To Sotheby’s and Beyond


Emailed on July 26th, 2019 in The Friday Forward

With all the excitement about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, one story combined several of our favorite things: space, finance, and government efficiency (lol, jk).

During a spring cleaning sale done by NASA in 1976 Gary George, then an intern at Johnson Space Center, purchased over 1,000 reels of old Ampex videotape marked as no longer needed. In the midst of those 1,000 tapes, 3 were marked “APOLLO 11 EVA, July 20, 1969” and they contained over two hours of raw footage including ‘One small step for man’ and everything else that the world saw transpire live, but in better quality than any other copy on Earth.  

As the original tapes, they did not suffer the same degradation as the tapes used by the network television broadcasts. The originals have only been viewed three times since George purchased them, twice for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing (and also digitized at the time) and once by Sotheby’s experts to verify them before they headed to auction.

Let’s talk ROI: The original price George paid for the tapes: $217 in 1976. They were just purchased at auction for $1.8mm. That’s a 23% annual return on his original investment, not too shabby.

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Sean Steigerwald