Monday, August 14, 2006

One Small Step...

The original recordings of the first moon landing -- including the famous "one small step for a man..." leap from Neil Armstrong, have gone missing. Apparently for more than a year. Iniitially, they were stored in the National Archives, but returned to NASA in the late 70s. They've been looking for them for over a year, and no sign of them has turned up.
The U.S. government has misplaced the original recording of the first moon landing, including astronaut Neil Armstrong's famous "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," a NASA spokesman said on Monday

Armstrong's famous space walk, seen by millions of viewers on July 20, 1969, is among transmissions that NASA has failed to turn up in a year of searching, spokesman Grey Hautaloma said
Not that they'd be playable, anyways. Like old movie reels, the film has degraded and would be unusable, unless the films had been stored very carefully. Mostly, it sounds ike they were stuck on a shelf and then misplaced. Oh, there are copies galore, but the originals have gone missing, perhaps permanently. Even though we haven't lost the iconic images and video (there are versions on NASA's website for download), losing the originals still is a loss.

Everyone remembers the grainy, black-and-white images of Neil Armstrong bounding like a kangaroo on the dusty moon surface, the stiff flag -- whether you saw them on TV "live" or if you saw them as archive footage much later. I was about three when they landed on the moon, and while I might have convinced myself that I remember them on television, I'm sure what I really remember is a much-later viewing in science class or part of a documentary.

But, one thing I didn't know was that the view we were used to was actually a film of the original recordings as displayed on a monitor:
Because NASA's equipment was not compatible with TV technology of the day, the original transmissions had to be displayed on a monitor and re-shot by a TV camera for broadcast
I compare those gray and murky shots with the crystal clear images from the latest Discovery mission and I am reminded once again that they got men to the moon the first time with the computing equivalent of a sophisticated Palm Pilot. My desktop computer probably rivals the computing power available to Mission Control when they first "slipped the surly bonds of earth."


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