NASA has mislaid the original recordings of the Apollo 11 moon landings, The Los Angeles Times reports.
The magnetic tapes of the recorded transmissions were stored in 700 boxes and, despite a year of searching, have failed to turn up.
The tape material - shot by a camera atop the Eagle Lander - is reckoned to be a much higher quality than the famous TV images of Neil and Buzz claiming the lunar surface for the US. This is because NASA's equipment was incompatible with that of the television networks and, after transmission to tracking stations on Earth, had to be displayed on a monitor and reshot on a normal camera. The resulting degradation in quality is evident.
The original tapes were, according to The Guardian, delivered a year after the landing to Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, and haven't been seen since.
NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma admitted: "We haven't seen them for quite a while. We've been looking for over a year, and they haven't turned up. I wouldn't say we're worried — we've got all the data. Everything on the tapes we have in one form or another."
John Sarkissian of the Parkes Observatory in Australia, who is part of the NASA tape-search team, told Space.com: "I would simply like to clarify that the tapes are not lost as such. We are confident that they are stored at Goddard...we just don't know where precisely."
However, if NASA does eventually manage to track down the material, the result may be nothing more than a face-saving exercise. Goddard's data evaluation lab is the only facility with the equipment to play back the tapes, and is scheduled for closure in October. And, even if the playback machinery were still available, Sarkissian added that the tapes are "so old and fragile, it's not certain they could even be played". ®