NASA has come up empty after a three-year search for some key original tapes of the moon landing, but the tapes that survived have been enhanced with new techniques, bringing Neil Armstrong's historic jaunt to 21st Century life.
The new digitally refurbished copies of the first moonwalk were unveiled Thursday. The original live video was ghostlike and grainy. NASA and a Hollywood film restoration company took television video copies of what Apollo 11 beamed to Earth on July 20, 1969, and made the pictures look sharper.
Originally, Armstrong's face visor was too fuzzy to be seen. The refurbished video shows his visor and a reflection in it.
The original videos beamed to earth were stored on giant reels of tapes that contained 15 minutes of video along with 13 other channels of live data from the moon. In the 1970s and 1980s, NASA had a shortage of the tapes and erased about 200,000 of those tapes and reused them.
A three-year search through a warehouse one official compared to the one at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" came up empty.
"We're all saddened that they're not there. We all wish we had 20-20 hindsight," Dick Nafzger, a NASA TV specialist told NPR.
"I don't think anyone in the NASA organization did anything wrong," Nafzger says. "I think it slipped through the cracks, and nobody's happy about it."
The erased tapes mean the world will probably never again see the original images beamed back to Earth by the lunar camera that is now resting on the moon's dusty Sea of Tranquility, right where Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left it. 21st-century moon-landing obsessives may want to turn to online recreations of the landing.
The consolation prize is that what survived is now greatly enhanced, though there is still no reference to Aldrin's legendary first urination on the moon.
"It's still not pristine, it's not clean and detailed, but it's now an astronaut, and it's something no one saw before — this is the first step on the moon," Nafzger said.