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Has NASA Found the Lost Moon Tapes? 222

Posted by timothy
from the don't-you-mean-the-b-roll? dept.
jra writes "For over 5 years, various people both inside and retired from NASA have been engaged in a quest. They were looking for the long-lost original slow-scan video tapes from the Apollo 11 moon landing, which went missing in a record-keeping snafu, covered in unreasonable detail in a Wired article a couple years ago. Well now, according to the UK's Sunday Express newspaper, some tapes may or may not have been found which may or may not be the Apollo video. Apparently — I love the British press — the NASA boffins are a bit put out that it leaked; they were hoping to blow everyone's minds with the scoop themselves."
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Has NASA Found the Lost Moon Tapes?

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  • FYI (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 28, 2009 @02:29PM (#28505777)

    The Sunday Express is hardly our fair isle's most reliable newspaper.

  • by dotancohen (1015143) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:02PM (#28506049) Homepage

    MALWARE WARNING! DO NOT CLICK ON PARENT'S LINKS!

    not yelling not yelling not yelling not yelling not yelling not yelling not yelling not yelling not yelling not yelling

  • Re:FYI (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dogtanian (588974) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:13PM (#28506157) Homepage
    Yes, if you read that one again, it refers to data tapes, not the original video footage recordings itself:-

    A last minute search instead has scientists in Western Australia dusting off several boxes of 'lost' NASA tapes which record surface conditions on the Moon just after Neil Armstrong stepped into space history on 21 July 1969.

    After addressing Earth, the American astronaut set up a package of scientific instruments, including a dust detector designed by an Australian physicist. The data collected by the detector was sent back to ground stations on Earth and recorded on magnetic tapes - copies of which are as rare as [i.e. not the same as] the 'misplaced' original video footage of the 1969 touchdown.

    Anyway, I was very happy when I first read this report. Having considered it again, the fact it's in the Sunday Express makes me slightly worried; although I don't believe that they'd fabricate something like this outright, it's possible that they might have got the facts wrong and/or overstated them. Plus

    If [my emphasis] the visual data can be retrieved, Nasa is set to reveal them to the world as a key plank of celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the landings next month.

    Hope it goes well.

    Either way, it's truly gobsmacking that NASA spent countless billions (in *1960s* money) on the moon mission and yet were so damn careless with their source data. For anyone who doesn't know the story and hasn't read the linked Wired article (and you should- for a Wired article, it's surprisingly informative), let me emphasise why this is such a big deal. The footage we see of the moon landings today is (supposedly) far inferior to the original video transmissions. On its reception, it was converted to NTSC (using primitive late-60s technology), then compressed further for transmission from Australia to to the US... and then finally, for archival, this was stored by pointing a 16mm film camera at a monitor.

    I can quite believe that the original footage would be much better quality.

    I mean, think about it- they lost the original, high-quality video footage of the first moon landing and we've had to rely on third- if not fourth- generation conversions.

    Unbelievable.

  • Re:Hope (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:15PM (#28506173) Homepage Journal

    It was sheer luck that the Americas happened to exist right about where Asia wasn't.

    If it wasn't, they'd probably just turn around, head back, and we'd never hear about it in history books. The crew was getting edgy near the end of the trip because they were running out of enough supplies to turn back without a shore-stop, but they kept seeing plant debris in the water that suggested shore was near. If not for the debris, they would probably have turned around a bit sooner and simply gave up, barely making it back before starving.

    Thus, they "mostly" knew what they were doing.
       

  • Re:Hope (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:31PM (#28506281) Homepage Journal

    If not for the debris, they would probably have turned around a bit sooner and simply gave up

    Ironically, Neal faced a similar decision. The computer was signaling an unknown overload and they were also running tight on landing fuel as he spotted some large boulders he wanted to avoid. He could have called to abort the mission, using the ascent engine to return to moon orbit. In fact, "abort" would have been the "right" decision in my opinion based on what was known at the time.

    He gambled that the computer was still returning useful info despite the overload[1], and that he could manage his way to a landing on short fuel. I remember him saying afterward that even if he ran out of fuel, he was close enough to the ground for a "bounce" landing while jetting around the boulders, and thus mostly ignored ground-control's warnings. (The main ground announcer even joked about ground control "turning blue" just after landing because of the late landing.)

    He was possibly thinking he might never get a second chance, and thus took on excessive risk.

    [1] (It turned out the computer was still sufficient despite the overload, but they didn't fully know it then because they didn't know the cause yet. The cause turned out to be an extra un-docking service that they accidentally left on that wasn't needed for landing.)
                   

  • Re:Hope (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @03:57PM (#28506495) Homepage Journal

    Joke aside, Armstrong had been through some rough times in other missions or tests, and that's probably why they selected him. The first was when a leak caused a Gemini (?) capsule to spin out of control. He was eventually able to bring it back under control despite enough G's to potentially pass out. The second was some kind of experimental moon lander that crashed in tests. He survived, and after being patched up, went right back to work as if nothing happened. This attitude got him the reputation for having nerves of steel. But I'm sure he understood that "bleep happens" after all that.
       

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 28, 2009 @04:02PM (#28506537)

    nobody was formerly responsible

    The word you are looking for is formally.

  • Re:FYI (Score:3, Informative)

    by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @04:44PM (#28506797)

    ...and then finally, for archival, this was stored by pointing a 16mm film camera at a monitor.

    No, that was for transmission, the second step in the chain after reception. The Apollo 11 camera had 10fps, and
    as there was no easy way to do real-time frame rate conversions in the 1960s, the solution was to point a camera at a
    display [wikipedia.org] at Honeysuckle Creek Station [wikipedia.org] in Australia.

    This filmed-from-a-display feed is the only source of Apollo 11 video we know today.

    The lost tapes supposedly contain a direct recording of the 10fps video stream from the lander.

  • by Fnordulicious (85996) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:12PM (#28507017) Homepage

    It happens because 'formerly' has a rhotacized schwa in the second syllable, and 'formally' has an unrhotacized schwa. Since the following syllable begins with an apical consonant that also includes velar articulation, the rhotacized schwa tends to lose its rhotacization due to anticipatory reduction. With this one feature lost, the two words become homophonous. In many (all?) non-rhotic dialects like Received Pronunciation, Australian English, etc., the two words are already homophonous.

  • Re:Hope (Score:2, Informative)

    by HonIsCool (720634) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:18PM (#28507061)
    Would work great as a cinematic piece, but the truth is that it was not Neil Armstrong that made such a decision. The 1202 and 1201 master alarms meant that the Apollo Guidance Computer was getting overloaded because the rendezvous radar was inadvertently left in the wrong setting. The master alarms shook everyone up seriously, but Steve Bales in mission control recognized that it was okay to go ahead and made that call.
  • by HonIsCool (720634) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:37PM (#28507171)
    Ok, it's too late and I'm right about to hit the sakc so I've no time to read up on things, but as far as I remember, there are already better versions of the Apollo 11 video footage than the popular one making the rounds. The missing tapes are the recordings of the raw signal from the spaceship. This is not NTSC and it takes a custom machine to read data off the tapes. This machine, if it still exists and is functioning, can playback the video and the better quality copies were made off of this screen. The live broadcast (and poor quality copy) was made in a different way that degraded the quality further. Even so, of course it's great if they found the recordings. If they dedicate to build a new tape machine they could even digitize the signals and process them which should make for the best quality version of course. Nevertheless, it's completely innane to think this has any bearing on any stupid conspiracy theory. There are already excellent video (well, excellent as far as the technology was capable of back then) from later missions, as well as 16mm film footage from the data acquisition cameras. This footage will still be superior to Apollo 11's, even with the best of reconstructions.
  • by Sockatume (732728) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:47PM (#28507229)

    NASA has yet to release a formal statement, but one of their spokespeople is describing the Sunday Express's article as "fiction" [twitter.com]. Whether this means the Apollo 11 tapes haven't actually been found, or the way they were found is completely made up, is anyone's guess, but it shows the risks of taking a tabloid newspaper's breakthrough discovery which doesn't name any of its sources at face value.

  • Story's false (Score:5, Informative)

    by Captain Nitpick (16515) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @08:31PM (#28508349)

    Bob Jacobs [linkedin.com], the deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at NASA, says the story's fiction [twitter.com].

    (via Phil Plait [discovermagazine.com])

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Monday June 29, 2009 @06:30AM (#28511919)
    Browsing at +2 helps me filter out all of the racist / pornographic trolling which sets off the word filter where I work.

    I'd love to help by meta-moderating, but I can't afford the risk. Until /. gets a better filter for spam comments, I'm staying well into the high mod bracket.

"The algorithm to do that is extremely nasty. You might want to mug someone with it." -- M. Devine, Computer Science 340

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