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The first person to have seen the actual, never-before-seen footage of the Apollo 11 lunar module re-entering Earth’s atmosphere in 1972 was the astronaut who filmed it before his return, the Astronaut Reconnaissance Orbiter (ARO).
On July 17 of that year, the ARO snapped the footage on the Moon near the “Lunar Lake” – an area of high volcanic activity in the highlander plateau west of the summit in the south polar region, about 3.6° South from the location where the two astronauts on the Lunar Module Eagle were stationed: Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
The footage shows the astronauts exiting the lunar module on their third leg. As they hit top of the crater lake, a thick cloud of volcanic gases reaches the Moon’s surface, enveloping everything that was below them.
From Earth’s perspective inside the crater lake, a cloud of red dust rises up from the crater floor to form a deep trench. In the foreground of the frame it is possible to see what has to be the lunar module re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
To have seen the footage, Aldrin needed to jump into the lunar module first (or close enough – he could have been shot from a different point) and then to jump off. This could only have been accomplished in the late 1970s or early 1980s, when the ARO operated.
Before the re-entry of Apollo 11, this part of the footage had never been obtained. As a result, no other footage exists of the actual event. In April 2001, one of the ARO’s cameras caught a shot of the lunar module exiting Earth’s atmosphere from a distance of less than 1,500 meters.
The next step was for the newly-established National Geographic organization to acquire the footage. However, they declined a $600,000 offer to fund further development of the ARO and the mission in general – because the company didn’t have the personnel and resources necessary to produce the video.
“National Geographic is proud of our
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