Erroneous newspaper report garners publicity for Moon landing tapes

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Monday, August 14, 2006

On August 5, Wikinews published an article, Apollo Moon landings tapes reported missing, based on a report in The Sydney Morning Herald. As highlighted in the prominent correction notice at the top of that article, several issues were present with the article.

Citing a letter to the Herald, a member of the team involved in the search for the missing tapes, Bill Wood, described their article as "great disservice to a group of Australian and US Apollo tracking station veterans involved in a new search for better Apollo 11 EVA images.".

Mr. Wood pointed out that one of the tracking stations that these tapes had been recorded at was hosting a detailed description of the process Earth-side. Written by John Sarkissian of the CSIRO Parkes Observatory it gave a fascinating glimpse into what was done to show the world Neil Armstong stepping onto the Moon's surface.

What Bill Wood, John Sarkissian, and their other former Apollo 11 colleagues are trying to track down are the recording of what was broadcast from the Moon, referred to as Slow-Scan TV (SSTV). This raw data was recorded onto 1" wide magnetic tapes at the same time as it was converted for terrestrial TV broadcast. As far as the paper trail goes, there are about 700 boxes that might contain these coveted tapes. They are mixed in with recordings from the entire Apollo era, meaning there is a lot of footage that, with modern techiques, could offer far clearer pictures of man's first visits to another celestial body. While John Sarkissian's report points out that everyone thinks we have footage of the first moonwalk, modern techiques would, if the tapes are found before they deteriorate, allow these raw data tapes to be turned into far higher quality pictures than before seen by the public.

Of course, proving that any publicity is good publicity, Mr. Wood didn't restrict himself to contacting Wikinews. Getting the right story out is important for these folks, and Leonard David, a Senior space writer with MSNBC helped give some impetus to the search with an article; help because the search is focussing not on the tapes, but on the people who might know where they, or the paperwork leading to them, might be. Time isn't working in favour of the volunteers searching for the SSTV tapes, part of the Goddard center is scheduled to close in October. Not the entire center as previously reported, but the Data Evaluation Laboratory. This is the one place where all the equipment and expertise exists to process these tapes, if they are found before they deteriorate.