5. Other Conspiracy Arguments
In this section, I’ll respond to a few other common conspiracy arguments, which are not included in Jones’ or Sibrel’s lists.
5.1. “How could all the photos be perfect?”
A common CT argument is that all the photos taken on the Moon are of excellent quality, perfectly framed and perfectly exposed – the inference being that this “proves” that the photos were staged in a studio. The argument goes something like this: “The cameras were mounted on the front of the astronauts’ spacesuits, and had no finders – and the astronauts had to operate them while wearing bulky and awkward spacesuit gloves. How could they possibly have taken perfect pictures every time?”
The answer, of course, is that they didn’t ! It’s just that only the best of the pictures have ever been published in the media, for obvious reasons.
Suppose you go on an exotic holiday, and like me, take hundreds of photos. Unless you’re a photographer of professional standard, your photos are not all likely to be perfect, are they? In my case, I usually end up with a whole range – a few are excellent, most ( hopefully ) are of acceptable quality, and a few are mediocre or downright rubbish. The latter are consigned to the bin, and only the better ones finish up in an album, to be shown to my family and friends. I’m sure the same applies to most people.
Similarly, the thousands of photos taken during the Apollo missions included the whole range of good, bad and indifferent. But no-one wants to see the bad ones, do they? If an astronaut accidentally cut off the top of his colleague’s head, then that picture is never going to be printed in a book or glossy magazine, is it? Only the best few percent of the pictures have ever been published, because those are the ones which Joe Public wants to see. The remainder, once again, are all available in the NASA archives, to anyone who requests to see them.
Furthermore, everything that the astronauts did on the Moon was practiced over and over again on Earth – including the use of their cameras. NASA realised that the photos taken during the missions would form a valuable and important archive for posterity, so this part of the astronauts’ job was not taken lightly; they extensively practiced operating the cameras, to ensure that they would produce some good pictures.
As for the difficulty of operating the cameras while wearing spacesuit gloves; not surprisingly, the cameras were specially modified, with oversized knobs and levers, with this consideration in mind.
5.2. “The photos are all perfect, but the TV pictures were fuzzy.”
This argument follows on from that discussed in Section 5.1. While some of the Apollo photos – those which we see published in books and magazines – are of excellent quality, the TV footage transmitted from the Moon during Apollo 11 was in very poor-quality, fuzzy and grainy black and white. According to the CTs, this is because the photos were carefully staged in the studio, to show only what NASA wanted us to see, while the TV pictures were deliberately made fuzzy and indistinct, so as to hide what was really happening.
Once again, they are talking utter drivel!
First, the simple and obvious answer. In 1969, still photography was already a mature and quite sophisticated technology, the result of an entire century of research and development – no pun intended! Television, by comparison, was in its infancy. Only a little more than a decade earlier, the average household TV set had consisted of a huge four-foot-wide cabinet, with a tiny nine-inch screen in the middle, which had to be viewed through a magnifier. By 1969, colour TV had been around for just a few years, and was still an expensive luxury; the majority of households still possessed only a black and white set. In fact, some low-budget programmes were still being produced in black and white.
Even for those programmes being made in colour, the picture quality was vastly inferior to that which we take for granted today. Today, if we watch programmes made in the 1960s or ‘70s – think of the re-runs of old classics, such as Dad’s Army , which are still shown from time to time – we can see that the picture quality is pretty abysmal, in comparison with present-day programmes. So it’s obvious that the Apollo footage appears of equally poor quality, by modern-day standards.
However, there is rather more to this matter, which is not quite so obvious.
Firstly, the CTs often appear to be judging everything in terms of what happened on Apollo 11, and seem to forget that five more Moon landing missions followed it! The poor, fuzzy, black and white TV pictures applied only to Apollo 11; on all the subsequent missions, the coverage was in colour, and of considerably better quality.
So if, as the CTs claim, the Apollo 11 pictures were deliberately blurred to disguise what was really going on, then why would NASA have then shown us everything in far greater clarity on the later missions? That doesn’t make any sense, does it?
Why there was such a difference between Apollo 11 and the later missions takes a little explaining. First, it should be pretty obvious that a colour TV picture contains more data than a black and white one – roughly three times as much, since for each “dot” in a black and white picture, a colour picture contains three dots, one for each of the three primary colours. Therefore, transmitting a colour picture, at the same rate of frames per second, requires data to be transmitted at three times the rate as for black and white.
What may not be so obvious to the layman is that transmitting data by radio at a higher rate requires a bigger antenna. Think of the Galileo probe, which was severely restricted in its ability to transmit data back from Jupiter, because its big high-gain dish antenna failed to unfurl properly. It had to make do with transmitting at a much lower data rate, through its smaller low-gain antenna, which vastly reduced the amount of data it was able to return.
To transmit a colour TV signal from the Moon to Earth, at the S-Band frequencies used by Apollo, requires a dish antenna at least 1.2 metres across. All of the missions, including Apollo 11, were able to transmit colour TV from the CM, since the main antenna mounted on the SM was more than adequate for this purpose. The LM, however, had only a small low-gain antenna, about 40 cm across; note its size in Fig. 4 ( in Section 2.1 ). This was capable of transmitting a low-grade black and white TV signal, but useless for colour.
All the missions after Apollo 11 were able to transmit colour TV from the Moon, by means of a large, umbrella-like high-gain antenna, about 1.2 metres in diameter, which was erected on the lunar surface by the astronauts. On Apollos 12 and 14, this was free-standing; on Apollos 15-17, it was mounted on the Lunar Rover, as shown in Fig. 9. Actually, the Apollo 12 crew accidentally damaged their camera, and therefore were not able to transmit any TV pictures ( see Section 6.2 ).
So why didn’t Apollo 11 use a high-gain antenna on the Moon? There are two reasons. Firstly, Apollo 11 was a “bare minimum” mission; its purpose was simply to land two astronauts on the Moon and return them safely to Earth – in order to prove that it could be done, and fulfil Kennedy’s challenge of doing it before the end of the decade. Its LM stayed on the Moon for only a few hours, and Armstrong and Aldrin performed only a single 2½-hour moonwalk. So the mission planners didn’t want them to waste valuable time setting up a fancy antenna, merely so that the viewers on Earth could see prettier pictures; such luxuries would have to wait until the later missions. Apollo 11 would have to make do with what could be transmitted through the LM’s low-gain antenna. In fact, at the time of Apollo 11, the equipment needed to send colour TV on the later missions was still under development.
Secondly, it was obvious that Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface would be a momentous and historic event; naturally, NASA wanted to record the moment for posterity. This was done by means of a remotely controlled TV camera, mounted on the outside of the LM. But obviously, this could only be transmitted through the low-gain antenna, as the astronauts couldn’t possibly deploy a high-gain antenna before they had descended onto the surface! So if those pictures could be transmitted using the low-gain antenna, then they could settle for sending all of the pictures that way.
There is one other aspect of the TV transmissions, about which some CTs have made a big deal. There was no direct feed of the Apollo 11 TV transmissions to broadcasting companies; the pictures were displayed only on a large TV screen in Mission Control, and the TV companies had to film the mission from this. Inevitably, CTs claim that this was to prevent the film being examined too closely.
But again, this applied only to Apollo 11; on the other missions, the transmissions were fed directly to the TV companies, after being sent from the Moon by a high-gain antenna. The reason for this was quite simple. The LM’s small low-gain antenna was not even capable of transmitting a black and white TV signal in standard television format; in order to use this antenna, the signal had to be “compressed”, by reducing the number of lines in the image and the number of frames per second. This reduced the required data transmission rate to only 5% of that required for colour TV. Naturally, it also degraded the quality of the TV pictures; this is another reason for the “fuzzy and grainy” appearance of the Apollo 11 footage.
To feed the transmissions directly to the TV networks would have required elaborate equipment to convert the compressed signal back into standard TV format. There was no point in developing this technology specially, just for one mission, so a low-tech solution was used instead. The pictures were displayed on the large screen in Mission Control, and the TV companies then filmed the scene from that screen, using their standard cameras.
Some may find it hard to believe that one of the most important events of the Twentieth Century was recorded for posterity by means of such crudely improvised equipment and techniques. But I’ll repeat the vital point; the primary purpose of Apollo 11 was simply to land two men on the Moon and return them safely. It was little more than an engineering test, to prove that it could be done. It had to be done within a tight timescale, to fulfil Kennedy’s “before the end of the decade” challenge – not to mention the requirement to beat the Russians to it!
Everything which the astronauts did on the Moon – sending TV pictures, setting up experiments and collecting rock samples – was added to the programme by NASA. On Apollo 11, these activities were kept to an absolute minimum and given lower priority; there would be plenty of time for them on the later missions. Indeed, some of the more sophisticated equipment, to be used on the later missions, was still under development.
All of this is explained in much greater technical detail on Jay Windley’s web site, www.clavius.org .
5.3. “Who took the pictures?”
This has to be one of the most pathetic of all CT arguments! There are some lunar surface video sequences which show two astronauts together. The CTs claim that a third person must have shot the pictures; as only two men landed on the Moon on each mission, this “proves” that it was faked in a studio.
There is also, of course, the famous film showing Neil Armstrong descending the LM ladder and taking his historic first step onto the Moon. This was shot from below, looking upwards, while his colleague Buzz Aldrin was still inside the LM. According to the CTs, the film must have been shot by a cameraman lying on the ground.
Once again, I would expect my ten-year-old nephew to be able to answer this…
Now let’s see… In August 1999, I and three colleagues from Cleveland and Darlington Astronomical Society travelled to Bulgaria to observe a total solar eclipse. On the day of the eclipse, we drove in a hired car to our chosen observing site, and spent the day in a field in the middle of nowhere, a couple of miles from the nearest village. There were just the four of us there, without another human being within sight. Yet in my photo album, there is a photo of the four of us, posing together with our equipment. So who took that picture? The answer is the obvious one; I did – using a camera on a tripod with a self-timer mechanism.
Similarly, in June 2004, my colleague Don Martin and I were in Turkey, observing the transit of Venus. Again, I have photos in my album which show the two of us at our observing site, with our equipment. This time, there were other people around, as we observed from the poolside at our hotel. But wait! Included in the photo is my camera , mounted on a tripod with a long lens, which I was using to photograph the transit! So who could possibly have taken that picture? Again, I did. There’s no law that says I can’t take more than one camera on a trip, is there? I used a second camera, with a self-timer, on a G-cramp mount attached to the back of a chair.
The point I’m making here is that the explanation for the “both astronauts” footage is trivial; doesn’t it occur to the idiots that it’s possible to operate a camera remotely? Obviously, Armstrong’s first step onto the Moon was a momentous and historic moment, and it would have been unthinkable not to record it for posterity! So a remotely-operated camera was mounted on the outside of the LM, specifically for the purpose. The camera was part of an equipment package called the Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly ( MESA ), which was strapped to the side of the LM descent stage, and was lowered like a drawbridge once the astronauts were on the Moon. As Armstrong began to descend the ladder, he pulled a lanyard which released a latch on the MESA, and the camera sprang outwards on a strut, into a position where it was aimed at the ladder. This procedure was clearly explained in a press pack which NASA issued to journalists before the event.
After both astronauts were on the surface, and the MESA had been lowered and opened, the camera was removed from it, and mounted on a tripod to film the rest of their activities.
The later missions also used tripod-mounted TV cameras; Apollos 15-17 also had a camera mounted on the Lunar Rover, to film the EVAs at a distance from the LM.
We also have yet another piece of selective thinking here. In 1965, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was filmed making his historic first spacewalk during the Voskhod 2 flight – while his colleague was inside the capsule and on the other side of a sealed hatch. The CTs apparently don’t doubt that that was done by a remotely-operated camera.
5.4. “The colour television signal from later missions was supposed to be ‘live’, but in fact NASA had equipment on the ground that would delay the signal before passing it on to news agencies.”
Yes, NASA did have such equipment – but it was not actually used on Apollo. It had, however, been used during the Mercury and Gemini programmes. NASA management feared that any “verbal indiscretion” by an astronaut could be a significant public relations embarrassment, so their voice transmissions were relayed to the media “not quite live” – with a delay of a few seconds in the circuit, enabling ground controllers to “bleep out” any inappropriate language. This was the only form of “censorship” which has ever been employed by NASA!
After the Apollo 1 tragedy, it was decided that being completely open and candid with the public was more important than protecting little old ladies who might be upset by naughty words, and the delay policy was dropped.
Proof that the Apollo transmissions were indeed truly “live” was provided during Apollo 16, with an incident of the very kind which the earlier delays had been intended to prevent. During a rest period in the LM, Commander John Young accidentally left his microphone switched on during a “private” conversation with his crewmate Charlie Duke, and treated the world’s viewers to an explicit description of the digestive problem which he was suffering, and a heartfelt complaint about the special diet to which the NASA doctors had subjected them. This was in the days when the use of a certain four-letter word on TV was still regarded as almost the end of civilisation as we knew it; Young’s use of that word on air left no possible doubt that we were hearing his words live and uncensored! ( He was most embarrassed, when his colleague on the ground interrupted him to tell him that he was going out to the world. )
Gene Cernan also involuntarily let out a burst of “inappropriate” language, during a scary moment on Apollo 10 ( see Section 6.2 ).
There was, in fact, a slight delay in the feed of “live” video signals to the TV stations. This was simply due to the requirement to convert the signal from one format to another. Standard format TV cameras, at that time, were too bulky and heavy to carry aboard a spacecraft, so special lightweight ones had been designed for Apollo. Instead of using three separate image sensor tubes for red, green and blue, as in a normal camera, the Apollo cameras used only a single tube, with a rotating colour filter wheel; in effect, the red, green and blue images for each frame were recorded “in series”, rather than “in parallel”, and were then combined into a colour image by equipment on the ground. This reduced both the weight of the cameras and the bandwidth required to transmit the signal – but the downside was that the pictures couldn’t be directly fed to TV stations; there was a brief unavoidable delay, while the signal was converted into standard TV format.
Again, for the technical details of how this system worked, see www.clavius.org .
5.5. “The hatch of the Lunar Module wasn’t big enough for an astronaut, wearing a bulky spacesuit and backpack, to get through it.”
I heard this one from a gentleman whom I recently met, who buys into the conspiracy theory.
Certainly, the hatch wasn’t very big, and getting through it in a spacesuit was pretty awkward – but then, no-one ever said it was easy!
Using this as a conspiracy argument is ridiculous and pointless, for the following reasons. Firstly, if NASA had invested billions of dollars in such a vast and elaborate fake, does anyone actually imagine that they would have made such a stupid mistake? Secondly, the dimensions of the hatch are clearly stated in numerous books on Apollo and the history of spaceflight; I found references in two books on my own shelves, within five minutes. Had such a mistake been made, can anyone believe that not one of all those authors would have realised it? And finally, even if the landings had been faked, it would still have been necessary to make the hatch big enough, so the stand-in astronauts or actors could be filmed emerging from it!
But for the record, let’s look at the facts. The LM ascent stage, which housed two astronauts, had two hatches. The first was the docking hatch, located at the top of the cabin, through which they entered the LM from the CM, to begin the descent to the Moon. This was circular, and 32 inches in diameter – which was quite adequate, as they didn’t need to go through it in full spacesuits. They entered the LM in their flight suits, and didn’t don their much bulkier EVA spacesuits and backpacks until after they had landed on the lunar surface.
The second hatch was the forward hatch, through which they left the LM to perform their EVAs on the Moon. Outside it was a “porch”, or “egress platform” in NASA jargon, positioned on the flat top of the descent stage, which gave access to a ladder attached to one of the landing legs. ( See Fig. 4 in Section 2.1. ) This hatch was square, and 32 inches on a side – which was big enough for an astronaut to get through it in full spacesuit and backpack, but only just. In fact, they had to crawl through it on their stomachs – and when leaving the LM, they had to do so backwards! Each man crawled out feet first onto the egress platform ( Fig. 10 ), then stood up with the aid of handrails, ready to climb down the ladder. This was quite strenuous; in fact, the highest heart rates recorded among the astronauts occurred during this manoeuvre.
The hatch was made so small, simply because there was no room to make it any bigger! In fact, it gave the designers of the LM significant headaches, figuring out how to make the hatch big enough for the astronauts to get through it, while ensuring that it didn’t obstruct the cramped interior of the cabin when it was opened. ( For obvious reasons, it had to open inwards. When the spacecraft was pressurised, the hatch had air on the inside and vacuum on the outside, so the positive pressure on the inside forced it shut against its gasket, helping to maintain the seal. The deck hatches on a submarine open outwards, for the equivalent and opposite reason. )
Fig. 11 shows a plan view of the ascent stage cabin; the interior was a mere 7.8 feet across. ( Its shape was an irregular polygon, but I’ve drawn it as an octagon for simplicity. ) In the centre was the cylindrical cover of the stage’s engine, which protruded up from the floor, and which was about two feet across.
The position of the hatch, when open, is shown to scale. As can be seen, there was no room to make it any bigger, or the engine cover would have prevented it opening. Its height was also restricted by the design of the spacecraft, which required downward-tilted windows in front of the astronauts’ positions.
On every lunar EVA, the Commander left the LM first, and re-entered it last. This was not simply a matter of protocol, but was dictated by the design of the LM. During flight, the Commander stood on the left, and the Lunar Module Pilot on the right, as shown in Fig. 11 ( the front of the cabin is to the left in the diagram ). After landing, when they had released their restraints, there was very little room to move around; once they were fully suited up and ready to begin an EVA, it was impossible for them to pass each other within the cabin and change places.
The forward hatch was hinged on the LMP’s side; as can be seen in Fig. 11, when the hatch was opened, the hatch itself blocked his access to the opening. After the Commander had gone through the hatch, the LMP had to close it, move across into the Commander’s vacated position and open it again, before he could get down onto his belly and crawl out. The reverse applied on re-entering the LM. So it was, in fact, a physical impossibility for the LMP to go out first, or go back in last.
5.6. “Gus Grissom’s Lemon”
Some CTs maintain that the Apollo programme was already in serious trouble, before the Apollo 1 tragedy of 27 January 1967. To back up this claim, they take a real incident and distort it to fit their own purpose. Astronaut Gus Grissom, a veteran of both Mercury and Gemini flights, was the Commander of the Apollo 1 crew, who were killed in the fire. Bart Sibrel, in his video A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon, claims that shortly before the tragedy, Grissom hung a lemon from the hatch of the Command Module in which he was due to fly, to indicate his dissatisfaction with the spacecraft. ( In American slang, an unreliable used car, or anything else regarded as useless, is referred to as “a lemon”. ) This is meant to prove that the astronauts themselves had no faith in the programme, even at that early stage.
Wrong! Grissom did no such thing. As a former military test pilot, he would not have taken what he considered unnecessary risks; had he really lacked confidence in the spacecraft, then he would probably have refused to fly in it!
What actually happened is well known in NASA circles, and has been related in at least one book ( details can be found on Jim McDade’s web site ); Grissom did, in fact, hang a lemon on a simulator .
There were two simulators, used to train the astronauts in handling the spacecraft, which mimicked the behaviour of the Apollo CSM in response to the controls. One of these was at Cape Canaveral, the other at Houston. They were built by North American Rockwell, the company which also built the CSM itself.
As always happens with complex software systems, the software used to drive the simulators was updated many times, as bugs were identified and fixed. There were also a number of hardware upgrades. But Rockwell were not able to keep the updates synchronised between the two simulators, with the result that they ran different versions of the software, and sometimes behaved differently during identical flight simulations. Grissom, frustrated by these inconsistencies, hung a lemon on the Cape simulator as an expression of his feelings. He was dissatisfied with the simulators, not with the spacecraft itself.
Neither he nor anyone else ever hung a lemon on a CM, or any piece of actual Apollo hardware. This is yet another example of a CT making a sensationalist claim, without bothering to check the true facts.
5.7. “Apollo 11 landed embarrassingly off target, four miles from its intended landing site, yet Apollo 12 managed to make a pinpoint landing, only 200 yards from Surveyor 3.”
The inference here is that it’s impossible to believe that such a huge improvement in accuracy could be achieved between the first landing and the second. The simple answer is – it wasn’t, nor did it need to be.
This is yet another example of a CT distorting the real facts to suit his purpose. The second part of that statement is true, but the first is completely false.
First, let’s consider the second part. Surveyor 3, for the uninitiated, was one of a series of unmanned probes which NASA soft landed on the Moon in 1966-68, to study the properties of its surface in preparation for the Apollo landings. On Apollo 12, the plan was to land the Lunar Module close to Surveyor 3, which had landed in April 1967, so the crew could walk to it, and bring back parts of it for analysis, to determine the effect on materials of prolonged exposure to space. The goal was to land within 1000 yards of the probe; in fact, they achieved even better accuracy than that, and landed only about 200 yards from it.
Now let’s consider the first part of the claim. Apollo 11’s landing was not “embarrassingly off target” at all! While the LM did indeed land four miles away from its intended target, there was nothing “embarrassing” or accidental about it; as is common knowledge, it was due to a deliberate change of plan by Neil Armstrong, in the interests of safety.
The LM’s descent was, in fact, dead on target, just about as accurate as that of Apollo 12. But during the final approach, the astronauts saw that their intended landing zone was a lot rougher than had been thought from orbital photos, and strewn with boulders. Landing there would have been dangerous – so Armstrong made a command decision to override the pre-programmed guidance. He took over manual control, and deliberately overshot the landing zone, in search of a smoother area of ground on which to set down.
The only thing which the above argument proves is that its author didn’t bother to do even the most elementary research. The story of Apollo 11’s landing, and Armstrong’s manual override, is told in detail in practically every book which has ever been written about Apollo!
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