Recording the moon landings before VCRs

Armstrong_BackDecember 2018 will see the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8’s mission to orbit the moon and put the first humans beyond Earth orbit. We’ve all seen many images of the Apollo missions since then, but most are from the high resolution film and 16mm movies that the astronauts shot on the missions and returned to Earth. “1201 Alarm” is a project that recreates how it was for us, back in the 1960s, watching history unfold on a black and white television. And what technology was there to record it.
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Back in 1969 on a hot July night, I watched ghostly pictures beamed back live from the surface of the moon as two Americans left the Lunar Landing Module (LEM) and became the first men to set foot on a celestial body, other than the Earth. In 1961, at the age of eight, I had become aware that the space travel I’d seen on t.v. was in fact a fiction and the reality of Yuri Gagarin’s first orbital flight filled me with wonder and awe. From then on, I followed the space race, bought books, magazines and souvenirs. By 1968 I was recording the sound track of the t.v. coverage of the Apollo programme on reel-to-reel tape recorders and photographing images from our then 405 line, black and white t.v. set. By the time of the first moon landing I was filming the t.v. with high speed standard 8mm movie film.

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A mock up Radio Times photographed with the 8mm Bell & Howell camera used, the Apollo 10 photos collection and one of the 7 inch reel-to-reel tapes.

The equipment that I used was a Russian Zenith B camera, a Bell and Howell cine camera loaded with 400 ASA (ISO) black and white film, and a Ferguson 7″ reel-to-reel tape recorder. I processed the still images myself and printed the negatives in my darkroom. In some cases the audio recordings were edited to remove studio talk over. This was done physically, with a razor blade, cutting block and adhesive tape.

All this archive has survived over the years, stored in lofts and almost forgotten about until recently. With it a collection of books from the time as well as video tapes and 35mm slides bought during visits to Cape Kennedy.

The original material that I recorded and that has survived is:

  • 8mm movies of Apollo 11, 12, 13
  • Photographs from the t.v. of Apollo 10 and 14
  • Reel-to-reel audio recordings of Apollo 8, 10, 11, 12, and 13

The project will take this analogue archive and digitise it so that it can be shared and people can experience the space race in the way it was experienced in the 1960s.
The 8mm movie content of the Apollo 11, 12 and 13 missions have now been digitised frame by frame, providing over 53,000 jpg files 1920 x 1080 pixels. These images have initially been complied into movie files and will be further enhanced.

Test samples are on YouTube:

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Digital scan of an single 8mm movie film cell.

The 1201 Alarm project will continue to post on social media and this web site through 2018 and 2019, please leave your email if you’d like to be updated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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