Buzz Aldrin on the moon Yes, Rebecca, I remember it! I was a little tyke at the time, but my parents woke me up and put me in front of the TV to see Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. They knew it was historic, Armstrong knew it was historic, the TV broadcasters knew it was historic. So you would think someone at NASA would have thought to put a sticky note or “Don’t erase this” in red marker on that moon landing videotape, right? But, apparently…not. So the original video of the moon landing, according to NASA, was probably taped over in the 1970s. Fast forward to the 40-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and sure enough, NASA has spent over $200,000 restoring and “enhancing” television video copies of the moon landing with the help of a Hollywood film company. On the plus side, apparently the picture quality is better than the TV. You can compare them on the NASA web site. I’ve been thinking about the whole cost-benefit of preservation in the context of our Archives and Special Collections department, which is preserving and digitizing NU’s history and local Boston history, too, hopefully more diligently than NASA! After all, does anyone here have 200 grand to spend restoring our stuff?

3 thoughts on “Erasing the tape”

  1. The interesting thing about the comparison link that is in your posting is that it requires a proprietary browser plug in to play. Proprietary data formats add yet another layer of challenges to the whole future forward preservation issue. Which brings us back to the issue of why the moon landing tape was probably erased. That tape that they were using was probably “special” in some way and was in limited supply. Recycling the tape to continue their mission was at the time more important then preserving a single recording for posterity.

  2. This reminds me of discussions on the upcoming “black hole” we’ll have in our cultural record. (Smarter people than me coined that phrase.) Basically, we have this belief that everything’s digital, but it’s clearly not. And if we’re not careful in preserving and digitizing at least the important stuff, future generations won’t even know it exists.

    In other words, if it’s not digital, it will eventually disappear from our collective memory.

  3. I couldn’t believe it when I heard about this story. I can’t fathom how there could have been such a lack of foresight on NASA’s part. Jonathan also raises a good point–proprietary formats will be a huge challenge (think about how you can’t always open a Word document in a non-Microsoft word processing program, and vice versa). And Amanda is right too–we see it now with some (though not all!) students’ reluctance to try to track down any information they can’t instantly get online. And so they might miss the very best resource on their research topic, because it happens to be in hard copy format only. This is only going to get more problematic as more stuff *does* go online.

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