Caught on Tape

July 16, 2019
Julia Webster for TIME, adapted by TFK editors
FIRST STEPS An astronaut makes a footprint in lunar soil during the Apollo 11 mission.
NASA

Three reels of videotape from NASA’s Apollo 11 mission will be sold at Sotheby’s auction house on Saturday, July 20. That’s the moon landing’s 50th anniversary.

Sotheby’s says the videos are “the only surviving first-generation recordings of the historic moon walk.” The footage shows “unrestored, unenhanced, and unremastered” images of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. It also shows the astronauts planting an American flag.

Bidding on the tapes will start at $700,000. Sotheby’s estimates that their sale price will be from $1 million to $2 million.

The tapes are owned by Gary George, a former NASA intern. George purchased the footage at a government auction in 1976. He paid just $218, or about $975 in today’s dollars. For decades, George didn’t know the contents of the tapes. He didn’t think they included anything of value. He had hoped to sell them to TV stations.

It wasn’t until 2006 that George realized what he had. The footage has reportedly been viewed only three times since 1976. Other, clearer recordings were probably reused or erased at NASA in the early 1980s.

The tapes will headline a Sotheby’s auction dedicated to space exploration.