Fast Company

Restored Apollo 11 Moonwalk Video Looks Good—Could Be Better [Updated]

NASA's getting into the swing of celebrating 40 years since Armstrong and Aldrin strolled on the Moon, and the latest party piece is some restored TV footage of those famous moments. It's all very nice, but we must do better next time.

NASA's been busy on the project for a little while, working with Lowry Digital--experts in digital image processing--to tackle the video tapes of the incredibly historic first moonwalk on July 20, 1969. The job is a big one, and obviously needs to be done with maximum care and attention, so it's not due to be finished until the fall.

But July 20, 2009 is only four days away, so NASA's released a sneak peek of the project as a handful of the most interesting clips, including Neil Armstrong stepping off the Lunar Excursion Module's footpad onto the Moon's regolith and uttering some of the most famous words ever.

There's also some tape of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin erecting the stars and stripes. And before you go all conspiracy theory on me, yes I know it's fluttering, and there's no wind on the Moon...but it's all down to kinetic and elastic energy, momentum and a lack of atmospheric drag. Physics, people--it's a useful tool.

Interesting as this all is, there's a serious side to this news. This footage nearly didn't make it to the public's eye--the original data tapes were once feared by NASA to have been recorded over in the 1980s to make way for new data due to cash cutbacks, though now they're merely thought to be lost. That's a sign that complaining about NASA's big-sounding, but actually miniscule (in the overall scheme of things) budget is crazy--this organization needs to be funded. And it's a sign that when we return to the Moon in just about a decade, we should do things a little better. There should be high-res footage possibly in 3-D, helmet cam feeds, live Webcasts, live public Q&A sessions with the chaps on the Moon and more goodness like this. If all of mankind could get excited about those grainy black and white images in the 1960s, think how exciting the 21st Century's televisual and Internet-access lunar experience could be. And someone, somewhere, should keep the master copies safe.

Update: NASA's just come clean on the issue of the original data recordings of the moonwalks. Turns out they aren't lost, at least not physically. They were in fact part of a batch of 200,000 that were magnetically erased and re-used to save money. Tragic as that is, NASA's making light of it by noting that the restored broadcast recordings are actually better than finding those originals would have been. Maybe the space agency can prevent it happening in the future by getting a seven year-old to teach them how to program a VCR?

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