Album of the Year: The Apollo 11 Mission

Apollo analog record
One example of the audio track sheet, printed out from an analog tape from the Apollo 11 mission. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA's Apollo 11 mission comes to life in 19,000 hours of newly available audio.

Over the eight-day, 3-hour Apollo 11 mission, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins stayed in constant communication with mission control and supporting teams. The back-and-forth conversations, which took place over what are called communication "loops," were released to the media, because NASA is required to make its work public. But these fragile physical recordings had to be stored in special, climate-controlled vaults. 

Now, thanks to a dedicated collaborative effort between NASA and the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas), all 19,000 hours of audio recordings from the Apollo 11 mission have been converted into a digital format and are available online. [How the Apollo 11 Moon Landing Worked (Infographic)]

NASA collection:

UT Dallas collection:

UT Dallas' online collection has a number of labeled audio categories, which are useful if you want listen to a specific part of the mission. There are even transcripts of these conversations available, a monumental effort by this collaborative team. The written records will make it easier for researchers and enthusiasts to find of-interest moments in the recordings. 

An indisputable magic surrounds the Apollo 11 mission, starkly apparent in listening to these recordings. Many people still remember hearing Armstrong announcing, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." But these recordings reveal countless other incredible moments from the mission.

John H.L. Hansen, principal investigator for this project, said in a NASA statement that digitizing the recordings is a way "to contribute to recognizing the countless scientists, engineers and specialists who worked behind the scenes of the Apollo program to make this a success. These are truly the 'heroes behind the heroes' of Apollo 11!"

A catalogue of awe-inspiring audio, the recordings boast a number of highlights. Amongst occasional static silence in communications, the Apollo 11 astronauts and the wide variety of support staff talk about everything from school reunions to critical mission instructions.

This audio puts you right inside the command module of the Saturn V launch vehicle, winding the year back to 1969. 

Buzz Aldrin stands on the moon during NASA's Apollo 11 mission in 1969. NASA recently revealed 19,000 hours of audio from the mission. (Image credit: NASA)

A significant portion of the audio consists of technical back-and-forth. Though dry, these conversations record an important part of Apollo 11, essential to the success of the mission and the survival of the crew. Even correspondence that might seem mundane carried life-or-death consequences. 

However, even in these serious situations, the astronauts remained calm and even cracked jokes, the recordings reveal. For instance, Hansen said in the statement, at one spot in the recordings, Aldrin is working with flight controllers while the sensor that measures his breathing fails to function correctly. As Aldrin and the flight staff go through the possible explanations and talk through the issue, 10 to 15 minutes go by. Aldrin then jokes to the flight controllers, "Well, if I stop breathing, I'll be sure to let you know!"

In another instance, Aldrin complains about how much of Earth's surface is water, and he asks if mission control can do anything about it, according to the statement. 

"We're approaching the 50th anniversary of Apollo, and I'm really pleased that this resource is becoming available," Mark Geyer, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, said in the statement. 

"Experience is one of the best teachers, so as we continue our work to expand human exploration of our solar system, go back to the moon and on to Mars, we stand on the shoulders of the giants who made Apollo happen," Geyer continued. "These tapes offer a unique glimpse into what it takes to make history and what it will take to make the future."

Email Chelsea Gohd at or follow her @chelsea_gohd. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.