Gary George was an intern at NASA’s Johnson Space Center when he bought 1,150 reels of magnetic tape belonging to the agency at a government surplus auction in 1976.
The $217.77 purchase certainly paid off. Included were three tapes representing the “earliest, sharpest, and most accurate surviving video images of man’s first steps on the moon,” according to Sotheby’s, which sold the tapes over the weekend for $1.82 million.
Footage of the Apollo 11 landing was transmitted to Australia’s Parkes Observatory, where it was recorded on videotape and retransmitted to Mission Control in Houston, per TechCrunch. The Australian tapes were recorded over, but the Houston tapes survived, only to be sold at auction in 1976.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first steps on the moon and the planting of the American flag can be witnessed in TV broadcasts, of course. But these “endured some loss of video and audio quality with each successive transmission from microwave tower to microwave tower,” Sotheby’s notes.
Therefore, George’s tapes—encompassing 2 hours and 24 minutes of raw footage—”are sharper and more distinct.” (See a clip here.)
Space.com reports three online and phone bidders competed over nearly five minutes. It’s unclear who actually purchased the tapes.
Per CNN, George realized the significance of what he had in 2008, when he learned that NASA was looking to get its hands on them for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. The tapes sold for almost four times the expected price. (Four things Armstrong and Aldrin left behind on the moon.)