“It’s a journey we
can’t repeat with today’s technology,
but in 1969, a group of astronauts risked everything to walk on the
When We Left Earth, Discovery Channel, 2010
Let’s start this final (for now at least, though I reserve the right to revisit the issue should any uproariously funny new info become available) Apollo installment off with a quintet of extremely rare, previously-unreleased Apollo mission photos. In the top row, from left to right, we get a good view of the sophisticated gyroscopic navigation system, followed by a shot of Neil Armstrong about to step out of the capsule and take those historic first steps on the Moon, and then an eerily familiar shot of a camera set up on a fake lunar surface in front of a fake lunar backdrop. In the bottom row, we learn that an explosion in the ship’s oxygen tank has seriously threatened the mission of Apollo 13.
The preceding images are, of course, yet more screen-caps lifted from Die Frau im Mond, that remarkably prescient silent film that featured the work of technical consultants who would later work on the Apollo missions – the same missions that “we can’t repeat with today’s technology,” though I’m assuming that we could probably put together much better simulations.
The good news to report here is that, after
giving it a
lot of thought, I believe that I may have finally figured out why it is
can’t put together a ‘repeat’ performance: the problem, in a nutshell,
It is doubtful, in other words, that even the
Saturn V could handle the additional load requirements brought on by
Speaking of fecal collection bags, by the
and Neil purportedly left a few of those behind at the fabled
I mention that bit of trivia only because those bags now are – and, as
it may be to believe, this is absolutely true – well on their way to
declared national historic landmarks! The state of
Due to international treaties declaring that
country can lay claim to real estate on the Moon, you see, Tranquility
itself cannot be declared a historic landmark. So
The concern, it is claimed, is that future lunar explorers, either from other nations or on privately funded missions, will run roughshod over the historic site, looting the valuable artifacts. The message California wants to send to such potential hooligans is that bringing home a souvenir sack of astronaut dung will be treated just as harshly as, say, snapping off a piece of the Great Barrier Reef. So if someone reading this should have the good fortune to be the first space tourist to visit Tranquility Base, please do the right thing and cordon off the area and maybe post a few signs informing people of the status of the artifacts. And as tempting as it may be, please refrain from bringing home a bag of astronaut shit as a souvenir.
As the state of
I’m also pretty sure, by the way, that this is the first time that a movement has been underway to bestow historical landmark status upon a site that existed only in our minds and on our TV screens. Should our next goal be to have Mayberry declared a UN World Heritage Site?
In other news, Aldrin is in full agreement
NASA’s plan to scrap the Constellation Program and focus on low-Earth
flights, with an eye to sending men to Mars at some unspecified time in
future. According to Buzz (who couldn’t see stars from the Moon, which
why he didn’t have much luck dancing with them), “getting long-range
flight right requires getting near-Earth orbit perfect … Just as deep
exploration began with practice in our littoral waters, a successful
mission begins with near-Earth orbit testing. To get to the final
must perfect all that we’ll need for the journey.” (“Trading the Moon
The first question that comes to my mind, obviously, is: when did Aldrin become such a fucking pussy? I mean, we obviously didn’t have low-Earth orbit anywhere near “perfect” in 1969, but that didn’t stop him from allegedly blasting off to the Moon, which I would think would qualify as a “long-range space flight.” And exactly how much “near-Earth orbit testing” will be required to “perfect all that [they’ll] need for the journey”? Back in the good ol’ Apollo days, if I recall correctly, we didn’t need to send so much as a single manned Saturn V into low-Earth orbit before allegedly sending one all the way to the Moon!
Buzz’s old sidekick, as it turns out, begs to differ. According to Space.com, Armstrong “blasted NASA’s new plans for future space exploration … The United States is risking losing its role as a leader in space exploration with its new plan, Armstrong said, adding that he was concerned with the looming gap in American human spaceflight.” Fellow Apollo astronauts Jim Lovell and Eugene Cernan are also unhappy with the change of direction. Speaking before a Senate subcommittee, Cernan had this to say: “We (Armstrong, Lovell and myself) have come to the unanimous conclusion that this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to nowhere.” (“Neil Armstrong: Obama’s New Space Plan ‘Poorly Advised,’” May 12, 2010)
Cernan and his fellow Apollo astronauts, needless to say, know a little more than the rest of us do about taking a “mission to nowhere.”
And now, with that out of the way, let’s turn our attention to UFOs and aliens (the saucer-flying kind, not the currently popular jumping-the-border-fence variety), which figure rather prominently in some Apollo ‘conspiracy theories.’ One such theory holds that we did indeed make it to the Moon in the 1960s – only to encounter either active alien colonies or artifacts of past alien colonies. As the story goes, we were either scared off or warned off and have therefore never returned. These theories generally hold that the early Apollo missions succeeded but that the later ones had to be faked – because we were, you know, scared to go back and piss off the aliens.
We can only hope, by the way, that the Moon’s resident aliens have little interest in human fecal matter and have therefore left Buzz’s and Neil’s “historical resources” untouched. Of course, most readers are probably aware of the fact that many aliens have an intense fascination with anal probes, so it seems quite likely that other things associated with the anus would be of interest to them as well.
The other predominant alien theory (which often appears hand-in-hand with the first) seems to be that we did indeed make it to the Moon – but not with the ridiculous hardware of the Apollo program. That was all for show, you see, to cover up the real technology that was used, which invariably is said to be technology that was retro-engineered from the recovered alien spacecraft that Mulder and Scully keep hidden out at Area 51.
Both theories, in other words, posit that we did indeed send men to the Moon, though the home audience was lied to about the details of the missions – specifically, how we got there and/or what we found there.
Some of these theories go so far as to say that there are artifacts of alien colonies on Mars as well, and/or that Mars has already been secretly colonized by us Earthlings. One of President Eisenhower’s granddaughters, for example, has been making the rounds lately claiming that she was targeted for some sort of ongoing Mars colonization project involving all kinds of exotic technology that is in the hands of various secret societies. Or something like that. The details aren’t really important.
Many of the folks who tell such tales also like to claim that it was NASA itself that seeded into the conspiracy literature the notion that we never made it to the Moon. Better for the skeptics in the crowd to buy into that scenario, so the story goes, than to figure out the ‘truth’ – that our Moon has been taken over by hostile aliens (or whatever other equally dubious alien theory it is that is being promoted).
To anyone with a working brain, of course, it should be perfectly obvious that it is actually the opposite that is true – that it is in fact the alien theories that pose the least threat to the status quo, for two rather obvious reasons: first, the alien theories generally hold that we did actually send men to the Moon, so they pose no direct challenge to the core lie of the Apollo Program; additionally, these theories contain deliberately outlandish elements that are designed to marginalize ‘conspiracy theories’ and drive most sane people away not only from Apollo theories, but from the entire field of conspiracy literature.
Anyone who has spent time in the conspiracy trenches should recognize a very obvious pattern, and one which is certainly not unique to Apollo. A substantial body of solid research on what really happened on September 11, 2001, for example, has been tainted by the deliberate introduction of such inanities as ‘pod’ planes, holograms and particle beam weapons. Compelling evidence of the existence of elite international pedophile rings, on the other hand, has been marginalized by blending in stories of shape-shifting alien/human hybrids. And so it goes.
While we’re on the subject of aliens, I’m sure that it was just a coincidence that Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods was released just months before the first alleged Apollo Moon landing and then relentlessly promoted into runaway bestseller status (Chariots and its sequels have reportedly sold in excess of 60 million copies). The book, which purported to present evidence of alien visitations in days of yore, firmly planted two ideas in the minds of many readers: long-range space travel was not only possible, but had already occurred; and aliens were all around us, keeping an eye on the planet.
Interestingly enough, some of
Why do you suppose it is, by the way, that the
crowd seems to have little to say about the UFO tales told by
Speaking of the ‘debunkers,’ it appears that the most prolific of them, Jay Windley (who posts under the nom de poofter Jay Utah – and undoubtedly under various other pseudonyms as well, thus creating the appearance of ‘peer’ acceptance of his pompous posturing), has provided an answer to one of the other enduring mysteries of the Apollo Program. According to a particularly grandiose claim made on a discussion board by Windtunnel (he apparently doesn’t like being referred to as Windbag), he “personally can produce drawings and analysis of the LM (lunar module) structural, pressure, and thermal designs from memory.”
So it seems that NASA did not, in fact, lose and/or destroy the original plans and specs for the lunar modules; the agency instead decided to store that invaluable data in Windley’s spacious head.
Let’s back up now to 1962, to review a bastard
of the U.S. space program known as Operation Fishbowl, which was
doubt one of the most ill-conceived operations ever undertaken by the
brain-trust in Washington. In a nutshell, Fishbowl was a series of
launches aimed at detonating nuclear weapons at high altitudes. Why?
A number of the rockets powering those flights
quite spectacularly and devastatingly. Four of the launches succeeded
reaching altitude and detonating, but those ‘successes’ came at a
price, as we
shall see. Most of the warheads were mounted on Thor rockets, similar
one pictured below. All were launched from
The first warhead, codenamed Bluegill, was launched on June 2, 1962, but the radar tracking system failed and, with no way to verify the rocket’s trajectory, it had to be destroyed in flight. The second warhead, Starfish, took flight on June 19, 1962, but the rocket failed after burning for just under a minute and the craft once again had to be destroyed in flight. Missile debris, some of it radioactive, rained down on the island and the surrounding waters. A couple guys were dispatched with brooms and dustpans and the project was quickly resumed.
The next launch, on July 9, 1962, was the first
‘succeed.’ It was also, according to some theorists, the one that was
to accomplish a key goal of the program: blasting a hole through the
radiation belts to hopefully allow for the safe passage of the Apollo
spacecraft. Starfish Prime, a 1.4 megaton nuclear warhead, detonated at
altitude of about 250 miles. If theorists are correct about the prime
objective, the test failed miserably. Instead of punching a hole
belts, the blast actually created an additional, man-made radiation
also damaged as many as nine
The next attempted launch – which was apparently undertaken because, as should be obvious, the program was going so well – failed on the launch pad and the Thor rocket exploded, causing extensive radioactive contamination of the area as well as the destruction of the launch pad. The spectacular failure of Bluegill Prime, on July 25, 1962, necessitated a brief break.
The launches resumed on October 15, 1962, with a third attempt to launch the Bluegill warhead. That test, Bluegill Double Prime, failed when the rocket went into a serious tumble not long after taking flight. It was, once again, destroyed in flight. Next up was Checkmate, just four days later. Checkmate detonated at an altitude of about 91 miles, considerably lower than the previous ‘success,’ and with a smaller payload.
The next launch was the fourth attempt at Bluegill, dubbed Bluegill Triple Prime. Not many years later, of course, we would get much better at that whole rocket-launching thing (despite the fact that the Saturn V’s F-1 engines were notoriously unstable), eliminating the need for such flights as, for example, Apollo 12 Double Prime (“Goddamnit!! We lost another one?! How many more crews do we have back there? None?! Shit! Can somebody run down to the Home Depot and pick up a few guys and get them suited up?”)
Bluegill Triple Prime detonated on October 25,
1962, at an
altitude of only about 30 miles. I think we can probably all agree that
an unmanned rocket to an altitude of 30 miles in just four attempts, at
very same time that the manned Mercury missions were allegedly
low-Earth orbit on every launch, was quite a stunning achievement. In
event, the last of the Fishbowl launches was on November 1, 1962.
Kingfish, it detonated at about twice the altitude of the previous
so ended a largely forgotten corollary of the
Moving on, I happened to stumble upon a couple of fascinating articles on Space.com – and by “fascinating,” I mean that they unintentionally raise questions about the legitimacy of the Apollo missions, as so frequently happens whenever NASA types talk about going ‘back’ to the Moon.
In one of the articles, we find Michael Wargo, identified as the “chief lunar scientist for Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters,” contemplating a return trip to the Moon: “’None of our spacesuits that we currently have would be appropriate for that extreme an environment,’ [says Wargo]. Any materials built for Earth-like temperatures won’t work on the moon. ‘They don’t bend anymore, they fracture, and they fracture brittle-y, and so everything gets extremely brittle at those temperatures.’” (“Water Discovery Fuels Hope to Colonize the Moon,” November 13, 2009)
And so we discover that there is yet another piece of 1960s technology that has now fallen into an all-consuming black hole: non-brittle materials from which to fashion spacesuits suitable for lunar exploration. Back in the day, it will be recalled, Playtex’s bra seamstresses knew a thing or two about stitching together a non-brittle spacesuit.
In the same article, Jack Burns, “of the Center
Astrophysics and Space Astronomy at the
So … what’s that story again that the ‘debunkers’ like to tell about there being no compelling reason to go ‘back’ to the vast wasteland that is the Moon? Who am I supposed to believe here – the guy with all the fancy academic titles, or the guys whose primary area of expertise seems to be mastering the art of self flagellation?
The other article from Space.com details yet more of the lost technology of the 1960s: “Though engineers are well on their way to preparing us for life on the moon, some major issues have yet to be resolved. ‘Something that we’ll have to consider is radiation,’ Zacny (with Honeybee Robotics, a NASA contractor) said. ‘We can close ourselves in habitats, but radiation protection requires a lot of shielding. We cannot solve this problem yet. Radiation can kill us.’ Moon dwellers will also have to contend with the ubiquitous dust on the surface of the moon, which gets into everything and can wear down joints and connectors and prevent sealing off doors. It also poses a health risk to people, as it can cause breathing difficulties and is difficult to filter out of habitats.” (“How to Build Lunar Homes From Moon Dirt,” September 3, 2008)
The radiation problem has already been covered, both here and elsewhere, so let’s focus instead once again on the dust problem. As previously discussed, NASA nowadays acknowledges that dealing with lunar dust will require the development of sophisticated new technology. No explanation has been provided, of course, for why the Apollo astronauts didn’t have any problems with the dust despite allegedly venturing out on multiple EVAs during their alleged missions.
During the alleged Apollo 17 mission, for example, our fearless astronauts supposedly took the Moon buggy out on three separate occasions, returning each time, by their own accounts, covered from head to toe in Moon dust, which they necessarily would have brought back into the lunar module with them, and then ultimately transferred to the command module when the supposed docking later took place. Why then is there no mention in the Apollo literature of any health problems arising from this, or of any problems with any of the delicate instrumentation, or of any problems with any of the door seals? If it is “difficult to filter out of habitats” even with the technology we possess today, then how were we able to do it 40+ years ago?
The ‘debunker’ crowd, despite loudly proclaiming that they have thoroughly debunked every ‘conspiracy’ claim that has ever been made, has had nothing to say on this issue. I wonder why that is?
No … seriously … I really do wonder why that is. It would be understandable if there were some requirement that their ‘debunkings’ have some actual merit, but their body of ‘work’ clearly demonstrates that they are not bound by any such restrictions. So the silence is a bit puzzling.
Before signing off, there is one final point that needs to be addressed here – one that has been on my mind since first undertaking this series. It is generally claimed, as previously noted, that getting to the Moon from low-Earth orbit is a relatively straightforward procedure: you simply accelerate enough to ‘slingshot’ out of low-Earth orbit, thus escaping Earth’s gravitational pull, and then just sort of freefall to the Moon, firing the engines every now and then to make minor course corrections.
That all sounds just fine in theory … until you take a step back and realize that the Moon itself is a satellite of the Earth, held in place by – you guessed it! – Earth’s gravitational attraction. Isn’t that, after all, what keeps it from drifting randomly about the solar system, whoring itself out to any planet that would have it? So I guess the obvious question that is begged here is: when exactly is it, while traveling from the Earth to the Moon, that one leaves Earth’s orbit?
The answer, quite obviously, is, uhmm, never. Earth’s gravitational pull would obviously get progressively weaker the farther out one ventured, but common sense dictates that it wouldn’t just abruptly end once you got beyond low-Earth orbit. Indeed, an article that appeared in various newspapers not long ago noted that the satellites that enable GPS devices to work orbit the Earth at an altitude of roughly 12,000 miles, about 11,800 miles beyond low-Earth orbit. And yet they are, miraculously enough, still held in place by Earth’s gravity and there have been no reported cases of one of them suddenly freefalling to the Moon.
There would come a time during a journey to the Moon when that body’s own gravitational attraction would be stronger than that of Earth, but given the relative masses of the two bodies, that time wouldn’t come until the tail end of the trip. You could conceivably freefall most of the way back, but you would first, of course, have to actually get there.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that I’m not really buying into the claim that you wouldn’t need much fuel to get to the Moon after reaching low-Earth orbit. Logic would seem to dictate that the path to the Moon would not be the largely linear one we have been sold on, but rather a series of steadily increasing circles (probably ellipses, actually), requiring the expenditure of considerable amounts of fuel.
Perhaps that is the reason why the Space Shuttle has never done a lunar fly-by, or left low-Earth orbit for any other reason. Of course, there are also the problems posed by space radiation, and extreme temperatures, and micrometeorites, and reentry, and …