Skip to main content

Original videotape of Apollo landing sells at auction for a cool $1.8 million

Apollo 11 Anniversary Hasselblad

Original videotapes of the moon landing have sold at auction for $1.8 million. Sotheby’s describes the tapes as “the earliest, sharpest, and most accurate surviving video images of man’s first steps on the moon,” and is offering them in original, unadulterated form —  “unrestored, unenhanced and unremastered.”

The original footage of the moon landing was recorded by two cameras — a Hasselblad and a specially adapted Westinghouse television camera that was mounted to the hatch of the Lunar Module to capture Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. The Westinghouse camera was detechable and was later placed on a tripod on the surface to record the activities of the astronauts as well. The footage from this camera was transmitted to the Parkes Observatory in Australia, from where it was sent along to NASA’s Houston base and, finally, to televisions around the world.

When NASA was preparing for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, it searched for the original tapes from the Westinghouse. But sadly, the tapes had already been recorded over with other projects, a phenomenon that will be familiar to anyone who grew up during the VHS era. There was one remaining set of tapes of the event though, in the form of Ampex tapes that had been used when Houston received the broadcast signal from Australia.

What happened to those surviving tapes is a saga in itself. They come from the collection of Gary George, who worked as an intern at the NASA Johnson Space Center during the summer of 1973. While he was there, he went to a government surplus auction and bought a lot contain 1,150 reels of magnetic tape from NASA projects for a total of $217.77. George was planning to take the resuable tapes and sell them on to TV stations, figuring he’d make a little extra cash.

Fortunately for all of us, George’s father looked closely at the boxes of tapes and noticed some of them were labeled “APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1 [–3].” George has been holding on to the tapes ever since.

#AuctionUpdate Unrestored, unenhanced, and unremastered, the videotapes represent the earliest, sharpest, and most accurate surviving video images of man’s first steps on the moon #Apollo50th

— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) July 20, 2019

A clip of the video that shows the astronauts moving around the surface of the moon is included in this tweet from Sotheby’s. It’s amazing to see the astronauts bounce in the low gravity and hear them communicating. So even if you can’t afford a spare few million to get your hands on the original tapes, you can still see some of the wonders of the Apollo mission.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
NASA’s restored Mission Control lets you relive the historic 1969 moon landing
nasas restored mission control lets you relive the 1969 moon landing

Historic Mission Control

When Neil Armstrong became the first human in history to set foot on the moon in July 1969, team members back at Mission Control allowed themselves a brief pat on the back in a tense operation that still had to bring the astronauts safely back home.

Read more
Remember the summer of 1969? NASA wants to hear memories of the moon landing
apollo lunar samples study psd astronaut harrison schmitt 1

Share Your Apollo Story with NASA

Do you remember the Apollo mission? Or do you have family members or friends with memories of the Apollo era? Then you can contribute your stories to a new NASA project.

Read more
Digital Trends’ Top Tech of CES 2023 Awards
Best of CES 2023 Awards Our Top Tech from the Show Feature

Let there be no doubt: CES isn’t just alive in 2023; it’s thriving. Take one glance at the taxi gridlock outside the Las Vegas Convention Center and it’s evident that two quiet COVID years didn’t kill the world’s desire for an overcrowded in-person tech extravaganza -- they just built up a ravenous demand.

From VR to AI, eVTOLs and QD-OLED, the acronyms were flying and fresh technologies populated every corner of the show floor, and even the parking lot. So naturally, we poked, prodded, and tried on everything we could. They weren’t all revolutionary. But they didn’t have to be. We’ve watched enough waves of “game-changing” technologies that never quite arrive to know that sometimes it’s the little tweaks that really count.

Read more