A NASA Intern Bought The Moon Landing Tapes For $218 – Now They’re Worth Millions

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NASA Intern Moon Landing Tapes
NASA/Flickr

Back in 1976, a NASA intern bought the original Apollo 11 moon landing tapes, without knowing how significant they’ll be in the future. After all these years, the current owners, Sotheby’s Auctions, will auction them off. The starting bid? $2 million.

The NASA Intern Who Bought The Reels For $217

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Tapes
Sotheby’s Auctions

Mr. Gary George is a 65-year-old retired mechanical engineer from Las Vegas. In the 1970s, George worked for NASA, as an intern. During his tenure, in 1976, NASA held a government surplus auction at Houston’s Ellington Air Force Base, which George attended. There, for the not-so-low price of $217.77, the intern acquired 1,100 reels of videotape labeled “Owning Agency or Reporting Office.” While that might not sound like much, it’s roughly $1,260 in today’s dollars!

At the time, George just thought he picked up some random videotape recordings. So, he decided to just hold on to them. In fact, over the years, George gave away some of the tapes, sold others, and even donated some to a local church. However, eventually, Geroge’s father decided to take a look at the remaining recordings. When he saw what some contained, he could not believe the treasure his son held on to…

“I Had No Idea There Was Anything Of Value On Them”

NASA Intern Moon Landing Tapes
NASA/Flickr

What George’s father found on the tables blew everyone away: three of the tapes contained some of the original moon landing footage! The recordings included Armstrong’s immortal quote, Nixon’s call with the astronauts, and the American flag planted into the moon ground.

“Thinking that these particular tapes may be worth hanging on to, George saved the three boxes, giving them little thought until early 2008 when he learned that NASA was attempting to locate its original slow scan videotapes of the Apollo 11 EVA (Extravehicular Activity) in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing,” the current owners, Sotheby’s Auctions, explained.

In 2008, George was on vacation with another former NASA intern. “[My friend] said, ‘It seems we’ve lost our original tapes of the Apollo 11 EVA (Extravehicular Activity),'” George remembered. “Quite frankly, I was sitting at the table drinking a beer, and I said, ‘Well, I have those.'”

So, George went and digitized the tapes. Sotheby’s Auctions describes them as the “earliest, sharpest and most accurate surviving video images” of the moon landing. When George digitized the tapes, it was the first time he had actually watched any of the recordings. “I had no idea there was anything of value on them. I was selling them to TV stations just to record over,” he said.

The Last Remaining Footage Of The Apollo 11 Moon Landing

The end of July 2019, when the recordings go up for auction, will mark fifty years since the moon landing. And now you have the chance to become the proud owner of one…if you have a couple of millions of dollars lying around. As far as Sotheby’s Auctions can find, they are the last remaining original tapes of the Apollo 11 landing, which explains their price and the buzz around them. For years, NASA assumed someone had destroyed or lost the footage. So, to find them, or at least some of them, after all these years, is quite an incredible discovery! One that will ensure future generations continue to learn about the moon landing.