The original videotapes of the Apollo 11 lunar landing and Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon were auctioned at Sotheby's for 8,000 times the price paid by the previous owner in 1976.
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most defining moments of the 20th century: the Apollo 11 space mission to the moon and Neil Armstrong's lunar walk on 20 July 1969. However, the original video of this iconic event had not been in NASA's possession for over 40 years. According to Futura Sciences, the majority of videotapes were auctioned in 1976 for US$217.77 (equivalent to about US$1,000 in 2019, or £827) and were purchased by a trainee of the space agency, Gary George.
On 20 July 2019, the first three reels were presented for sale at Sotheby's without restoration or enhancement and represent the oldest, highest quality and most accurate video footage of the moon landing and walk. The videos were hammered for US$1.82 million (£1.51 mil) – 8,000 times more than the amount paid by Gary George 43 years ago. "Fifty years ago, we accomplished the greatest mission in the history of humanity, and what is written in the collective memory is much better documented on these tapes," said Sotheby's spokeswoman, Cassandra Hatton, in a statement.
A total of 2 hours and 24 minutes of recording, including Armstrong's legendary phrase "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," and a telephone conversation with President Richard Nixon, are gathered on the reels. There are also world famous images: the first steps of Neil Armstrong on the moon, Buzz Aldrin in the space module scale, the planting of the American flag, and Aldrin bounding across the lunar surface.
Gary George completed an internship at NASA in 1976 as part of his engineering degree at Lamar University and occasionally attended government auctions. For US$217.77, he won more than 1,000 reels of tapes that belonged to the space agency. George sold the majority of his reels, but kept three of them after his father noticed the labels "APOLLO 11 EVA" and "vr2000 525 Hi Band 15 ips".
The value of the recordings suddenly increased when, in 2008, nearing the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, NASA began trying to locate them. George, who heard about the search, brought them to a video studio where they were played and transformed into a digital format. Now, 50 years after the historic event, the Apollo 11 mission of landing man on the moon continues to fascinate and inspire with this £1.5-million sale.
Header image courtesy: NASA / Neil A. Armstrong - Apollo 11 Image Library