The Lost NASA Lunar Image Tapes
Restored Apollo 11 Moonwalk Video
Hello My Friends,
I found this interesting article I would like to share with you.
Those of you who were around during the NASA Apollo Moon Missions
and remember the technology in use during those times, this article may
be of interest to you and bring back some old memories.
Regards, Elvin Baker
The lost NASA tapes: Restoring lunar images after 40 years in the vault
Computerworld Thursday, July 09, 2009 8:32:33 PM by Lamont Wood
A Mac Pro and 40-year-old tape drives are helping restore the original
Lunar Orbiter tapes.
Computerworld - Liquid nitrogen, vegetable steamers, Macintosh workstations
and old, refrigerator size tape drives. These are just some of the tools a
new breed of Space Age archeologists is using to sift through the digital
debris from the early days of NASA, mining the information in ways
unimaginable when it was first gathered four decades ago.
At stake is data that could show Earth's risk of an asteroid strike, shed
light on global warming and -- perhaps -- even satisfy those who think the
moon landings were a hoax.
The most visible of the archeologists is arguably Dennis Wingo, head of
Skycorp Inc., a small aerospace engineering firm in Huntsville, Ala. He's
the driving force behind the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project,
operating out of a decommissioned McDonald's (since dubbed McMoon's) at
NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The project's goal is
to recover and enhance as many of the original lunar landing images as
Between 1966 and 1967, five unmanned probes were sent into lunar orbit to
map possible landing sites within the moon's equatorial regions at
one-meter resolution and to map the rest of the surface at a resolution of
40 meters or better, Wingo explains. Those probes, known as Lunar Orbiters,
sent back about 1,800 images that modern technology should be able to
The project's great scientific value to NASA is in enabling a comparison
between the lunar surface as mapped by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter,
launched on June 18, with the lunar surface as it appeared 43 years ago,
according to Wingo. The goal is to "get a fix on how many meteor impacts
have occurred in the meantime," by cataloging the new craters.
"If we know the changes, we can establish the risk of working on the moon
and even determine the small-body asteroid population of the inner solar
system," Wingo says. Another valuable contribution: the ability to plot the
possible risk to Earth of the impact of an asteroid.
The original black-and-white images were shot on 70mm film that was
automatically developed and scanned within the robot spacecraft. The signal
from the scanner was sent to Earth and was then displayed as partial frames
on a monitor. Each monitor image was then captured with a film camera.
These pictures were fit together, and then another picture was taken of the
finished mosaic. Each step imposed a certain amount of image degradation.
The resulting Lunar Orbiter images are the basis of a digital lunar atlas.
But Wingo figured that if he could process the tapes of the original
signals, he could improve the dynamic range of the images by a factor of
four, revealing far more surface features.
Although this theory has proved correct, the path has been challenging.
Wingo first had to acquire the tapes, then reconstruct drives to read them
and finally perform the actual processing.
It turns out that the original 2-in. tapes were available. Around 1986,
NASA archivist Nancy Evans, who is now retired, was contacted by a federal
records center asking what to do with them. Feeling that the data should
not be discarded, she persuaded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in
Pasadena, Calif., to put them into climate-controlled storage.
However, the tapes were useless without compatible tape drives -- in this
case, analog Ampex FR-900 reel-to-reel units. Weighing half a ton and
resembling refrigerators, the drives were formerly used by the U.S. Air
Force to record radar data but have not been manufactured since 1975.
"There were probably thousands of them at one time, but as the radar
stations refitted with new drives, most [of the old ones] were dumped in
the ocean to make coral reefs," Evans says. There are "thousands" of the
old drives off Kwajalein -- an atoll that's part of the Marshall Islands --
and Florida, she says.
She finally got a call from an Air Force base that had four of the old
drives. She stored them, along with documentation and spare parts, at her
home in Sun Valley, Calif., and tried to get funding to restore the tapes.
None was forthcoming, so the machines gathered dust for two decades.
By 2006, the tapes -- still in JPL storage -- fell under a new NASA edict
that no planetary data should ever be destroyed, Evans explains. However,
by then she needed the storage area occupied by the tape drives for the
veterinarian practice she and her daughter maintained. In an effort to
preserve the drives, she submitted a white paper about the tapes and drives
at a Lunar and Planetary Institute conference. After seeing the white paper
in a blog post, Wingo contacted her and arranged to have the drives, and
later the tapes, transported to Ames in rented trucks.
Then Wingo obtained a grant of $250,000 from NASA to get started. His
largely volunteer crew was able to restore two of the drives using pieces
from the other two, plus off-the-shelf parts and additional components that
had to be custom-made.
"We had to pay big bucks to get the bearings replaced, the motors rebuilt
and rubber parts cast. We had to dip the motors in liquid nitrogen to get
the bearings off," he recalls.
So far, all the tapes have proved usable. The data is read into a
quad-processor Macintosh Pro workstation with 13GB of RAM and 4TB of
storage. Data acquisition is done through a PCI Express card from Canadian
firm AlazarTech that can read 180 million samples per second, although only
10 million are needed, Wingo says.
After capture, the images are processed with Adobe Photoshop and Igor Pro
analysis software from WaveMetrics Inc. But the new plan is to move to a
custom application written in C, largely because of its ability to take
advantage of Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). With Igor Pro and Photoshop,
processing takes an hour for a high-resolution image and 20 minutes for a
medium-resolution image. But after the switch to the C program, processing
with the Snow Leopard version should be almost immediate, based on the
testing that's been conducted, Wingo says.
With an additional $600,000 budget, Wingo hopes to have all the files
processed by February, producing a moon atlas with a resolution higher than
anything previously seen. Most of this new funding is again from NASA, with
about 10% from private donors.
However, Wingo's "deliverable" to NASA is not the images themselves, but
the raw data extracted from the tapes. "They would rather have the raw data
so that someone even a thousand years from now could do their own
processing," he says.
The lost Apollo 11 tapes
The NASA edict against data destruction was issued after the space agency's
2006 admission that it couldn't locate the original tapes of the Apollo 11
live slow-scan TV broadcast from the moon. The agency then initiated a
search for the tapes, which remains ongoing, as is the Internet furor the
admission generated among conspiracy theorists, who believe the landings
The data is assumed to be on 1-in. tapes, but, based on period photos,
Wingo thinks they should be on 2-in. tapes like the Lunar Orbiter data. He
is conducting his own search.
Begging to differ is Richard Nafzger, senior engineer at the Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who's been working for NASA since 1968 and
was involved in television support and voice communications for the Apollo
"Despite how old you get, there are certain things you don't forget, and we
recorded all slow-scan images on 1-in. tapes that were 15 in. in diameter,
and I have spent the last three years tracking them," he says. "I am
certain that there was no slow-scan ever recorded on the Ampex 900." The
video feed was one of 12 tracks of telemetry that were recorded on each
tape, Nafzger explains.
Due to the low wattage of the transmitter on the lunar lander, they had
only 500 kHz bandwidth to use for video, as opposed to the 4.5 MHz that was
standard at the time for broadcast analog TV. So NASA used a slow-scan,
black-and-white transmission at 10 frames per second with 320 lines per
screen, Nafzger says. U.S. broadcast TV used 30 frames per second with 525
lines per screen. The conversion was made at each ground site with a device
that basically pointed a broadcast TV camera at a special monitor
displaying the slow-scan image.
The slow-scan monitor had persistent phosphor to make up for the slower
scan rate, and as a result the movement of the astronauts looked ghostly
and jerky, he explains. (Later moon landings used a more conventional TV
The Apollo 11 TV signal was captured at NASA ground stations with 85-foot
antennas in Spain, Australia and the Mojave Desert. NASA also borrowed a
210-foot radio astronomy antenna in Australia for the occasion. The signals
were converted to broadcast format on-site and sent to Houston for
redistribution to the TV networks. Both the slow-scan feed and the
broadcast format were recorded on-site in case the live broadcast failed.
The converted signals were routed through a single point in Houston so that
NASA could cut off the signal if there were an "incident," Nafzger explains.
But that was the least of his worries.
"The night we landed and did the moonwalk, that is when I became scared,"
he recalls. Before that point, there hadn't been as much pressure to
broadcast the proceedings in real time. But after the safe landing, "they
were saying that they had better be able to see this on TV, and 600 million
people were watching. Something as simple as plugging a wrong patch or
pushing a wrong button would mean that no one would see it," Nafzger says.
Indeed, the camera had been installed on the lander upside down, Nafzger
recalls. The TV technicians heard of this at the last minute and scrambled
to install converters at the ground stations. The first few seconds of
broadcast were upside down because the operator at the Mojave Desert ground
station who understood the converter had left for the day, Nafzger recalls.
If the original tapes could be found, he estimates that they would appear
three times clearer than the broadcast images. "Taking the clean data and
extracting it in a digital high-definition format would let you go
frame-by-frame and remove the noise, smearing, contrast problems and other
things that were man-made, mostly by the original conversion. The tapes are
worth getting just for that reason -- absolutely," Nafzger says.
He and others have been trying to do just that. But NASA has had at least
220,000 tapes of that variety in storage at some time, of which only about
15 might be the lost Apollo 11 tapes, he notes.
"We have gone through landfills on the tops of mountains. I have looked
through rooms the size of two or three football fields, filled with rows of
shelves going up 30 feet, and we have looked on every shelf that might
contain the right tapes," Nafzger says. Tapes that were suspected of being
the right ones were heated for hours in dry vegetable steamers to make sure
the oxide was fixed to the substrate before Nafzger's team attempted to
read them. Goddard has preserved the necessary 1-in. tape drives, so
Nafzger did not have the refurbishing task that Wingo faced.
Nafzger is currently preparing a report on the results of the search and
cannot discuss them until NASA releases the report, the date of which is
uncertain. "But since I am not running down the street waving a flag and
shouting 'Eureka!' you can draw your own conclusions. The big picture is
that there is an explanation for everything," he says.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Karen Person, head of the Renaissance
Entertainment & Media Group, is not waiting for Nafzger's results. She says
she has acquired one of the original 2-in. NASA recordings of the broadcast
video and is using it as the basis of a documentary titled July Moon, which
she hopes to have in theaters for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing
on July 20. The video has been transferred to MPEG-4 format and parts have
been enhanced, she says.
"They are about 200% clearer than anything you would have seen, and Walter
Cronkite is not talking over them," she says. In fact, she showed clips to
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and, according to her, he said he saw
things that he had not previously remembered.
She claims she procured the tapes -- for an amount she would not disclose
-- from a man who bought them at a government surplus property auction in
1976 while he was a NASA engineering intern. He reportedly paid $217.77 for
a batch of 1,150 assorted tapes.
For his part, Wingo has received a grant from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration to locate early Nimbus weather satellite tapes.
Data from the satellites, first launched in 1964, was stored on tapes like
those used with the Lunar Orbiters.
"Those images would push our knowledge of Arctic and Antarctic ice packs 14
years further into the past," he says.
Lamont Wood is a freelance writer in San Antonio. He can be reached at
I didn't have enough space available in the excerpt to mention that Dennis
Wingo got a grant from NOAA to restore data from Nimbus weather satellites
launched in the 1960's. Below is a quote from the Moonviews website that
doesn't affect the excerpt limit for the Computerworld article.
We have been contacted by Dave Gallaher of the National Snow and Ice
science data center in Boulder Colorado concerning our work to line up the
scan lines of our images. The early Nimbus prototype climate spacecraft
used a method similar to our own to record and reconstruct images. If the
Snow and Ice Data Center can reconstruct the Nimbus images from the 1960's
this will push our satellite based polar icecap information from 1979 back
another 13 years, providing a significant increase in the quality of
There is a possibility that the Nimbus spacecraft imaged the polar regions
of the earth on the exact same day and near the same time as our now famous
lunar orbiter image of the Earth as seen from the Moon. We have one image
from them that is only a couple of weeks older than the August 23, 1966
image of the Earth that we have reconstructed. If the Snow and Ice Center
has an image from the same day, the possibility exists to generate a global
cloud cover image of the earth from that day, which would be the oldest
image of this type. This will have a value to the science community as the
mid 1960's was the depth of a global cooling climate interlude that is very
sparsely known from the remote sensing and climate science perspective.
BTW, Wingo is a big time global warming skeptic.
NASA RELEASES RESTORED APOLLO 11 MOONWALK VIDEO
Article contributed by Larry Hare
WASHINGTON -- NASA released Thursday (July 16, 2009) newly restored video from the July 20, 1969, live television broadcast of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. The release commemorates the 40th anniversary of the first mission to land astronauts on the moon.
The initial video release, part of a larger Apollo 11 moonwalk restoration project, features 15 key moments from the historic lunar excursion of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
A team of Apollo-era engineers who helped produce the 1969 live broadcast of the moonwalk acquired the best of the broadcast-format video from a variety of sources for the restoration effort. These included a copy of a tape recorded at NASA's Sydney, Australia, video switching center, where down-linked television from Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek was received for transmission to the U.S.; original broadcast tapes from the CBS News Archive recorded via direct microwave and landline feeds from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston; and kinescopes found in film vaults at Johnson that had not been viewed for 36 years.
"The restoration is ongoing and may produce even better video," said Richard Nafzger, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who oversaw television processing at the ground tracking sites during Apollo 11. "The restoration project is scheduled to be completed in September and will provide the public, future historians, and the National Archives with the highest quality video of this historic event."
NASA contracted with Lowry Digital of Burbank, Calif., which specializes in restoring aging Hollywood films and video, to take the highest quality video available from these recordings, select the best for digitization, and significantly enhance the video using the company's proprietary software technology and other restoration techniques.
Under the initial effort, Lowry restored 15 scenes representing the most significant moments of the three and a half hours that Armstrong and Aldrin spent on the lunar surface. NASA released the video Thursday at a news conference at the Newseum in Washington.
On July 20, 1969, as Armstrong made the short step off the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module onto the powdery lunar surface, a global community of hundreds of millions of people witnessed one of humankind's most remarkable achievements live on television.
The black and white images of Armstrong and Aldrin bounding around the moon were provided by a single small video camera aboard the lunar module. The camera used a non-standard scan format that commercial television could not broadcast.
NASA used a scan converter to optically and electronically adapt these images to a standard U.S. broadcast TV signal. The tracking stations converted the signals and transmitted them using microwave links, Intelsat communications satellites, and AT&T analog landlines to Mission Control in Houston. By the time the images appeared on international television, they were substantially degraded.
At tracking stations in Australia and the United States, engineers recorded data beamed to Earth from the lunar module onto one-inch telemetry tapes. The tapes were recorded as a backup if the live transmission failed or if the Apollo Project needed the data later. Each tape contained 14 tracks of data, including bio-medical, voice, and other information; one channel was reserved for video.
A three-year search for these original telemetry tapes was unsuccessful. A final report on the investigation is expected to be completed in the near future and will be publicly released at that time.
NASA Television will provide an HD video feed of the Apollo footage hourly from 12 - 7 p.m. on July 16 and 17. Each feed is one hour. For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit:
A copy of the newly restored scenes from the Apollo 11 restoration effort can be found at:
NASA's Apollo 40th anniversary Web sites provide easy access to various agency resources and multimedia about the program and the history of human spaceflight, including a gallery of Apollo multimedia features. Visit the site at:
Late Notes from Steve Wooden
August 14, 2012
1. From mid 1967 until I left MILA, I worked in Recorders section of Telemetry Decomm, all part of DATA. We recorded slow scan TV from Apollo spacecraft on a fairly standard one inch tape recorder of the time. It, as was mentioned in the History section, was just one of the tracks on a multi-track telemetry recorder.
The Video recorders (Ampex FR900) were installed in the RF rooms and recorded on 2 inch tape. Oddly enough, even though color TV was available commercially at the time, NASA had not required that the downlinked video either regular TV quality or Slo-Scan TV to be in color. I do not believe that they installed color cameras aboard the Apollo until later missions. We marvelled at that idea in 1967-68.
This shows the evolution of technology was an ongoing process even during the ten year span of the Apollo main effort which culminated in the success of Apollo 11.
If some of us really ambitious tinkerers had had our way, we would have improved on the methodology used with the equipment we already had. It had already been proved that a home tape recorder could record signals from TV cameras and signal processing techniques were still being developed to improve recording and playback even in the late 1960's.
In late 1968, I left BFEC MILA Tracking Station to go to ITT Federal Electric on KSC. ( a move physically East about 2-3 miles).When employed by ITT FEC, I worked on the Apollo 11 launchpad right up to and including the launch. During the launch we operated RF receiving and recording equipment 2 miles from the pad.
2. As I remember, after only about 44 years, I had to transmit the slo-scan tv to Houston over data modems which transmitted on cable from Florida (MILA station) to Houston.
The tv was used to Frequency modulate a carrier frequency which was mixed with other carriers and transmitted as FM/FM .
We all had headsets on and had to participate in launches and post and prelaunch conference calls with all the worldwide stations. I was, when I was on duty," MILA RECORDERS". We had quite frequently to talk with the astronauts either in orbit, or on the ground because they took up postions in the network during operations and flew to network stations where ever they were needed.
So, if Houston called us and required that we transmit a telemetry tape or a slo-scan tv tape, then we did.
Also, I identified with the guy rebuilding old tape drives (trying to find parts.)because we literally wore them out using them constantly. We were able to get bearings for the capstan drive motors in downtown Cocoa at an electric motor rewinding shop We would rebuild the motor and use it even if a little degraded signal to noise ratio was experienced because the manufacturer and the MSFN supply system let us down. They had NO SPARE MOTORS for a worldwide network of recorders. We had at least six machines at MILA.
Stations around the world would ship motors to us to rebuild cause they had no spare parts. Imagine that ? NASA and BFEC ( who managed the logistics chain) were not too eager for that news to leak.
3. The time period including the Apollo project were some of the most exciting and interesting years of my life.The fact that I worked for Bendix BFEC for some of these years helped me to realize what a great and impressive organization Bendix had created.
Many of the folks with whom I worked are gone forever but their memories are with us. That is why I share some of mine with you because you thru your website keep these memories fresh.
With people denying the fact that men did walk on the moon, the kids of today take for granted the technology that we helped invent, develop and perfect. You better believe that working in the mainstream of high tech electronics helped me to have the best home high fidelity stereo system available. (And I did not buy all of the components, I designed and built some of them.)