Science

Yes, We Really Did Land on the Moon – Part 3, the later missions.

By Duncan Lunan

NASA could easily have faked the lunar sequences.   If you speed up the film, it looks as if the astronauts are moving naturally on Earth.

Fig. 31. John’s Young’s space suited leap on Apollo 16.

It depends which sequences you use.  Some of the things the astronauts did would be well-nigh impossible under Earth gravity, particularly moving at speed or leaping, as John Young did on an Apollo 16 EVA, while wearing spacesuits  (Fig. 31).  Before the landings there were fears that walking in one-sixth gravity would be almost impossible, and the late Chris Boyce considered that people were moving much too freely in the lunar sequences of 2001, A Space Odyssey.  But a natural walking pace on the Moon turned out to be 60% faster than on Earth, and the most comfortable way to move was in a lope of 10 feet per second, as compared with four fps on Earth.14  The astronauts quickly adjusted to it.  But they still had their full mass and inertia, and in order to slow down or stop, they had to develop a technique of kicking their feet out in front of them.  Try doing that on Earth when walking fast and see what happens to you!  Furthermore, when they did it, they raised sprays of dust which immediately fell back and vanished, as did the dust kicked up by the wheels of the Lunar Rover.  So either it was very heavy dust, or they really were in vacuum, not in a hangar at Area 51.

Even at the time, even before Apollo 11, there were rumours that the whole programme was being faked.  I quoted one disbeliever in my story ‘With Time Comes Concord’15:  at Christmas 1968 a friend called Mike Adams, watching a live broadcast from Apollo 8, suddenly declared, “That’s not possible.  Up till now I thought they were idiots, those people who say it’s all being done in a TV studio.  But I can’t believe that.”

“Of course they’re up there,” I said, “They’ve been in zero-g for over five minutes on-screen.  Why, what’s wrong with it?”  

“That demonstration he’s just given of the onboard computer.  You know I’m a Systems Analyst, I trained with IBM.  He’s got it a box there the size of a small typewriter, and he’s saying he can get performance out of it that I can’t get from my company’s mainframe!”

But of course, the microchip revolution was coming, and they really were going to the Moon.  On the final EVA of Apollo 15, Dave Scott undertook to prove that it wasn’t a fake, and he did it by reproducing Galileo’s apocryphal experiment with the falling cannonballs.  Scott produced a falcon feather  (their Lunar Module was named Falcon), and he let it drop along with a geological hammer.  Both fell together, in vacuum, and slowly, at one-sixth gravity  (Fig. 32).  To underline the point, in the BBC’s studio coverage, James Burke hastily obtained a hammer and a feather from the Props department, climbed up on his desk and let them go – of course, the hammer crashed to the floor and the feather floated.  Although the impromptu demonstration was easy to stage on the Moon, it would have been very hard to fake even on film, still less with real-time dialogue.  Zero-g would be even harder:  even in 2001 Stanley Kubrick couldn’t get it completely right, and couldn’t keep Poole’s arms and legs stationary as he turned end over end in space – so leading some critics to think, incorrectly, that he was still struggling although his air supply had been cut off for a long time by then.

Fig. 32. Dave Scott demonstrates lunar gravity with a hammer and feather, proving Galileo right about falling bodies in vacuum.

Some of the film sequences are wrongly labelled.

Surprise, surprise!  Working in spacesuits, under pressure and in unfamiliar conditions, the astronauts made many mistakes with labelling films and in some cases, including Apollo 12, actually left films behind on the Moon.  As the pictures shown showed both astronauts, they were probably TV footage from the Lunar Rover.  But it wouldn’t be the first time NASA got the editing wrong, especially with Rover footage:  at our 1971 International Space Exhibition, where we showed the Apollo 15 information film to multiple school classes, it was obvious that some of the EVA film from the Rover was out of sequence.

There are bomb craters in Area 51 which look like ones on the Moon.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, there was a great deal of argument over whether lunar craters were meteoritic or volcanic.  Opinion in the USA generally favoured impacts, and one of the arguments for them was that there was an unbroken sequence of sizes and diameters from shell and bomb craters on Earth up to the smallest craters visible on the Moon.  However all the craters in Area 51 which were used for astronaut training are much smaller than the ones photographed from lunar orbit, and markedly fresher than the ones photographed on the lunar surface  (Fig. 33). 

Fig. 33. Completed Cinder Lakes Crater Field No.1 in October 1967 (US Geological Survey)

Why is there no flame from the Ascent Stage engine on liftoff?     

As early as the 1950’s, it was known that rocket flames are invisible in sunlight in vacuum;  I remember the then Astronomer Royal denouncing science fiction films for that reason.  (Burns in darkness are a different matter, as witness Fig. 6 in Part 1.)  Stanley Kubrick got it right with the Moon landing and ‘Moon Bus’ sequences in 2001, as well as the pod manoeuvres, in none of which can you see the exhausts.  The jets from the Space Shuttle’s thrusters are visible in sunlight because they’re emitting steam, not a chemical rocket flame.  There were commentators who said they could see a blue flash as the Lunar Module Ascent Stage separated, but with so much gold and silver foil flying towards the camera I wasn’t convinced  (Fig. 34).

Fig. 34. Apollo 16 Ascent Stage liftoff.

Why weren’t the Apollo 16 astronauts killed by radiation from a solar flare?   

It’s now thought that the particle streams from the Sun, which periodically overload the Van Allen Belts and cause auroral displays, are not generated directly by solar flares but by related processes.  The streams are lethally intense, but highly unstable because they are held together by the magnetic fields they themselves generate:  the paths they take through the interplanetary medium are often unpredictable.  Since the SOHO probe was positioned at the Sun-Earth Lagrange 1 point there have been several false alarms when particle streams were thought to be on course for Earth but didn’t arrive.

Had any of the Apollo missions been hit by one of those particle streams, the astronauts would undoubtedly have died.  There was no way to fit adequate shielding into the lightweight Apollo spacecraft.  The astronauts knew that, and accepted the risk.  It’s a pretty poor response to their courage, to say that they never went to the Moon at all.  But here’s a question for those who say they didn’t:

Who did all the work? 

Even the Preliminary Science Reports issued after the lunar missions are the size of large-city telephone books.  Extremely detailed geological maps of the lunar equator were compiled in orbit by the Scientific Equipment Modules of Apollos 15, 16 and 17.  Nearly a ton of moonrock was brought back, its composition is quite unlike terrestrial rocks – no carbon, nitrogen or hydrogen compounds, much more glass, etc – and from it we have learned an entirely new history of the Earth-Moon system and the Solar System as a whole, not to mention the history of the Galaxy as revealed by cosmic ray tracks, and of the Sun:  we now know that it doesn’t occasionally flare catastrophically, for life on Earth, as some scientists believed in the 1960s.

Fig. 35. Apollo 17 ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiments Package).

On each mission, a Scientific Experiment Package was deployed at the landing site  (Fig. 35).  The Apollo 11 one was battery-powered and lasted only months, but the rest were powered by plutonium isotopes and all but one of them remained operational until 1977, when an unbelievably cheeseparing US Congress ordered them to be turned off.  We saw the astronauts deploy them, we saw Dave Scott struggling to get his drill cores and John Young accidentally pull out a cable, we heard Gene Cernan declare, “Okay, nobody touch my Heat-Flow Experiment!” as he set up the replacement.  From that and from seismic mapping of the Moon’s interior we know that it has a semi-liquid core and is still geologically active.  The solar wind collection experiments which the astronauts set up were repacked and brought back for analysis.  The passive laser retroreflectors, which don’t require power, are still there and still working  (Fig. 36);  the Royal Greenwich Observatory is one of the sites using them to monitor the Moon’s movements to an accuracy of centimetres, month after month. 

Fig. 36. Apollo 17 ALSEP, debris pile on left

At the May 2017 meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club in Troon, we had a lecture from Prof. Jim Faller of the University of Colorado, Honorary Professor of the University of Glasgow, the originator and Director of that project.  In 1962 he published a ‘Proposed Lunar Package’ to reflect laser beams back to Earth, allowing the position and movement of the Moon to be tracked with much greater accuracy than before.  The LURE  (Lunar Ranging Experiment)  has been described as ‘the most cost-effective experiment ever’, with no moving parts, needing no power generation, having a very simple set-up  (after removing the covers, the astronauts positioned the devices with their feet), and  designed to last 10 years but still operational after more than 60 years, proving important tests of relativity theory, measuring continental drift on Earth, and for many other purposes.  Prof. Faller passed round a $1500 sample of the end product, so tough that it could be dropped into liquid nitrogen without damage  (not tried at the lecture).  It went very well, except that he had also wanted to demonstrate the principle of the corner-cube retroreflector with a massed array of cigarette lighters, which might have caused problems with the sprinkler system in a no-smoking public venue. 

Fig. 37. Apollo-14 lunar retroreflector

Arnout Schaap, the Director of a volunteer recycling project in the Netherlands, came all the way over to remonstrate with him about littering on the lunar surface, where the astronauts had at least taken the trouble to gather together the packing material  (Fig. 37).  Showing the Fig. 37 photograph of the Apollo 14 retroreflector, Jim Faller explained that for the experiment to be carried at all, NASA required it to be extremely quick and simple to deploy, as above.  The covers were made to be removed with one hand and thrown away without further thought, especially on the Apollo 11 mission, when it wasn’t known how safe or how dangerous the lunar surface would turn out to be, and on the later ones, when it was known that lunar soil sticks like wet sand.  Retrieving the covers  (which would still have to be left behind)  just might have been one complication too many.  If the concern is pollution or littering the lunar environment, bacteria leaking from the spacesuits ought to be a much bigger issue.  After a lively discussion, Jim Faller agreed to be a special guest speaker at a recycling conference in the Netherlands, and we all parted on good terms.  

Since the retroreflectors are still being tracked by observatories around the world, nobody held up the meeting by suggesting they aren’t there at all, and the astronomers are all in the conspiracy. 

You might say that the packages were deposited by unmanned probes, but then, where were the launches?  The USA has only three launch sites, Wallops Island, Vandenburg Air Force Base, and Kennedy Space Centre itself.  Wallops Island was used in the 1960s for small boosters like the Scout, which launched Britain’s Ariel satellites;  it’s often used for upper atmosphere ‘sounding rockets, and now launches the bigger Antares boosters for the Cygnus cargo capsules to the International Space Station.  Vandenburg launches weather satellites, Earth resources satellites and spy satellites into polar and near-polar missions – had it launched secret lunar missions, they’d have had to fly across the southern states and would very quickly have been spotted.  KSC is a tourist attraction on a popular holiday coast, and launches from it can be seen and heard for many miles.  All of them are publicly accessible, at least to the media during launches, and there’s nowhere from which you could launch multiple boosters at least as large as Atlas-Centaur, in the late 1960s, without being seen and heard.   You might as well say that the work on the Moon was done for us by aliens.  But then, the late Joseph Goodavage and others have claimed for years that the astronauts met aliens on the Moon and the authorities have hushed it up.  James Oberg of NASA even wrote a book to disprove it  (ref. 9 of Part 2), so that shows there must be a cover-up, right?

At the last, however, the biggest issue is perhaps the psychological one.  Four million people worked on Project Apollo, still more for sub-contractors who supplied it.  There was extensive participation overseas, not just on the scientific level, but in the tracking facilities provided in Australia, for example – and Jodrell Bank was listening in to Apollo 11, though not directly involved.  The Apollo landing sites were photographed by Japan’s Kayuga-Selene orbiter, and several times over by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, so everyone involved in those programmes would have to be in the conspiracy – to say nothing of the large crews on the Soviet tracking ships, and the large number of amateur astronomers who would have seen the Apollo spacecraft if it had remained in Earth orbit as alleged.  Yet of all those millions of people, not one has broken ranks to say it was faked, even though it would be worth their while to do so.  Despite the international dimensions of the supposed conspiracy, there’s not a word about it on Wikileaks.  When I was told by one US interviewer that must be because ‘it was too big to be on channels covered by Wikileaks’, I asked a British Intelligence officer for his opinion, and he sarcastically replied, “When did you ever meet two Americans who could keep a secret about anything?”  One or two frauds have come forward claiming to have worked for NASA and taken part in the hoax, but their backgrounds didn’t stand up to investigation.  There are people who claim to have worked for Stanley Kubrick on filming the hoax, but as I pointed out in ‘Howlers in Space’ Parts 1 & 2  (ON September 18th and 25th, 2022), Kubrick didn’t always get things right.  There aren’t any howlers like that in the actual Apollo footage, as I hope I’ve demonstrated in this 3-part article.

I know the chap who was Kubrick’s right-hand man during that period, and his reply was that it would have been nice to have that much spare time.  That ties in with the comment made by one of the astronauts who was challenged on the issue:  “If we were going to fake going to the Moon, why-ever would we fake it nine times?” 

References

14.  D.T. Schowalter, T.B. Malone, “The Development of a Lunar Habitability System”, NASA CR-1676, US Government Printing Office, February 1972. 15.  Duncan Lunan, ‘With Time Comes Concord’, Analog, September 1993, reprinted in The Elements of Time, Time Travel Stories by Duncan Lunan’, Shoreline of Infinity,

Click on the links below for parts 1 and 2 in this fascinating series

And for this month’s night sky, click on this link: The Sky Above You – November 2022