One of the unfortunate mishaps of the historic Apollo 11 moonlanding is the fact that there are only a handful of photographs of Neil Armstrong, commander of the mission and first to step onto the lunar soil, standing on the surface itself during the two-hour exploration walk. It was completely unintentional and due to the Hasselblad 70mm still camera being mostly in Armstrong's possession for the majority of the extravehicular activity.
So the most famous Apollo 11 image, which has gone on to become the iconic mission shot is often mistaken for Armstrong, but is Buzz Aldrin instead, with the stoic commander visible in Aldrin's reflective helmet visor. The Lunar Module's external film camera captured much of the scientific experiments, instrument reading, rock and soil collecting, and flag-raising but due to its low-tech capabilities and troublesome shadows, many moments of the footage are simply too dark to discern.
Now thanks to space historian Robert Godwin, archival film footage received from NASA a few years ago, and recently examined for Apollo 11's 50th anniversary, has exposed just what the astronauts were doing in the shadowy blackness just before Armstrong took that stunning signature snapshot. The incredible footage starts at the 54:13 mark in the video below:
Upon closer scrutiny of a copy of the internegative created in July of 1969 from NASA's master 16mm film returned from the moon, Godwin noticed previously unseen silhouettes of Armstrong and Aldrin on the surface working in the murky corners and exchanging the Hasselblad camera in preparation for Buzz's photoshoot. Godwin presented his digitally restored footage at last week’s EAA Airventure event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and explained the process of discovering this veiled sequence for the world.
"The camera was in the window of the LEM and left running at one frame per second," Godwin said at the gathering. "But when the film was processed and used over the last fifty years it was very dark... Essentially everything you see in that bottom corner is invisible."
"But on the internegative, which was recorded and sealed in a can fifty years ago today, THAT was going on in the corner and I happened to spot that about a month ago, so we decided to try and do our best to restore it and bring it out. So what you're seeing here has actually never been seen before. What we're seeing now is the moment where Buzz had the Hasselblad camera on his chest and he brings it back to Neil... You're about to see the creation of a very famous photograph here."
As visible in the bottom left-hand corner, Armstrong then checks the camera and carefully bolts it to the chest bracket on his spacesuit as Aldrin moves off to the right and poses for what will become that classic shot.
What do you think of this remarkable restored footage which adds to the mystique of the Apollo 11 mission on its milestone 50th anniversary?