes included one track for video images and other tracks of information like the astronauts’ heartbeat, voice and biomedical tracking data, he said.
“We are tracking paperwork to see if it’s in a storage facility outside of Goddard, possibly at Goddard,” the engineer said.