“Houston, We Erased the Apollo 11 Tapes” was the headline National Public Radio used in 2009 when it reported what has to be the worst historic preservation blunder in modern times.
Officials at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center had just acknowledged that they erased the original video recordings of the Apollo 11 moon landing by recording over them.
It may pale in comparison to NASA budgets, but the $18,775 grant recently landed by a researcher at the University of Alabama at Huntsville offers the space program a much needed assist in the archives department.
UAH’s M. Louis Salmon Library Archives and Special Collections is working to preserve an extensive collection of film and recordings in a project that will make it easier to share the significant milestones in spaceflight with the digital generation.
The work to digitize 186 film reels, nine audio reels and 53 audiocassettes is funded by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources Recordings at Risk Grant.
Content includes oral history interviews with people who worked on the Apollo program and rare home movies. Some audio and video materials predate Apollo, going all the way back to the roots of rocketry, says Drew Adan, archivist and primary investigator for the grant.
UAH is one of 20 institutions selected nationwide to receive the award in the fifth grant cycle. It comes amid worldwide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and a re-inspection of Huntsville’s leading role in the moon missions.
“It’s kind of a race against time to preserve these things, because they are not going to last forever,” says Adan.
With the materials at high risk because of physical degradation and obsolescence, the Recordings at Risk grant is impeccably timed. Researchers can migrate the material from an outdated analog format to digital files that will be preserved and shared, he says.
“It offers a unique perspective on family life of those who worked on the program, specifically members of the German American community and how they acclimated to life in Huntsville,” Adan says.