NASA Restores Apollo 11 Footage

This post was written by Will Horton, Flight’s Washington, D.C. intern.

At the Newseum in Washington D.C. on Thursday NASA showed for the first time restored footage from the Apollo 11 mission. (In case you haven’t heard, it’s Apollo 11′s 40th anniversary and Flight is celebrating in full force.) It was so new that the Apollo 11 crew–Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins–had yet to see it.

While NASA was able to land humans on the moon, transmitting video was no small feat. First, in the interest of saving weight and space, the camera NASA developed weighed just seven pounds and used seven watts of power, an amount of energy equivalent to one Christmas tree bulb. It achieved the savings through the use of integrated circuits, which were in their infancy at the time.



Modern cameras dwarf the type used to transmit footage from Apollo11, of which a replica was on display during the NASA event. (Photos byWill Horton)

As a result, the camera’s format was not compatible with television, leading to a circuitous broadcast process. Amazingly, NASA was able to explain the process with just two PowerPoint slides.

First, footage from the moon was transmitted to receiving stations in the US and Australia.


The footage was then processed for commercial television display, and then transmitted to NASA in Houston via microwave links, AT&T analog signals, and Intelsat satellites.


Finally, NASA aired footage from Houston to televisions. But the footage an estimated half billion people watched was significantly degraded during the conversion process.

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is the receiving stations, in addition to converting the video, recorded the original un-converted, higher-quality footage (to save, and also in case live transmission did not work–a serious concern). Bad news: NASA has most likely recorded over the original footage and lost it forever.

So NASA turned to Lowry Digital, a Burbank, California restoration house that has restored Hollywood videos including Casablanca and the James Bond series. While Lowry and NASA had been informally working together, they only formalised an agreement last month. Lowry is doing the work pro-bono, which its president said will cost $230,000. There has been no announcement if Lowry will restore footage from additional Apollo missions.

The preview footage NASA displayed was the result of just three weeks’ worth of work. All of the Apollo 11 footage is expected to be restored by September.

So how is the restoration?

Good. Really, really good. A significant amount of grain has been removed and objects are better defined. Audio has been cleaned up and the video stabilised.

Here are photos taken during the video comparison (click on them for a larger version). On the left is the footage aired in 1969 and on the right is the restored footage. Keep in mind these photos were taken off a screen showing the comparison.

Unveiling commemorative plaque


Raising the American flag

NASA showed this clip first showing the archive footage and then the new footage. (Sound is not the best, but the speaker acknowledges the restored footage is dark and that Lowry is still extracting data.)

But be the judge for yourself! You can download the restored videos on NASA’s website or watch them below:

One Small Step…

Buzz Aldrin Sets Foot on Moon

Raising the American Flag

Unveiling Commemorative Plaque

And to briefly acknowledge the conspiracy theorists,an AP reporter asked if a Hollywood company restoring Apollo 11 footage only fueled claims the moon landing was faked.

The response?

Lowry Digital is a restorationhouse, not a special effects studio. For now, we can continue to celebrateApollo@40.

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