The 65-year-old former NASA intern stands to make up to $2 million for the tapes after purchasing them for only $217 back in 1976

By Matt McNulty
July 02, 2019 10:44 AM
Courtesy Sotheby’s

A former NASA intern unwittingly bought a set of original Apollo 11 Moon landing videotape recordings for $217.77 back in the 1970s. Now, he could fetch up to a whopping $2 million for them when they are put up for auction later this month, Sotheby’s said.

Gary George was an intern at NASA when he attended a government surplus auction at Houston’s Ellington Air Force Base back in June 1976. According to Reuters, he took home roughly 1,100 reels of videotape with NASA listed as the “Owning Agency or Reporting Office.”

The now-65-year-old ended up selling some of the recordings and donated others to Lamar University, as well as a local church. George’s father eventually did some digging into the remaining videotapes and found that three happened to capture the moon landing recordings, including Neil Armstrong’s iconic “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” statement, the outlet reported.

The recordings also include the astronauts’ call with Richard Nixon, who was president at the time of the moon landings, as well as footage of the American flag being planted on lunar soil, said Sotheby’s spokeswoman Hallie Freer, according to Reuters.

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“Thinking that these particular tapes may be worth hanging on to, George saved the three boxes, giving them little thought until early 2008 when he learned that NASA was attempting to locate its original slow scan videotapes of the Apollo 11 EVA (Extravehicular Activity) in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing,” Sotheby’s released in a statement.

Courtesy Sotheby’s
Courtesy Sotheby’s

The former NASA intern eventually located a media studio with the equipment necessary to play the videotape recordings in October 2008.

The tapes were in “faultless condition,” and were digitized a month later in November 2008, with Sotheby’s stating “this was the last time these reel-to-reel videotapes were played until Sotheby’s specialists viewed them in order to confirm their quality for this auction.”

George stands to make between $1 and $2 million, according to a pre-sale estimate of the videotapes, which total 2 hours and 24 minutes worth of footage.

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“I had no idea there was anything of value on them,” the retired mechanical engineer from Las Vegas told Reuters. “I was selling them to TV stations just to record over.”

The recordings had only been viewed three times before George acquired them in 1976, and are the last remaining first-generation recordings of Armstrong’s historic first steps on the lunar surface, Sotheby’s states.

NASA had reported back in 2006 that they were sifting “through 37-year-old records in their attempt to locate the magnetic tapes that recorded the original Apollo 11 video in 1969.” At the time, the agency said it didn’t believe the tapes to be lost.

The videotapes will be auctioned off on July 20 in New York City on the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, according to Sotheby’s.

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