| Aerospace | Sensors/Data Acquisition

A Giant Leap: Reconstructing NASA’s Moon-Mission Audio

You’ve heard, “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind,” but how about a lesser-known quotation from the Apollo lunar mission like:

“Ok, we still got radar landing guidance.”

The University of Texas at Dallas launched a project to make all of the moon-mission audio accessible, from the memorable to the mundane.

From left: Dr. John H.L. Hansen, Chengzhu Yu PhD'17, Dr. Abhijeet Sangwan, and Lakshmish Kaushik pose with a model of an astronaut at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. The four oversaw the project to develop speech processing techniques to reconstruct and transform thousands of hours of audio from NASA’s lunar missions. (Image Credit: University of Texas at Dallas)

In addition to Neil Armstrong’s famous “giant leap,” NASA recorded all communications between the astronauts, mission control specialists, and back-room support staff during the historic Apollo 11 mission of 1969.

Using speech-processing techniques, researchers at the Center for Robust Speech Systems (CRSS) in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) reconstructed the captured communications from more than 200 14-hour analog tapes.

Each tape featured at least 30 audio tracks – some easier to interpret than others, because of garbled speech and technical interference.

The project, led by CRSS founder and director Dr. John H.L. Hansen and research scientist Dr. Abhijeet Sangwan, included doctoral students who helped to digitize and organize the audio.

Learn how the team reconstructed the massive amount of audio.

Supported by a 2012 National Science Foundation grant, the project, in collaboration with the University of Maryland, gathered communication from all of Apollo 11 and most of the Apollo 13, Apollo 1, and Gemini 8 missions.

The team’s algorithms, described in the November issue of IEEE/ACM Transactions on Audio, Speech, and Language Processing, processed, recognized, and analyzed the recordings to determine the identity of the speakers.

For Hansen, the archive project highlights the work of the entire Apollo and Gemini teams, not just the astronauts.

”When one thinks of Apollo, we gravitate to the enormous contributions of the astronauts who clearly deserve our praise and admiration,” said Hansen. “However, the heroes behind the heroes represent the countless engineers, scientists and specialists who brought their STEM-based experience together collectively to ensure the success of the Apollo program.”

Take a listen at Explore Apollo, a website that provides public access to the materials.

Which clips stand out to you? What other applications do you think this technology could have? Share your thoughts below.