They were the three most famous men on the planet in 1969, but this footage of the Apollo 11 astronauts touring Australia has excited film archivists for another reason.
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are shown parading through the streets of Sydney on the back of an open convertible surrounded by a sea of beehive hairdos and US flags.
ABC film archivist Helen Meany said she was shocked to find the footage was shot on colour film.
“It’s really unusual for our collection because at that point, colour TV was still six years away,” she said.
“Whoever it was who decided to head out with reels of colour film stock that news crews wouldn’t regularly use until the mid-70s on that day must have had a sense of the significance of their visit and thinking long-term about how the ABC might use the footage in the future.
“Ironically, I don’t think it has been used at all.”
The footage was supposed to highlight the astronauts, but 50 years on offers a rare, full-colour glimpse of Australia as the swinging 60s era came to an end.
Long before smartphones turned everyone into a potential camera operator, the majority of lenses the crowd viewed the spectacle through were cat eye sunglasses.
Instead of selfies, Australian space enthusiasts cried out for autographs scrawled by their astronaut heroes.
They were celebrity encounters conducted in an entirely different way to what we see today.
Making television history
Ms Meany had been looking back through the archives for footage from the Apollo 11 Goodwill Tour, which saw the NASA astronauts visit more than 20 countries in a little more than a month.
The delegation made two stops in Australia, landing in Perth before spending the night in Sydney.
It was considered the television event of the year — second only to the Moon landing.
“Their entire visit was telecast live by what was dubbed the ‘royal’ channel, where all the commercial televisions and the ABC pooled their resources to simulcast the event the way they had previously done with Royal visits,” Ms Meany said.
The special broadcast began when the envoy landed at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport on October 31, with the telecast anchored by James Dribble.
It continued the following day when the astronauts held a press conference and were paraded through the streets of Sydney, travelling past Hyde Park.
To capture the spectacle, the largest array of television cameras in Australian history up to that point was stationed throughout the streets.
Everywhere the Apollo 11 crew went were excited crowds waving and holding up signs, right up until they boarded the plane.
Ms Meany compared the astronauts’ reception to The Beatles’ tour.
The trip was planned to demonstrate the willingness of the US to share its space knowledge.
Then-US president Richard Nixon deemed the trip so important, the Air Force Special Air Missions team was brought in to fly the delegation on the vice-president’s plane, Air Force Two.
“As the first men ever to land on the Moon you have demonstrated that you are the best possible ambassadors for peace here on Earth,” Mr Nixon told them.
A long flight for weary astronauts
In an interview for NASA’s Johnson Space Centre Oral History Project, public affairs assistant Geneva Barns described the gruelling schedule of the trip, dubbed project Giantstep
“The trip was pretty intense,” she said.
“I lost 25 pounds (11 kilograms) during the trip.”
She said the crew tried to avoid local foods that could cause health problems and did their best to stay well-rested despite the many time changes. They were restricted to one suitcase, a hang-up bag and a brief case.
Ms Barns said the trip from Thailand to Australia stood out as particularly lengthy. When they arrived in Australia, they had already been to 20 countries and had been touring for a month.
“[We flew] from Bangkok to Sydney all in one day with a two-hour stop in Perth,” she said.
But while a warm welcome was in store for the group, there was some awkwardness when they first arrived.
“When we landed in Perth, the local officials insisted on coming onboard and spraying for tsetse flies,” Ms Barns said.
“Nick Ruwe, our State Department guy, was highly offended that they would do that but they insisted on doing it anyway.
“We were told that when they came onboard to inspect the plane, we should just sit there and stare at them.”
‘Can’t imagine a better place’
Despite the fly spray incident, Armstrong said in a speech upon landing in Perth it was a “genuine pleasure” to visit the city.
“I remember very well the day you turned your lights on here and became known as the city of lights,” Armstrong told the crowd.
“That of course has led to a lot of relationships over the years and I want to give my particular thanks to the people up at Carnarvon that I’ve talked to so frequently from space.”
The band struck up when Collins appeared on the stage and the crowd broke into song to wish him happy birthday, a gesture that was repeated when the envoy touched down in Sydney hours later.
“It is in fact my birthday — I can’t imagine a better place to spend it than here in Australia,” Collins said.
“I don’t feel like any stranger here, although it’s the first trip to Australia both for me and for my wife Pat.
“When we talked to the Earth from the Moon, a good share of the time it was to Australia and we criss-crossed back and fourth across your country for more than a number of times.
“I feel among friends.”
Tweet from NASA History: “Though the men had recently been to the Moon, The Apollo 11 Goodwill Tour was an intense journey of its own”
It was about 11:00pm when the team arrived in Sydney, but a large, animated crowd of more than a thousand was there to welcome the astronauts.
Aldrin mentioned watching a movie “that had something to do with the ANZACs” and name-dropped Waltzing Matilda, which prompted a loud cheer.
The hype continued right up until the crew left the country the following day, with a crowd gathering at the airport for last-minute autographs before Air Force Two took off.
In an interview with Time Magazine last week, Collins said he was “flabbergasted” by the reactions of crowds he encountered while on tour and the overwhelming sense of unity the mission inspired.
“North, white, rich, poor, black, white, east, west — what other achievement can bring all of those disparate interests together?” he asked.
“Nothing I can think of, except the first lunar landing did.”
“Albeit very briefly. But it did.”
Footage finally put to air
Footage from the ABC’s archives was aired in a documentary called Fly Me to the Moon on Tuesday night.
Narrated by John Barron, the program examines the role played by scientists in Australia as they helped with the landing and the broadcast of those first steps.
And for the first time, Australia’s only three astronauts, Philip Chapman, Paul Scully-Power, and Andy Thomas, share their stories of how those steps inspired their life-long love of science and space exploration.
The documentary also examines the legacy of the Moon landing, and the impact it has had on Australian culture in the 50 years since.
Ms Meany said it was exciting to be part of the project.
“I was pretty stoked to be able to dig up all the Apollo 11 film we had in the collection,” she said.
“I’ve been a huge space nerd since I was a little kid.
“My dad took me and my brothers to an open day at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station on the 10th anniversary of the Moon landing.
“They had a chunk of Moon rock on display and it must have made a big impression.”