The first photograph of Earthrise was taken in 1966 by NASA's robotic probe Lunar Orbiter 1. After the Apollo manned lunar missions brought back better pictures, the original image and other priceless photographs stored on 2-inch tape were dumped into storage and forgotten. In the 70s, NASA hired Nancy Evans to look after their archives. Evans was appalled that a lot of the space agency's original data was regularly dumped to save on storage costs.
When the clerk came in to ask about the Lunar Orbiter tapes, she didn't hesitate.
"Do not destroy those tapes," Evans commanded.
She talked her bosses at JPL into storing them in a lab warehouse. "I could not morally get rid of this stuff," said Evans, 71, in an interview at her Sun Valley home.
She had no idea what she was letting herself in for. The full collection of Lunar Orbiter data amounted to 2,500 tapes. Assembled on pallets, they constituted an imposing monolith 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and 6 feet high.
The mountain of tapes was just part of Evans' new burden.
There was no point, she realized, in preserving the tapes unless she also had an FR-900 Ampex tape drive to read them. But only a few dozen of the machines had been made for the military. The $330,000 tape drives were electronic behemoths, each 7 feet tall and weighing nearly a ton.
The L.A. Times has the story of how Evans fought bureaucracy and outmoded technology for 30 years to preserve the 1966 pictures. Link -via Metafilter
Also see a post with photographs that follow the story of the recovery. Link
(image credit: NASA)