[FPSPACE] Apollo 11 EASEP data recovered in Australia
ljk4 at msn.com
Wed Nov 1 17:16:57 EST 2006
Lost Moon landing tapes discovered
1 November 2006by Carmelo Amalfi
For years 'lost' tapes recording data from the Apollo 11 Moon landing have
been stored underneath the seats of Australian physics students. A recent
search has uncovered them.
They were nearly thrown out with the rubbish. But a last minute search
instead has scientists in Western Australia dusting off several boxes of
'lost' NASA tapes which record surface conditions on the Moon just after
Neil Armstrong stepped into space history on 21 July 1969.
After addressing Earth, the American astronaut set up a package of
scientific instruments, including a dust detector designed by an Australian
physicist. The data collected by the detector was sent back to ground
stations on Earth and recorded on magnetic tapes - copies of which are as
rare as the 'misplaced' original video footage of the 1969 touchdown.
Last week, up to 100 tapes, clearly marked "NASA Manned Space Center",
turned up after a search in a dusty basement of a physics lecture hall at
Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. One of the old
tapes has been sent to the American space agency to see whether it can be
deciphered and 'stripped' of any important data which may have survived the
ravages of time.
The data are a daily record of the environmental conditions and changes
taking place at the lunar site after the Eagle landed safely in the Sea of
Tranquility. The most important data were collected after the lunar module
blasted off the surface later that day, leaving the still-running
The information showed that scientific instruments could be affected by
setting them up around landing or take-off sites. They also proved that NASA
did go to the Moon.
The data represented, "the only long-term information on the lunar surface
environment, and as such are ideal for planning future lunar missions,"
according to NASA's website.
The "Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package" (EASEP) deployed by
Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin - a member of the Cosmos editorial
advisory board - consisted of several self-contained experiments including
temperature and seismic activity gauges and a small dust detector designed
by Sydney-born physicist and environmental consultant Brian O'Brien, 72, who
now lives in Perth.
The EASEP tool kit was the forerunner of other experimental instrument
packages used on the Apollo missions. It was unplugged on 3 August 1969,
having survived the harsh lunar conditions despite, in NASA's words,
"operating temperatures which exceeded the planned maximum by 30 degrees
Celcius". The EASEP instruments were activated again the following day, but
by August 27, the experiment was terminated when it stopped responding to
commands from Earth ground stations.
At the time, O'Brien believed lunar dust thrown up by the ascending NASA
module would affect the instruments left on the Moon. He thought that lunar
dust could settle on and ruin some of the experiments, which is, in fact,
Future moon dust experiments set up the equipment further away from the
lunar modules, and carried glass-covered solar cells to reduce the impact of
dust accumulating on the instrumentation.
On Apollo 11, the dust detector was attached to the seismometer unit.
O'Brien's Lunar Dust Detector Experiment (also called the Dust, Thermal and
Radiation Engineering Measurements Package) was designed to assess long term
effects of the lunar surface environment on silicon solar cells used on the
This was achieved by measuring the dips in power supply caused by
high-energy cosmic particles, ultraviolet radiation and dust and debris, the
data also having implications for the health and safety of astronauts
exposed to extraterrestrial conditions.
The re-discovery of the magnetic tapes at Curtin follows NASA's admission in
August this year that it no longer knew where to find the original video
tapes of the 1969 landing and Armstrong's famous speech to at least 600
million people around the world.
The originals were recorded at three tracking stations - one in the U.S. and
two in Australia at Honeysuckle Creek tracking station in the Australian
Capital Territory and Parkes radio telescope in central-western New South
Wales. Recorded on telemetry tapes, they are said to be the best quality
images of the landing (unconverted slow scan TV) yet to be seen by a public
still fascinated by the early space race. These tapes were mislaid in the
early 1980s on their way to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt,
O'Brien brought his data tapes to WA when he left the University of Sydney
to head up the state's first Environmental Protection Authority. He placed
the tapes in the safe hands of Curtin colleague John de Laeter, emeritus
professor of applied physics, whose office is now a temporary home to some
of the 28 centimetre-diameter tapes.
When I visited de Laeter's office to view the tapes, they looked new, but
their age was given away by the fading labels on the plastic covers that
detailed in handwritten pen the date and particulars of the lunar surface
The first 25 years of their storage life at Curtin was in a closet-sized
store room in a small marine science laboratory in the main physics
building. They were later moved to bigger premises under the lecture hall
where they have languished underneath the seats of countless physics
students for years.
O'Brien decided to go looking for the tapes after reading about mislaid
television tapes that NASA and Australian scientists are still looking for.
At first, one box of O'Brien's old tapes was found. Then, a second search
last week by de Laeter, O'Brien and a laboratory manager turned up the rest
of the boxed tapes just as the searchers were about to give up. The tapes
were almost obscured under outdated electronic equipment which the men had
O'Brien was unavailable for comment.
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