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‘Lost’ Apollo 11 tapes lead Sotheby’s $5.5 million space memorabilia auction

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2019-07-22

NASA's lost video tapes of the Apollo 11 moon landings sold for $1.8 million at Sotheby's on July 20

A set of video tapes containing NASA’s original footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing has sold for $1.8 million during an auction of space memorabilia at Sotheby’s.

The tapes had originally been purchased 40 years ago during a government surplus auction by a young NASA intern, who had no idea of their content.

They were the top lot at the sale in New York on July 20 which achieved a total of $5.5 million, surpassing expectations by more than $1 million.

In 1973 Gary George spent $217 on a job lot of over 1,000 magnetic video tapes, with the idea of selling them as reusable stock to local TV stations.

The three video tapes contained raw, unedited footage of the entire Apollo 11 moonwalk recorded directly from the lunar surface by NASA Mission Control
The three video tapes contained raw, unedited footage of the entire Apollo 11 moonwalk recorded directly from the lunar surface by NASA Mission Control (Image: Sotheby’s)

But he decided the keep three tapes labelled ‘APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1 [–3]’ and ‘VR2000 525 Hi Band 15 ips.’, feeling they might be important.

However, without the equipment to play them he tucked them away in a box and forgot about them for 35 years, until the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 reminded him to take a look.

He discovered the tapes contained the only-known first generation footage of the landing, sent live from the lunar surface and recorded at NASA Mission Control before being beamed around the world.

With all other first-generation copies lost by NASA over the years, the tapes now offer the sharpest quality footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s landmark moonwalk, in completely unedited, unenhanced and unremastered condition.

The first page from Buzz Aldrin's space-flown Apollo 11 Data File, which sold for $175,000
The first page from Buzz Aldrin’s space-flown Apollo 11 Data File, which sold for $175,000 (Image: Sotheby’s)

The Sotheby’s sale also included a collection of items consigned directly from the collection of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, which together more than trebled their high estimate to fetch $739,375.

Leading the collection were the first and last pages from Aldrin’s personal copy of the Apollo 11 Data File, which he flew to the moon and back.

The first page, which begins with the word “LIFTOFF”, detailed the crew’s tasks during the vital first two hours of the mission, and sold for $175,000.

The last page, which sold for $131,250, covered the final two hours including the fiery re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and ending simply with the word “SPLASHDOWN”.

An original panel from Kennedy Space Center Firing Room 1, where the Apollo 11 mission was launched
An original panel from Kennedy Space Center Firing Room 1, where the Apollo 11 mission was launched (Image: Sotheby’s)

Further highlights included a collection of 20 instrument panels from Kennedy Space Center Firing Room 1, which launched seven Apollo missions including Apollo 8, Apollo 11 and Apollo 17.

As used by NASA Mission Control crew during these historic launches, the panels sold for $212,500.

“Fifty years ago, we achieved the world’s greatest human accomplishment,” said Cassandra Hatton, Vice President and Senior Specialist of Sotheby’s Books & Manuscripts Department.

“Today, space exploration continues to capture the hearts and imagination of people around the world. This universal fascination was reflected in today’s stellar sale, which is a testament to the continued demand for space artifacts. We are truly over the moon about our outstanding results.”


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