And almost all of the footage Miller’s team had was silent. Luckily, specialized tape recorders in Houston captured key voices from those nine days. “NASA keeps records of everything,” said Gregory H. Wiseman, an audio engineer at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “On any given day, this audio that’s recorded is not significant, but if there’s any sort of anomaly in space, then they will go back and review all of these different conversations.” This would have been useful, he noted, with Apollo 13 and the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
The filmmakers also had crucial help from Ben Feist, who works part-time at an advertising agency in Toronto and also does research for NASA. (His sister is the singer-songwriter Feist.) In what began as a hobby, he took 11,000 hours of digitized recordings from Apollo 11, improved the audio quality and mapped them by minute and second. Using his programming, the filmmakers could listen to technicians’ voices separately or in concert at any moment of the mission.
Although NASA approved the release of all the audio, and those heard speaking were government employees, the approach did raise ethical questions. “There are private phone conversations and things like that that occurred, between husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend,” Feist said. “I haven’t come across anything untoward,” he added, though there is a discussion of booze quantities at splashdown parties. In one of the most striking moments in the movie, technicians are overheard discussing the fatal accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., involving a car driven by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, which was in the news at the time.
Feist plans to post all 11,000 hours of audio on apolloinrealtime.org before the mission’s July anniversary, allowing armchair historians to hear audio as if they were sitting in any seat at mission control. They could come across “something that, possibly, they’re the first person to hear it in 50 years,” he said.
Miller was focused on keeping the re-creation as to-the-minute as possible. “We did have kind of our own mission rules,” he explained. “We said, if it didn’t happen on that day at that specific time, we’re not using it.”
But he occasionally broke from that purist approach. To show a solar corona phenomenon that the astronauts speak of, Miller said, he used a shot from Apollo 12. During the moments showing the translunar injection maneuver — the propulsive push that sent Apollo 11 toward the moon — Miller used a shot from Apollo 8. He hopes to document these liberties and other aspects of the filmmaking process in a production journal.