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They were nearly thrown out with the rubbish. But a last minute search instead has scientists in Western Australia dusting off several boxes of 'lost' NASA tapes which record surface conditions on the Moon just after Neil Armstrong stepped into space history on 21 July 1969.
After addressing Earth, the American astronaut set up a package of scientific instruments, including a dust detector designed by an Australian physicist. The data collected by the detector was sent back to ground stations on Earth and recorded on magnetic tapes - copies of which are as rare as the 'misplaced' original video footage of the 1969 touchdown.
Last week, up to 100 tapes, clearly marked "NASA Manned Space Center", turned up after a search in a dusty basement of a physics lecture hall at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. One of the old tapes has been sent to the American space agency to see whether it can be deciphered and 'stripped' of any important data which may have survived the ravages of time.
The data are a daily record of the environmental conditions and changes taking place at the lunar site after the Eagle landed safely in the Sea of Tranquility. The most important data were collected after the lunar module blasted off the surface later that day, leaving the still-running instrumentation behind.
The information showed that scientific instruments could be affected by setting them up around landing or take-off sites. They also proved that NASA did go to the Moon.
The data represented, "the only long-term information on the lunar surface environment, and as such are ideal for planning future lunar missions," according to NASA's website.
The "Early Apollo Scientific Experiment Package" (EASEP) deployed by Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin - a member of the Cosmos editorial advisory board - consisted of several self-contained experiments including temperature and seismic activity gauges and a small dust detector designed by Sydney-born physicist and environmental consultant Brian O'Brien, 72, who now lives in Perth.
The EASEP tool kit was the forerunner of other experimental instrument packages used on the Apollo missions. It was unplugged on 3 August 1969, having survived the harsh lunar conditions despite, in NASA's words, "operating temperatures which exceeded the planned maximum by 30 degrees Celsius". The EASEP instruments were activated again the following day, but by August 27, the experiment was terminated when it stopped responding to commands from Earth ground stations.
At the time, O'Brien believed lunar dust thrown up by the ascending NASA module would affect the instruments left on the Moon. He thought that lunar dust could settle on and ruin some of the experiments, which is, in fact, what happened.
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