AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVI , No. 1, Spring 2004

Endangered Interview Recordings Preserved for Posterity

In 1969-1972 a young scholar with degrees in engineering science and the philosophy of science, Ian Mitroff, conducted a remarkable series of interviews with leading geoscientists. He asked what they expected to learn from the Apollo moon landings, and he followed up after the landings by asking what they had in fact learned. It was a time of exciting science and raging controversy, and the tape recordings captured a rich variety of personal, social, and scientific information. After using the tapes as raw material for a book (The Subjective Side of Science : A Philosophical Inquiry into the Psychology of the Apollo Moon Scientists, 1974), Mitroff deposited them in the archives of AIP's Niels Bohr Library. He has since moved on to become a distinguished expert on business policy.

The Library has been examining the condition of its oral history interview audio tapes, beginning with the oldest ones. Magnetic tape has a limited lifetime, deteriorating physically and accumulating noise. The solution is provided by a standard set by the National Archives based on ANSI/ISO testing. Following this standard, we have employed a local vendor who copies the original cassettes or reels onto one-quarter inch wide, 1.5 mil thick polyester-base audio tape in full track (monaural) mode on one side only. The new tape is stored on 10-inch reels in 30-minute segments; these are called "preservation masters." The work is expensive, and the budget has allowed only a fraction of the endangered tapes to be preserved each year, but all the oldest ones are now remastered in a form that should last a century or more.

Working forward through time has brought us to several collections in the archives with audiotaped interviews dating from the early 1970s. After prioritizing the list by both age of the tapes and importance of the material recorded (as judged especially by the names of the scientists interviewed), we selected 43 audio cassettes from over 270 in Ian Mitroff's Lunar Scientists Interviews collection. Additional tapes from this and other collections will be remastered in future years, to the extent allowed by donations from our Friends and other budgetary support.

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