Fifty years after astronauts returned to Earth from the moon, the Apollo 11 mission still grabs our attention and sparks our imagination. This historic achievement continues to inspire new documentaries, retrospectives, and even artistic displays, such as the Library of Congress’ own display of quilts and books. I’m always astounded by the level of detail that went into the first humans stepping onto the moon. No matter how small, mission managers had to consider it. Copyright was no exception. From before the mission launched to well after astronauts touched back on Earth, copyright was there.
For instance, before the rocket launched on July 16, 1969, the mission team considered how astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins would occupy themselves on the three-day journey to and from the moon. With the advent of audio cassette tapes, astronauts could bring with them a personalized playlist of tunes; they could also record over the playlist if they had to record notes on those tapes. Mickey Kapp, who at the time was working for Kapp Records and had ties to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) dating back to the Mercury program, was tasked with creating the playlists based on Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins’ requests. He used his music industry connections to obtain permission to add these songs, including classics like Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” Barbra Streisand’s “People,” Blood Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel,” and more.
Once the astronauts reached the moon, they proceeded to image the lunar surface as never before. Because these pictures were created by NASA astronauts, who took the pictures as part of their mission with a U.S. federal government agency, the public can use these images free of charge. They are currently available on the NASA Apollo 11 Image Library, and copyright is the first item you read about on that page.
Apollo 11’s main mission ended on July 24 when the astronauts returned to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. However, in some respects it was only the beginning of the copyright story. A casual search for “Apollo 11” in the U.S. Copyright Office’s Virtual Card Catalog shows some of the materials people registered with the Copyright Office in subsequent years. What grabbed my attention were items of memorabilia such as an album of the stamps commemorating the landing and a medallion showing the Apollo lunar landing module.
Copyright has been a part of the United States’ time in space. While it is almost impossible to predict what astronauts will be accomplishing fifty years from now, a good bet is copyright will be part of that adventure just like it was during Apollo 11.