In 1976, NASA sold the original tapes of the Apollo 11 moon landing to then-intern Gary George by accident. The tapes were part of a set of 65 boxes of 2-inch videotapes that George bought for the whopping price of $217.77. Those same tapes are scheduled to be auctioned off through Sotheby’s on July 20th with a starting bid of $700,000, and an expected worth of up to $2 Million.
It you think this all seems a bit stranger than fiction, we agree with you. But the whole story is right there on the Sotheby’s website.
George came across the recordings by a stroke of remarkable luck: while working as an intern for the NASA Johnson Space Center in June of 1973, he stopped by a government surplus auction to browse the wares. There, he came across a single lot consisting of 1,150 reels of magnetic tape whose “Owning Agency Or Reporting Office” was NASA; among the reels were sixty-five boxes of 2-inch, reel-to-reel videotapes of the type used by television stations. For $217.77, George bought the tapes.
Over the years, George sold the majority of those tapes to various television stations, but held on to three labeled APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1 [-3] at his father’s suggestion. It wasn’t until about 11 years ago that George took those reels to a DC Video studio, watched them for the very first time, and realized that he was in possession of the original recordings of the first lunar EVA.
Sotheby’s is calling these three reels of Ampex 148 High Band 2-inch Quadruplex videotape “the earliest, sharpest and most accurate surviving video images of man’s first steps on the moon.” They’ve only ever been played three times: when George first viewed them, in 2008 when they were digitized onto a harddrive that is also part of this auction, and again when Sotheby’s watched them to confirm their quality.
As Sotheby’s deftly put it: “The next viewer will be the highest bidder.”
If you want a chance to own “the best surviving NASA videotape recordings of the historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing,” and you happen to have one or two million dollars to spare, head over to the Sotheby’s website to learn more about this treasure trove of footage, or view the lot itself at this link.