Where are the 45 NASA Moon landing tapes, showing crystal clear video of the historic Apollo 11 moon walk? Nobody knows! Not even Brad Meltzer′s Lost History! In last night′s episode on the History Channel H2, Brad investigates the missing Moon landing tapes, as well as how a set of George Washington′s dentures were stolen from the Smithsonian Institute and the case of the lost ′Bixby Letter′ written by Abraham Lincoln. That was the letter which became popularized in the film, ″Saving Private Ryan″, as Lincoln offered condolences to Lydia Bixby, the mother who lost five sons during the American Civil War. So let us get cracking as we have a lot of ground, and space, to cover. About 250,000 miles worth of space!
July 20, 1969 was a day that will long be remembered by those who were alive. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed their Lunar Module, LM, named Eagle, upon the surface of the Moon. Shortly after Aldrin consecrates the Moon for Freemasonry, Armstrong exits the Eagle and starts down the ladder. About halfway down, he pulls a handle which opens the equipment bay of the LM′s Descent Stage. Inside it is a Black and White TV camera which starts recording and beaming video back to Earth. Some 600 Million people worldwide watch blurry, ghostly images of Armstrong take that ′Giant Leap for Mankind′ as he sets foot on the Moon.
The communication network for the Apollo Moon landing was organized by a 26-year old NASA engineer named Dick Nazfger. Signals from the LM were beamed from the Moon to the Earth and picked up by two radio telescopes in Australia turned into giant satellite TV dishes. They then sent the video data to a facility in Sydney, which combined the signals and displayed them on a small TV screen only a few inches wide. This high resolution display had another TV camera pointed at it, which was used to beam the images via Earth orbiting satellites to the United States and NASA′s headquarters via the Goldstone dish in Arizona. From Houston, the video was beamed across the nation, and the world via other satellites.
So, what 600 Million people, including myself, were watching was a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. Maybe even another copy or three further downstream! That is why the video was so blurry and dark. Years later, an Australian journalist working on a story about his country′s involvement in the Apollo missions came across some Polaroid snapshots taken of the Sydney display screen. Surprised at how clear and crisp the pictures were, he contacts Dick Nazfger to find out if there are any recordings? The answer was, YES!
But, there was a problem. Some 45 reels of magnetic tape recorded about 15 minutes of video on each from the original ′down-link′ stations. Unfortunately, nobody knew where the tapes were. Nazfger hunted for them to no avail. One alleged tape turned up in Australia, supposedly a copy an engineer made and kept in his garage for many years. But that tape turned out to have telemetry data from a space mission from 1967. The searchers then learned that in the mid 1970s, NASA was running low on magnetic tape and began erasing old reels and recording new missions on them. Oh-No! Nazfger did learn that there was a duplicate set of the 45 tape reels made based on old memos. But nobody knows where they, or the originals are, or if they even still exist. Are the missing NASA Moon landing tapes in somebody′s garage or attic? Are they at Warehouse 13 next to the crate containing the Ark of the Covenant? Or are they lost forever having been recorded over with data from the Voyager or Viking missions? Who can say?
One thing we can say is that George Washington had bad teeth. His dental problems began when he was just 23 and steadily got worse. By the time he took the office as President, George was down to having just one, original tooth left. He lost that by his second term. Being one of the wealthiest men in America, George Washington did not wear wooden false teeth. He had four sets of dentures made from hippo ivory with actual human teeth, all held together by wire made of gold. The last of these sets were made in 1795.
Upon his death in 1797, the four sets of George Washington′s dentures were distributed to various museums and universities. The last set from 1795 was given to the University of Maryland Dental School. In the 1970s, they loaned the dentures to the Smithsonian Institute for an exhibition, probably connected with the Bicentennial. The were dentures were later stored in a secure room at the Smithsonian in a locked drawer. That is until 1981 when the false teeth were discovered to be missing.
The FBI investigated and determined that the teeth were stolen, probably an inside job by somebody at the Smithsonian. No clues were left behind and whoever took them must have had access to the keys to open the room door and storage drawer. About a year later, the bottom half of the dentures was discovered nearby the room, again pointing the finger at a museum worker. One guess is that the dentures were stolen for the gold wire and springs as gold was priced around $800 an ounce back then. About one month earlier in 1981, a security guard at the Smithsonian was busted for stealing several other historic items made of gold. But the where abouts of George Washington′s fourth set of dentures, at least the upper half, remain a mystery to this day.
Our last mystery involves the famous letter written by Abraham Lincoln in November, 1864 to Mrs. Lydia Bixby. Known as the Bixby Letter, Lincoln wrote the condolence to Mrs. Bixby of Massachusetts after learning that she had lost five sons during the Civil War. The letter became the inspiration for the movie, ″Saving Private Ryan″ and was read by George W. Bush during the 10th anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero in New York on September 11, 2011. The letter is considered by many to be as important as Lincoln′s Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, at least it literary terms. The official who delivered the letter to Mrs. Bixby was so taken by Lincoln′s prose that he made a copy which he gave to a newspaper in Boston for publication.
Forty years later, Robert Todd Lincoln set out to find the original copy and ensure its survival as a historical document. But, instead he ran into a sea of fakes and forgeries. In 1895, a printer by the name of Tobin made a lithograph copy of the letter and sold them for $2 a pop. Years later, the problem was increased when another printer ran off another batch of lithographs in 1924. Finding the original now seems unlikely. Especially after a Bixby family member announced in 1925 that Lydia Bixby was a ′Copperhead′! A Confederate sympathizer. The story is that when she got the letter from Lincoln, she was so angry that she burned it. So is the Bixby Letter gone forever, up in smoke? Or did she just stuff it in a family Bible or some other place now long forgotten? Nobody knows and this mystery remains an enigma.