The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site --Now Seen in Unprecedented Detail
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March 14, 2012

The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site --Now Seen in Unprecedented Detail

 

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The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera snapped its best look yet of the Apollo 11 landing site on the moon. The image, which was released on March 7, 2012, even shows the remnants of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's historic first steps on the surface around the Lunar Module.This image of the Apollo 11 landing site captured from just 24 km (15 miles) above the surface provides LRO's best look yet at humanity’s first venture to another world. 

When Neil Armstrong took his famous first steps onto the lunar surface, he kicked around the soil. “Yes, the surface is fine and powdery.” Gazing at the flat horizon, he took in the view. “Isn’t that something! Magnificent sight out here.” After collecting a contingency sample Neil looked around and observed, "it has a stark beauty all its own. It's like much of the high desert of the United States. It's different, but it's very pretty out here." A few minutes later Buzz Aldrin descended the ladder and joined Neil on the surface of the Moon!

You can see the remnants of their first steps as dark regions around the Lunar Module (LM) and in dark tracks that lead to the scientific experiments the astronauts set up on the surface. The Passive Seismic Experiment Package (PSEP) provided the first lunar seismic data, returning data for three weeks after the astronauts left, and the Laser Ranging RetroReflector (LRRR) allows precise measurements to be collected to this day. You can even spot the discarded cover of the LRRR.

Another trail leads toward Little West crater around 50 meters (164 feet) to the east of the LM. This was an unplanned excursion near the end of the two and a half hours spent on the surface. Armstrong ran over to get a look inside the crater, and this was the farthest either astronaut ventured from the landing site. Compared to Apollo 12 and 14, which allowed for more time on the surface, and Apollo 15, 16, and 17, which had the benefit of a Lunar Roving Vehicle, Armstrong and Aldrin's surface activities were quite restricted. Their tracks cover less area than a typical city block.

Not only was the landscape a place of "stark beauty", but also the source of rocks that revealed the Moon’s fiery past for the first time. The samples showed that the Apollo 11 landing site in Mare Tranquillitatis was once the site of volcanic activity, and the flat surface that afforded such an incredible vista was due to broad, thin flows of lava that flooded the region.

After the camera recorded the Apollo 11 astronauts' descent onto the moon's surface, they placed it on the moon to record their other activities, beaming images back to Earth by the lunar camera that is still resting on the moon's dusty Sea of Tranquility, right where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left it. Following NPR's reports in 2006 that the video tapes were missing , NASA began a massive search to find the tapes from the lunar camera.

That special lunar camera recorded in an odd format that was incompatible with the format used for broadcast TV. So when the footage was received on Earth back in July of 1969, it had to be converted for the live television broadcast, which degraded the images, and hundreds of millions of TV viewers saw dark, murky pictures.

Those pictures were still thrilling — after all, it was "Live from the Moon!" and a human was walking on another celestial body for the very first time — but some experts knew that the lunar camera was capable of doing better.

Soon after Stan Lebar, who worked at the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and led the team that designed and built the lunar cameras, and colleague Dick Nafzger concluded that the 1-inch magnetic tapes with the original Apollo 11 footage had probably been destroyed, a surprise discovery gave them renewed hope.

"We had hundreds and hundreds of leads coming to us during this period," says Lebar. "Every one of them was investigated."

Old documents were discovered revealed that, unbeknownst to Lebar and Nafzger, the lunar camera's signals had also been recorded on a couple of 2-inch tapes by an experimental program run by the Applied Physics Laboratory near Baltimore. 

"This was like a miracle out of nowhere," recalls Lebar in an interview with NPR. "That opened up a whole new search for us with the possibility that maybe this was the savior that we were looking for." 

Lebar and others spent hours and hours in a vast government storage facility known as the Washington National Records Center, a place that Lebar compares to the giant warehouse at the end of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. The team tracked down a former APL employee who confirmed that he'd recorded the moonwalk in 1969 and remembered having those tapes at APL. They obtained a vintage device that could play these tapes, in case they were found. Later, the archivist at APL did find some 2-inch tapes in the right format from that time frame that had no labels. But when Nafzger and Lebar played what they thought were the moonwalk tapes, they were blank, void of content.

The search wasn't limited to that one place — the searchers went everywhere from storage businesses to private homes. They pored through logbooks, memos and all kinds of 40-year-old handwritten records.
The mystery of the missing 2-inch moonwalk tapes loomed ever larger. Were they out there, somewhere, or gone, destroyed for eternity. And Why?

 

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The exhaustive, three-year search for the tapes that contained the original footage of the Apollo 11 moonwalk arrived at the plausible conclusion that they were probably destroyed during a period when NASA was erasing old magnetic tapes and reusing them to record satellite data. It turns out that new satellites had gone up and were producing a lot of data that needed to be recorded.

"These satellites were suddenly using tapes seven days a week, 24 hours a day," says Lebar.The agency was experiencing a critical shortage of magnetic tapes. So NASA started erasing old ones and reusing them."We're all saddened that they're not there. We all wish we had 20-20 hindsight," says Dick Nafzger, now a TV specialist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who helped lead the search team.

"I don't think anyone in the NASA organization did anything wrong," Nafzger says. "I think it slipped through the cracks, and nobody's happy about it."

"So I don't believe that the tapes exist today at all," says Lebar. "It was a hard thing to accept. But there was just an overwhelming amount of evidence that led us to believe that they just don't exist anymore. And you have to accept reality."

NASA has, however, offered up a consolation prize for the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission — the agency has taken the best available broadcast television footage and contracted with a digital restoration firm to enhance it, so that the public can see the first moonwalk in more detail than ever before.

For more LRO images at Arizona State University click here 

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The Daily Galaxy via lroc.sese.asu.edu and nasa.gov

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Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University 

Comments

Wow, erased tapes of the moon landing...It makes you wonder what information is on the satellite tapes !!

I don't get it. They left the Lunar Module on the Moon? That's a long walk back ;)
That doesn't really look like a camera from here either.

The bottom half of the LM was left on the Moon because it was used as the launching pad for the top half:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOGT9TBPYRU&feature=related

Thanks Mark, how could anyone forget the footage from TV? Ya , anyways, Erased tapes my behind!

I'm just wondering how much of the tax payers dollars were wasted on this, it interesting no doubt, but why, there so many things wrong with this country,poor economy, failing infrastructure of many cities, health reform etc.... the list goes on, i'm wondering if you have info on the cost of reparethis worthless research project, bottom line our goverment know something we don't, are we be prepared for something a little more ALIEN to us......

If you believe that moon landing happened, I have a bridge to sell you.

Wow that really is amazing, the astronauts even left one of their big old shadows behind in the picture! Imagine that.

The ROFL-Copters are flying low tonight.

For all those who find no benefit in our space programs, I have but one thing to say. Could you kindly discard all the things which have be brought about because of the work which was done for it to happen ? How about that cell phone, and the computer you are using? While your at it stop using your car, it has a computer and likely a GPS system ? Then there is your digital TV, which is connected to either a cable or a satillite system. The list is longer than most people can immagine, but you get my drift.

So, where are all the stars?

I'm just wondering how much of the tax payers dollars were wasted on this,
Really? You don't think that trying to recapture something of the excitement and drama of the only truly important thing humanity has managed to do - the only thing that would make a visiting other species see that we could do something towards long term survival - might have some value? Like for example getting kids interested enough in science and engineering to be able to do something else big and important?
The really valuable product of Mercury/Gemini/Apollo was the couple of hundred thousand highly skilled scientists and engineers that went on to make the modern world

I was in Vietnam when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I listened to it live on radio, but we could not get the tv coverage. But, the Navy guys taped it for us in Guam and flew it to us ASAP. I was up all that night watching the film on Armed Forces tv. So.... I'm wondering if maybe those tapes still exist somewhere. Maybe still in Vietnam.

A Tech took the tapes home.

I have no doubt the moon missions happened. I have no doubt the vast majority of the photos were faked though for whatever reason - could be technological/operator problems but the fact is they were faked. It's time to tell the American public who funded the missions the truth.

Faked photos? Faked moon landings? The only thing that is really fake is the intelligence of an astonishing number of people that would rather embrace conspiracy than the obvious. These people are just not smart enough to catch a glimpse their own idiocy, but blather on and on and on and . . . . . . . .


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