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Ask MPR Mailbag

August 18, 2006

Didn't you have a story about the lost lunar landing data?

Did you have a news item about NASA reporting it lost all it's lunar landing data?

If they are claiming that, isn't it indicative of deceit of the American public on the highest order, and, what does that do to the credibility of our government leaders?

Alexandria, MN

Dear Greg, from your e-mail, it seems you believe NASA lost the tapes deliberately -- perhaps to cover up the fact that the Moon landings were a hoax. That's an idea currently shared by about 5 - 10% of the population, depending of which polls you believe.

Just for what it's worth, my grandmother believed the same thing. When I was a kid she and I would argue about it endlessly. She said it was ridiculous to think that people could fly around in outer space and land rocketships on the Moon. And I would show her photographs from magazines and books I'd checked out of the library. But she hardly looked at them. She would just shake her head and laugh. "It's just ridiculous," she would say.

But far from being evidence of a cover-up, the story you heard is a fascinating detective story that begins the night of July 20, 1969, when NASA engineers began recording the television data coming from the Moon.

The recordings were made on high-quality magnetic tapes. Because the video cameras on Apollo 11 used a different format than those used by network television, the engineers had to convert the signal for broadcast. And because the method they used to convert the signal was relatively crude, the images seen around the world on television had a very blurry, ghostly look about them.

It is said that the NASA tapes retain the sharp images that the NASA engineers were seeing that night. But the public has never seen them. In the early 1970s, the tape reels were taken to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where they were placed in storage. But now the tapes are missing. A group of retired NASA engineers are sifting through tens of thousands of tapes at Goddard, looking for these important bits of history.

NPR did an excellent story about this on the July 31 Morning Edition program. Give it a listen.

Michael Popham
Minnesota Public Radio Member Listener Services