NASA Lost What?

These days, almost anything that happens has a good chance of being recorded on a video camera, especially with so many camera phones in so many hands. And it's just as likely that something special caught on video will make its way onto the Internet or circulate amongst the countless TV shows dedicated to everything from police chases to celebrity bloopers. With the exception of hard news, almost all of these recordings are trivial and could easily be allowed to disappear from the world of multimedia altogether. So when you hear that the original videotapes of one of the most important moments in human history have gone missing, you have to hang your head in wonder.

According to Reuters, the American space agency has lost the original tapes of the first walk on the moon. A spokesman for NASA told the news agency yesterday that the tapes of the famous first step onto another celestial surface, along with hundreds of other recordings of the Apollo 11 mission, can not be found after an extensive search for them.

"We haven't seen them for quite a while. We've been looking for over a year and they haven't turned up," spokesman Grey Hautaloma said. He quickly added that the space agency has copies of the recordings and that they were still looking for the originals. "I wouldn't say we're worried—we've got all the data. Everything on the tapes we have in one form or another."

As a product of the technology of the late 1960s, the Apollo 11 tapes are curiosities of a sort. NASA's video equipment was custom-made for its purposes. Incompatible with the standard gear used by the TV broadcasters, the live pictures of Neil Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind" on 20 July 1969 had to be shown on the mission control display screen and then re-shot by a conventional TV camera for broadcast to the public, causing those images to be degraded. The original tapes, if still in good condition, could be useful in producing an enhanced version of the historic imagery.

When last seen, the magnetic tapes had been transferred from the U.S. National Archives (where they probably should be kept) to a NASA facility sometime in the late 1970s. "We're looking for paperwork to see where they last were," Hautaloma told Reuters.

Maybe they should check in that big warehouse in the last scene of Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," where everything else important seems to be kept by the government. For heaven's sake.

[Update 1 (16 August): "NASA puts a rocket up to hunt for missing moonwalk tape" from Sydney Morning Herald.]

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