This post was authored by Stephanie Marcus, Science Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division.
If you’re one of the millions truly excited by the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission, then you are in for a treat. You may have heard something about 11,000 hours of audio from the mission now available. It’s true! You can hear all of the voices on Mission Control audio and you can get all of the mission’s historical media: footage of Mission Control, film shot by the astronauts, and television broadcasts transmitted from space and the surface of the Moon, all placed together with the audio (and transcript) as it happened. And you can jump in at any point. Here is the story of this major feat: the website, apolloinrealtime.org/11, which went live June 15, 2019 and the man behind it.
His name is Ben Feist and he’s from Toronto. I met him in December 2016 when the Library featured NASA Goddard’s Dr. Noah Petro, lead scientist on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), speaking on Walking with the Last Men on the Moon: Revisiting the Apollo 17 Landing Site with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (Petro returned this year on April 30th to speak about Apollo at 50 – the webcast should be up on the Library’s website soon). Feist’s hobby was creating a website on the Apollo 17 mission, Apollo17.org, where visitors can take a 302-hour, real-time multimedia journey through that last mission to the Moon. The records of the mission were quite disorganized, so he spent his evenings sifting through, organizing, and re-creating the 12-day mission. When Dr. Petro found out about it, he invited Ben to talk at Goddard. Petro thought Ben’s work might be the key to better organizing the data of future missions. NASA not only liked his work, they asked him to stay on and do some projects, and then they officially hired him as an independent contractor, “Spaceflight Data Visualization Researcher,” splitting his time between Johnson Space Center and Goddard!
The next exciting event was the documentary, Apollo 11, which premiered at Sundance in January 2019 to rave reviews. Filmmaker Todd Miller worked with Daniel Rooney from the National Archives, who had discovered 177 reels of unprocessed footage from the mission, and Feist, who provided the 11,000 hours of digitized audio whose quality he had improved.
Let Ben Feist tell it in his own words:
It’s my pleasure to announce the release of https://apolloinrealtime.org/11, a multimedia website that I have been building for the past two years. It plays the entire Apollo 11 mission in real time. Included are 2,000 photographs, 11,000 hours of Mission Control audio, 240 hours of space-to-ground audio, all onboard recorded audio, 15,000 searchable utterances, post-mission commentary, and astromaterials sample data.
With the help of archivist Stephen Slater, this website is the most complete presentation of the mission’s historical film footage ever assembled. It contains all of the 16mm film that was scanned for the recent film, Apollo 11. Much of this silent film has had sound added to it for the first time–painstakingly lip synced with the restored mission control audio that was just digitized (and that I restored). Stephen is a genius at this stuff. It’s pretty much guaranteed that visitors will see things that they’ve never seen before. All footage is included, not just the popular stuff during landing that has been used over and over. We’ve been jokingly saying that apolloinrealtime.org is the 240-hour cut of the Apollo 11 film. It’s the whole thing.
This website applies the concept of making every media element sync to mission time. If you want to see a certain photo, the whole experience jumps to the moment the photo is being taken. If you’d like to research one of the lunar samples, you can find it at the moment the sample container is being filled. Placing the astromaterials within the mission context is something that the scientific community finds very valuable.
The centerpiece of the website is 11,000 hours of Mission Control audio that has been synced to mission time. For any moment in the mission, visitors can open a panel that exposes 50 channels of audio covering every controller position in Mission Control and several other communication loops.
During the mission anniversary (July 16th – 24th), clicking the ‘Now’ button will drop you into the mission exactly 50 years later, to the second.
If I had my way, all of humanity would take a moment out of their busy lives, tune in and marvel at the scale of what humanity can achieve when we all work together.
The Science and Business Reading Room is putting on their own anniversary celebration. We are displaying books from the Library’s extensive collection about the Moon, Moon missions and Apollo 11 through July 24th, as well as a selection of Moon themed quilts inspired by the Apollo 11 50th anniversary on July 16 and 17. We hope you will be able to visit, but if not, please view the webcasts about the Moon!