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NASA is releasing behind-the-scenes recordings of first moon landing

Buzz Aldrin, the second  man to set foot on the moon, descending a ladder from the Lunar Module. Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the stars but relied on flight controllers on Earth, whose discussions are now being released.
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, descending a ladder from the Lunar Module. Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the stars but relied on flight controllers on Earth, whose discussions are now being released.(AFP/GETTY IMAGES/FILE)

NASA is opening another window on the historic moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969, by uploading to the Web 19,000 hours of behind-the-scenes recordings of flight controllers.

“Experience is one of the best teachers, so as we continue our work to expand human exploration of our solar system, go back to the moon and on to Mars, we stand on the shoulders of the giants who made Apollo happen. These tapes offer a unique glimpse into what it takes to make history and what it will take to make the future,” Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said in a statement.

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NASA said many people may be familiar with the staticky radio communications by the Apollo 11 astronauts from the moon to the capsule communicator in Houston, including the famous, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed” and “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969. Air-to-ground conversations between the crew and mission control were released to the news media and public, NASA said.

The flight controllers who made it happen
The flight controllers who made it happen(NASA)

But the untold story, NASA said, is the conversations between the flight controllers and other teams supporting the mission, which were going on every minute over a special intercom system of “backroom loops.”

There were 170 audiotapes with 30 channels on each tape. Working with the University of Texas Dallas, NASA digitized and uploaded the tapes to the Internet.

“Understanding space exploration . . . generally focuses on the astronauts, who sacrifice extensively to contribute to the mission goals. Our interests here have been to uncover and explore the countless ‘heroes behind the heroes’ who worked behind the scenes collaboratively to ensure success of the Apollo program,’’ professor John H.L. Hansen, who led the effort, said in an e-mail.

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The university is setting up a website, Explore Apollo, to provide public access to the materials.

NASA said the tapes provide a new perspective on one of the scarier moments of the lunar landing, when a computer overload alarm went off. The tapes also provide some human, humorous moments, the space agency said, citing one case in which a team member offered to put video on flight controllers’ consoles and flight director Gene Kranz said he wanted them looking at data instead.

Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to set foot on the moon.
Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to set foot on the moon.(AP)

Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com