The Man Who Bought the Original Moon Landing Tapes for $218 Will Soon Become Rich

The Man Who Bought the Original Moon Landing Tapes for $218 Will Soon Become Rich

Fatherly advice is something of value that most of us would adhere to. Recent news tells of a striking example of such value: A father's wise counsel to hold on to some cheaply acquired film footage should soon lead one former NASA intern to riches.

Buying and reselling antiques and collectibles is a commonplace hobby. You've probably heard of individuals who, not always for investment purposes, purchased items for a modest price and sold them later for big bucks. Just this week, CNN has reported that an ex-NASA intern named Gary George had purchased a box of tapes from an internal company auction in 1976. George had sold off most of the 65 boxes of tapes to various media outlets, but at the behest of his father, held onto the three boxes labeled "APOLLO 11 EVA | July 20, 1969 REEL 1 [-3]."

George decided to take those three boxes to a professional archivist after being contacted by NASA, who was interested in using the footage in a planned celebration of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Only then did he realize that NASA had carelessly sold him — for only $218 — the original footage of the first lunar landing in 1969.

The auctioning of this footage will take place at Soetheby's auction house on July 20th, the 50-year anniversary of the historic event. The starting bid is set at $700,000.

Historic photography and video footage often resurfaces years later. Just earlier this month, we saw a similar story about a man who long ago had purchased a box of old negatives from a thrift store, only later to learn that they were negatives from the famous crime scene photographer “Weegee” (Arthur Fellig). On a more grim note, a newer collection of images from amateur photographers beloging to the Nazi party in World War II was released in a history book early this month.

If something similarly undervalued fell into your lap, would you hold on to it or pass it on to your family? Share your comments below.

Lead photo via NASA/public domain.

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14 Comments

Crystal Johnson's picture

Greed is all I can think of even if NASA has royally screwed up to begin with. My grandfather was an engineer at NASA during this time. I have an extensive amount of memorabilia and items from his time working there, but nothing of great importance like the tapes. So, if something like this that was significant to humanity fell in my lap, I would give it to a museum. This guy also knew he had them since 2008, so yeah... all about money to wait until the 50th anniversary.

I assume NASA has archive COPIES of all this footage, so it's not as if he is depriving the world of historic footage, he simply has the most valuable version of the footage. Good for him, cash in, he is under no obligation to give it away.

I assumed that too... as pretty much everyone did. Well, wrong. That was quite a story ten years ago: thy knew that with modern technique they could get a much better quality movie out of the sata, only, where were the damn tapes? They setup a team to look for them, and came to the conclusion that the tapes must have been overwritten with Landsat data later on. The footage we see of Armstrong setting foot on the moon is not a record of the original signal, but what some TV station received from NASA after it had been reformatted for TV broadcast.
I hope whoever buys the tapes - if not NASA - will not stick them into a bank safe for decades until everything on it is lost.

C Fisher's picture

Lol if I found out I had a million dollars sitting in a box I'm not going to just give it away. He might donate some to charity, which would be a better outcome than just giving it to a museum to sit on a shelf.

Sue G's picture

I dont see how this material falls in private hands

Dan Marchant's picture

NASA was busy trying to do the impossible.... put people on the moon using a desk calculator and a few hairclips stuck on-top of a giant bomb. Things like copyright and future historical interest probably weren't top of their agenda.

"Hey Dave, I need to make space in the store room. Do we really need 5 copies of these tapes?"

BBC used to routinely record over the only video tape copy of shows that turned out to be classics.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Sounds like there was no budget for proper archiving and storage. May be just a lot of money for the top people salary. I don't know really.

Archivist mislabels a box. Boom.

Human mistakes can happen. I still can't believe that the state just didn't simply take it back. It belongs in the national archives.

Scott Mason's picture

Considering that the box was labeled "Apollo 11", I find it appalling that it slipped through the cracks.

I can never say for sure because it hasn't happened to me, but I would have been inclined to try to sell it back to NASA for a fair negotiated price. I'm a bit nerdy in that way but I think that there has to be some karmatic reward for getting a mistaken item with this level of historical relevance back to its original owner, and I would bet that NASA would consider it worth something fair -- maybe not as much as what you would get in an auction, but at least the tapes would then remain somewhere relevant in some protected government vault instead of some rich guy's safe deposit box in Moline or Dallas or Syracuse or wherever.

This is not a perfect analogy, but after Life magazine bought the rights to the Zapruder film for $150,000, Time eventually sold it back to the Zapruder family for $1.00. The family transferred the film to the National Archives and Records Administration for appropriate preservation and safe-keeping, while still retaining ownership of the film and its copyright.

Chris Cheek's picture

Moon Landing Tapes??Ha.GTFO..Never happened..Keep believing that nonsense..