A Rare Audio Visit Back to the Apollo 11 Triumph

The Atlantic

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I'm obsessed with oddity records. And at an estate sale this weekend, I found one of the best ever produced by a magazine: The Sounds of Space. 

After the successful Apollo 11 mission to the surface of the moon, National Geographic ran a special issue dedicated to the trip to the moon. Inside that issue, they included what's called a "Flexi disc," a very light piece of plastic that you could be mailed with the magazine and then stuck on a turntable. This disc featured astronaut Frank Borman narrating a (very, very) brief history of the space race from, roughly, Sputnik to the moon landing. It was the second time that National Geographic had mailed a disc; the first was an address by Winston Churchill. (Incidentally, the most popular was humpback whale sounds in the 1970s.) 

The Apollo 11 audio came from a special link that National Geographic made to the mission headquarters.

"To ensure a record of the highest quality (electronic filtering has improved the clarity of many of the voices), your Society recorded the complete Apollo 11 space-ground communications, piped by two phone lines from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center," the record's intro assures us. "At Society headquarters, diesel generators, a safeguard against power failures, drove the recorders. The Apollo 11 tapes, on 95 10-inch reels, now form a part of your Society's growing audiovisual library--a part that is literally out of this world."

When I heard the record, I immediately thought I should create a multimedia experience out of it. There's just something about these old sounds: Radio Moscow celebrating Yuri Gagarin, the fear in John Glenn's voice as he heads for splashdown, astronaut Ed White's joy as he spacewalks, the check-off that preceded the Apollo 11 landing. 

The record runs about 11 minutes, but I've used the authoring tool Zeega to create a kind of audio picturebook out of the Flexi disc that's slightly shorter. You advance to the right to hear the next audio segment. Also, feel free to full-screen it for a much more immersive listening experience.





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