Original NASA's Apollo 11 Moon landing tapes expected to fetch millions on 50th anniversary

Three original videotapes from NASA’s Apollo 11 mission will be auctioned this week — 50 years after the first person walked on the Moon.

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The reels are believed to be the only surviving “first-generation” recording of the historic moment on July 20, 1969, and are being auctioned at Sotheby’s on Saturday.

Bidding on the unrestored and unenhanced tapes will begin at $700,000, but they are expected to sell between $1 and $2 million, according to the auction house.

The tapes— which have “excellent” audio quality, Sotheby’s says — show the entire period of extra-vehicular activity (EVA) that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took on the Moon’s surface in 1969.

The reels have running times of approximately 45 minutes, 49 minutes and 50 minutes each and have been viewed only a handful of times.

According to the auction house, the tapes have only been watched three times since June 1976 and those viewings may have been the only ones since 1969 when NASA’s Mission Control saw the Moon landing as it was happening.

“These first-generation recordings are sharper and more distinct than the few tapes that have survived from the contemporary network television broadcasts, all of which endured some loss of video and audio quality with each successive transmission from microwave tower to microwave tower,” Sotheby’s says in the tapes’ listing.

The tapes were rescued in 1976 when NASA intern Gary George bought 1,150 reels of NASA footage from a government auction for $217.77, Sotheby’s listing says.

Though he sold and donated many of the tapes in the collection, he kept three that had been labeled “APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1 [–3],” but didn’t watch them until 2008 with the help of a video archivist.

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Later that year, the tapes were viewed again and digitized. The videos were then downloaded onto a hard drive that will also be available in the sale of the tapes, Sotheby’s says. The tapes were reportedly watched only one more time by the auction house to confirm their quality.

The tapes are part of Sotheby’s Space Exploration auction in New York on Saturday.