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Apollo 11 Mission TV Archive Mystery Unspools

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2006 07:49:52 -0400
Fwd Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2006 07:49:52 -0400
Subject: Apollo 11 Mission TV Archive Mystery Unspools

Source: Space.Com


13 August 2006

Tale Of The TV Tapes: Apollo 11 Mission Archive Mystery Unspools
By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer

Back in July 1969, the first moonwalks by Apollo 11's Neil
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are frozen forever moments in the
history books. But it turns out that millions of riveted
spectators back on Earth were on the receiving end of
substantially degraded television showing the epic event.

The highest-quality television signal from Apollo 11's touchdown
zone in the moon's Sea of Tranquility=97from an antenna mounted
atop the Eagle lunar lander=97was recorded on telemetry tapes at
three tracking stations on Earth: Goldstone in California and
Honeysuckle Creek and Parkes in Australia.

Scads of the tapes were produced =97 and now a search is on to
locate them. And if recovered and given a 21st century digital
makeover, they could yield a far sharper view of that momentous
day, compared to what was broadcast around the globe.

But Apollo 11 is a memory rewind=97now over 37 years old. Nobody
is quite sure just how much longer the original slow-scan tapes
will last - that is, if they haven't already been erased.

Handled and archived

"I would simply like to clarify that the tapes are not lost as
such, which implies they were badly handled, misplaced and are
now gone forever. That is not the case," explained John
Sarkissian, operations scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific
and Industrial Research Organization's (CSIRO) Parkes Radio
Observatory in Parkes, Australia.

Sarkissian said the tapes were appropriately handled and
archived in the mid 1970's after the hectic activity of the
Apollo lunar landing era was over. "We are confident that they
are stored at [NASA's] Goddard Space Flight Center [in
Greenbelt, Maryland] - we just don't know where precisely," he
told SPACE.com. It is important to note, Sarkissian added, that
there is no inference of wrong-doing, incompetence or negligence
on the part of NASA or its employees.

"The archiving of the tapes was simply a lower priority during
the Apollo era. It should be remembered, that at the time, NASA
was totally focused on meeting its goal of putting a man on the
Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No sooner had they
done that, than they had to repeat it again a few months later,
and then do it again, repeating it for a total of seven lunar
landing missions - including Apollo 13," Sarkissian pointed out.

Making it tough to track down the whereabouts of the data, many
of those involved in the archiving of the tapes have since moved
on, retired or passed away, "taking their corporate memory of
where the tapes are with them," Sarkissian said.

It is important not to exaggerate the quality of the images
being sought, Sarkissian added. "The SSTV was not like modern
high definition TV and nor was it even equal in quality to the
normal broadcast TV we are accustomed to viewing," he said.

Still, the SSTV was better than the scan-converted images that
were broadcast at the time =97 which is the only version currently
available, Sarkissian concluded.

Paper trail

A small independent group of Australian and U.S. Apollo tracking
station veterans have embarked on a new search for the Apollo 11

The group is hot on a cold paper trail regarding the location of
the data. They're also on the lookout for anyone involved in the
management, disposition and storage of the Apollo tapes at NASA
Goddard =97 or any other NASA or NASA - utilized facility where they
may have been shipped.

Technical spokesman for the group is Bill Wood, a retired Apollo
tracking station engineer in Barstow, California. He supported
all of the Apollo missions at Goldstone =96 part of NASA's
worldwide network of deep space antennas run by the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Wood hasn't been happy of late with some reports saying that
they are looking for "missing Apollo videotapes" =97 as well as
tabloid claims that NASA had somehow bungled a task.

"That's the furthest thing from the truth," Wood told SPACE.com.
"There are no lost Apollo video tapes," he emphasized.

Never-before-seen view

For the last three or four years, the private group has been
searching for special raw data recordings that contain
unconverted slow-scan television (SSTV), recorded as a backup in
case of an equipment glitch or a video circuit outage during the
historic moon strolls of Armstrong and Aldrin.

Since there were no problems converting the slow-scan signals to
National Television System Committee video standards, there was
no need to use the backup telemetry recordings. Hundreds of
boxes of Apollo-era magnetic tapes were subsequently shipped to
NASA Goddard, later to be likely turned over to the National
Record Center in Suitland, Maryland, Wood said.

Most of the Apollo tapes were later returned to NASA Goddard,
including the raw Apollo 11 SSTV tapes. However, what happened
to the tapes is not known. Because the SSTV was of superior
quality to the scan-converted pictures broadcast out to the
world at large, the hope is to recover them and give the public
a higher-quality, never-before-seen view of the first human
expedition sent to the Moon. Along with video, vintage Apollo 11
telemetry is also being sought.

Wood said he doubts the tapes have been trashed. On the other
hand, there's a 50/50 chance they were recycled.

"Since telemetry recording tapes back then cost $90 to $100 a
reel - well, that was back when a $100 dollars was a $100
dollars," Wood said. A magnetic rehab center at Goddard, he
said, may have wiped the tapes clean =97 a budget-saving measure
for reuse of the recording tapes.

"What we're hoping, though, is that somebody, maybe, might have
saved some of them," Wood added. "We want to interest people to
see something better than it happened at the time."

Range of formats

Meanwhile, at the Goddard Space Flight Center, the search is on.

"Hopefully, if we can find one set of tapes we can find them
all," said Dave Williams of the National Space Science Data
Center (NSSDC) at the NASA field center. "We still have some
possibilities we're looking into, so I'd say the tapes might be
found and depending on how they have been stored may well be
readable," he told SPACE.com.

Williams and several colleagues are engaged in the Lunar Data
Project =97 a different effort to take relevant, scientifically
important Apollo data archived at NSSDC=97analog data, microfilm,
microfiche, photographic film, or hard copy documents and
digitize that range of formats.

If the data were more readily available and usable in today's
data rich and readable world, restoring Apollo data could
provide a wealth of information for scientific studies and
planning for future lunar exploration.

Migration of data

"There's a lot of old data that we don't seem to have,"
suggested Philip Stooke, Associate Professor at the University
of Western Ontario's Department of Geography in London, Ontario,
Canada. "I think more Apollo-era science data is missing too."

Hard at work on an atlas of lunar exploration, Stooke told
SPACE.com that he was personally looking for images of the Moon
taken by Explorer 49, a NASA radio astronomy mission that
settled into lunar orbit in 1973. The probe carried a panoramic
camera to monitor the deployment of its booms.

"It seems that the science data were preserved - but not those
images," Stooke said.

The entire lunar data hide and seek saga that's alive and well
here in the U.S. is being repeated in Russia too. "I work with
people in Moscow who are trying to recover old lunar data,"
Stooke added.

The worry that old Apollo tapes can deteriorate is a valid
concern, Stooke said. "Migration of data to new media is
essential in digital archiving - and it's an ongoing problem."

What about the CD-ROMs of today? Are they going to be readable
in 50 years?

"Don't count on it," Stooke responded.

For details regarding the search for the Apollo 11 Slow-Scan
Television Tapes, cast your eyes on these sites:



[Thanks to 'The Norm' for the lead]