Thursday, July 16, 2009

NASA Has Not Found the Parkes Slow Scan Moon Footage

Just caught a live press briefing by NASA. NASA has paid Lowry Digital a pittance (about $250,000) to restore the best archival TV footage of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. This is the footage that was converted from the slow scan transmission to broadcast quality. The slow scan camera transmission was something like 10 frames per second normal operation and 5-8 frames in high definition. Broadcast TV was 60 frames per second. NASA had RCA converters in place that filmed the slow scan images and copied them to 60 frames per second. The converters and operator error induced ghosting and other artifacts in the broadcast transmissions. Those artifacts will not be digitized out of the archival digitally remastered footage. There is also an internal reflection within the slow scan camera itself of a LEM leg that will not be digitized out of the restored footage.

During the briefing, Richard Nafzger, the NASA engineer in charge of the project, stated that Parkes was different from the other radio telescope sites. An engineer from APL, the Applied Physics Lab, had his own slow scan converter project. He made two tape recordings of the slow scan transmissions and those two tapes have not been recovered. Parkes had a different contract with NASA as did APL and they were not required to turn over those tapes to NASA for data collection and retention. Stan Lebar, the Westinghouse Electric program manager for the Apollo 11 landing slow scan camera, shared excerpts of a letter from Neil Armstrong emphasizing that he was amazed that the slow scan TV camera even worked on the Moon because it never did in the earthbound preparations. The human race is lucky to have any video evidence at all of the first lunar landing according to the first man on the Moon.

Links:
Press briefing excerpt (BBC)
Best synopsis yet of the briefing by TVTechnology.com
National Public Radio
Restored NASA footage highlights(NASA)
CNN article and video

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Comments:
I've been to the Parkes telescope once and several times to the Tidbinbilla radio telescope http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidbinbilla_Deep_Space_Tracking_Station near Canberra (before and after the Apollo 11 landing). All quite interesting.

Some of the Apollo 11 drama was of course bought out in The Dish movie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dish

Pete
 
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