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Listening for Apollo - Houston, We Have a Podcast


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April 18, 2019

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Neil Armstrong’s historic words have reverberated through history for the past 50 years, but behind the galaxy’s most famous quote was round-the-clock support provided by Mission Control and many communications and support locations around the globe.

In a new four-part episode of Houston, We Have a Podcast, host Pat Ryan explores the history of the mission control communication, by taking listeners on a deep dive through a five-year effort to digitize the Apollo 11 mission control audio tapes for use across the world.


“This was a unique situation where there was a documented record of the entire mission with dozens conversations going on at the same time,” Ryan said. “The only problem was that there was no way to listen to it.”

Audio conversations between the flight controllers and other teams supporting the mission were going on every minute of the mission over what are called communications “loops.” The air-to-ground loops between the Apollo 11 crew and Mission Control were released publicly as they happened; however, over 19,000 hours of “backroom loops” where individual experts discussed the details of their systems, had until recently been unreleased.

The tapes of the backroom loops had been stored in Maryland at the National Archives but were sent to Johnson Space Center when John Hansen, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, requested to listen to the tapes in hopes of using them to conduct research on how individuals work together in groups to solve a problem.

“He came down to Houston to listen to the audio and we show him these physical audio tapes and the only machine in the world that could play them was broken” Ryan said. “Hansen said ‘this is going to be a problem.’”


During the four-part episode, Ryan sits down with Hansen and many others to discuss why the Apollo tapes are so significant and the engineering marvel that it took to take something from 50 years ago and preserve it for the next generation.

“The great thing about this success is that we still have tapes from all of the Apollo missions,” said Greg Wiseman, NASA’s lead audio engineer for the project. “We would love to be able to digitize them all and it looks like we just may get the opportunity to do that. “

The four-part Houston, We Have a Podcast series launches on Friday, April 19, and will air every Friday until the epic conclusion on May 10.

Find the podcast at NASA.gov, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud, and many other platforms.

This four-part series is part of NASA’s Apollo 50th celebration, find all Apollo related episodes of Houston, We Have a Podcast at www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP/apollo50th.

The digitized audio recordings can be listened to on NASA’s archive.org site and ExploreApollo.org.


Noah Michelsohn, Johnson Space Center