ECSTATIC space officials at Nasa could be about to unveil one of their most stunning discoveries for 40 years – new and amazingly clear footage of the first moon landing.
The release of the new images next month could be one of the most talked about events of the summer.
The television images the world has been used to seeing of the historic moment when Neil Armstrong descended down a ladder onto the moon’s surface in 1969 is grainy, blurry and dark.
The following scenes, in which the astronauts move around the lunar lander, are so murky it is difficult to make out exactly what is going on, causing conspiracy theorists to claim the entire Apollo 11 mission was an elaborate fraud.
However, viewers have only ever seen such poor quality footage because the original analogue tapes containing the pictures beamed direct from the lunar surface were lost almost as soon as they were recorded.
Instead, a poor quality copy made from a 16mm camera pointing at a heavily compressed image on a black and white TV screen has been the only record of the event.
The Sunday Express can now reveal that the missing tapes containing the original high quality images have been found.
If the visual data can be retrieved, Nasa is set to reveal them to the world as a key plank of celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the landings next month.
The tapes show in much more detail than almost anyone has previously seen the surface of the moon beneath the patriotic symbol of the US flag.
Crucially, they could once and for all dispel 40 years of wild conspiracy theories.
The low grade, dark and grainy television pictures that were beamed around the world on July 21 1969 were intended to give Americans just a glimpse of their country’s greatest exploratory achievement.
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Technology at the time meant Neil Armstrong’s film, recorded using a special lunar camera, went through a series of processes, each of which marked a step down in quality before it hit people’s living rooms.
From the moon, the signal was beamed to the Earth’s closest tracking station at the Parkes Observatory in Australia where, along with other important data, it was recorded on to high-grade magnetic tapes.
From there, the raw images were downsized to American television resolutions by a special scanner in Sydney, heavily compressed so they could be transmitted live, and then relayed to the US via the Intelsat III satellite.
The final loss in quality came when Nasa made its US recording of the event-the one always seen in archive footage-by simply placing a 16mm film camera in front of a television monitor in the US.
However, it is the original magnetic tapes recorded back at the Parkes Observatory in Australia that contained the unadulterated and highest quality images.
To the later horror of researchers and scientists, it was those tapes that went missing.
Houston finally admitted to the world it had a problem four years ago and launched a desperate plea for help, issuing a ‘wanted’ notice with clues to where the elusive tapes might be.
Most suspected they had been shipped from Australia to an American archive and then mislaid.
However, recently scientists looking for other data stumbled across a number of Nasa tapes in a storage facility in Perth, Australia.
They thought they merely contained details of moon dust from several Appollo missions.
But Nasa confirmed to the Sunday Express that they also contain the video data of the Apollo 11 landing.
“We’re talking about the same tapes,” a Nasa spokesman said when challenged.
Perhaps unhappy that a secret they had planned to grandly announce in three weeks had been rumbled, he added: “At this point, I’m not prepared to discuss what has or has not been found.
“The research team is preparing its final report and we’ll release those findings publicly in the coming weeks.”
When asked for an interview with the research team, the Nasa official appeared to give the game away.
“Sure,” he said, “although we’re not likely to scoop ourselves on much.”