On July 20, 1969 the world stood still as it witnessed something that until that moment many believed unattainable: the arrival of man on the Moon. Original recordings capturing the stunning moment were on Saturday — exactly 50 years later — sold at auction in New York for $1.82 million.
Emotions were on full display, eyes fixed to television screens and breaths held when the figure of mission commander Neil Armstrong descended from the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle little by little until he set foot on the Moon, followed shortly after by Buzz Aldrin.
Sotheby’s on Saturday paid tribute to the historic moment with an auction in which three original NASA videotape recordings of man's first walk on the moon recorded that day sold for $1.82 million.
The figure is more than 8,000 times the $217.77 that a NASA intern paid for them in 1976 at a government surplus auction, Sotheby's said.
Gary George, an engineering student who at the time was interning at NASA, bought 1,150 reels of magnetic tape, among them 65 boxes of videotapes he thought he could sell to a local television station for re-recording.
George sold and donated some of the tapes but kept others after his father noticed labels on boxes identifying them as “APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1 [–3]” and “VR2000 525 Hi Band 15 ips.”
The expected price on Saturday for the tapes was between $1-2 million and the bid started at $700,000, a figure that began to rise rapidly to reach $1.5 million at the stroke of the gavel and eventually reached $1.82 million.
For about five minutes, three bidders fought over the phone and online to buy the videos, which were part of an extensive list of items from the Space Exploration auction that also included lots from Russian missions.
The three reels — unrestored, unenhanced, and unremastered — are the only survivors of the first generation of the moonwalk recordings and are sharper than the surviving images of the television broadcasts of that time, which have lost both video and audio quality, highlighted Sotheby's.
The "three reels of 2-inch Quadruplex videotape transport viewers to the big screen monitor at Mission Control, with images clearer and with better contrast than those that the more than half-billion-person television audience witnessed that momentous July day on their home sets," Sotheby’s said.
In October 2008, after George found out NASA was trying to find original tapes, he was able to locate a studio with equipment able to play them. It was then he viewed them — possibly for the first time since they were recorded — and found they were in impeccable condition. Then in November of that year they were played again when they were digitized, said Sotheby's. The third time, they were seen by Sotheby’s experts.
The tapes were still in the manufacturer's original red-and-black boxes as part of the auction of more than 200 items, including photos with a note by Aldrin — believed to be the first writing on the surface of the Moon — which was purchased for $225,000, as well as American flags and spacesuits.
There were also photos of the astronauts who traveled to the Moon and a collection of US passports issued between 1954 and 1979 to Armstrong, who died in 2012, which sold for $81,250 with an estimated range of $30,000 to $50,000.
"Goodnight Moon!" Aldrin tweeted at the end of the 50th anniversary Saturday.