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University of Alabama in Huntsville restoring historic audio recordings of Apollo program

UAH has more than 200 recordings related to the Apollo missions in the M. Louis Salmon Library Special Collections and Archives.

Posted: Jul 17, 2019 5:00 PM
Updated: Jul 19, 2019 10:27 PM

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is restoring old recordings from the Apollo program that were starting to deteriorate. The restoration is part of an $18,000 grant the school received. 

UAH has more than 200 recordings related to the Apollo missions, including the first moon landing, in the M. Louis Salmon Library Special Collections and Archives. Now, they are all being restored. 

"Cassette tapes, open reel, audio tapes and microcassette tapes, largely of oral history interviews relating to the Apollo program," UAH Archivist, Drew Adan, said.

Adan tells WAAY 31 he and his team analyzed some historical records and knew time was running out to save them. 

"Built into the actual format are chemicals that overtime, as they degrade and off-gas, it can make these media formats no longer playable," Adan said. 

Adan says mold started to grow on some films that could have potentially destroyed them. In April, UAH received a grant, called "Recordings at Risk," that addresses this exact problem.

The recordings will be cleaned and preserved through digitalization, a process that converts the audio recordings into a computer format. That way, they can be heard forever.

"I think digitizing these and putting them out will generate the demand. I think up until this point, not a lot of people are aware of the collection we have," Adan said. 

Adan tells WAAY 31 this form of preservation also reduces the need to use original copies, ultimately protecting them. The recordings contain old interviews with rocket scientists during testing of the Saturn V.

One of the tapes shows family moments of Konrad Dannenberg, a German-born engineer who was part of Wernher von Braun's team. Adan says these are parts of history that must be saved.

"These films kind of offer an unprecedented look into family life of the folks that worked on the Apollo program," Adan said. 

Once the recordings are processed, UAH plans to put all the documents and recordings on their website for the public to see.

Check out more of our Apollo 11 50th anniversary stories here. To watch our Apollo 11 specials, click here and here.

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