This week Jeff Bezos fished an F-1 motor from an Apollo mission out of the Atlantic. The biggest rocket engine ever used. That’s seriously awesome.
There is a reader of this blog whose Dad was pad safety officer for Apollo 11 – who was brought up in the middle of the whole project. Ultra cool (I am sooooo jealous!).
I still recall sitting in front of TV aged seven, while a shadowy, black-and-white Neil Armstrong descended to the lunar surface. It was an unforgettable moment. Armstrong – along with Aldrin, Collins and the other Apollo astronauts – were heroes in the truest sense.
Neil Armstrong in the LM, after the first moon walk, 20 July 1969. His face says it all. Photo: NASA
That was the real space age. Even New Zealand was seized by the dream; we had Apollo hardware kits in our cornflake packs, there were moon ice-creams. Humanity was doing what it does best -stretching the limits, pushing the unknown. Publicly, spectacularly. It was an exciting time to grow up.
Not that any of this has stopped lunatic claims that the whole lot was faked by NASA. The argument rests on a trawl for supposed consistency errors and gaffes perpetrated by the top scientific minds in the US, yet easily discoverable by enthusiasts. What’s more, the whole deception has, we are told, been kept secret for decades by tens of thousands of government and private-sector employees, officials, and others involved in the lunar programme, including international scientists such as New Zealand’s Sir William Pickering, who ran JPL at the time.
Quite. Needless to say, most of the pro-hoax arguments pivot on flat ignorance of the science involved. The claims are trivial to debunk – check out here and here.
Buzz Aldrin descends to the lunar surface, 20 July 1969.Photo: NASA, public domain.
I can show you a disproof myself. Check out Armstrong’s photo of Buzz Aldrin descending to the Moon. Notice how he’s lit on the shadowed side of the Lunar Module? That, hoax-advocates insist, is the smoking gun. Dumb old NASA had to add a second light to get around the fact that they’d lit the wrong side of the LM on their sound stage.
The reality? The ladder was in shadow because Armstrong and Aldrin landed with the sun behind them soon after lunar dawn. No second light is needed in this photo; Aldrin is lit by reflected light from the regolith behind Armstrong, the photographer. You can see this principle for yourself. Here’s a photo I took of the Tom Parker fountain in Napier, New Zealand.
A photo I took of the Tom Parker Fountain, Napier, January 2013.
The shadow side of the fountain (facing the camera) should be as dark as the shadows under the topiary. Actually, it’s as bright as the sunlit side. Yet the sole illumination is the sun, from top left. Sunlight reflected from the water on the side of the fountain to the right is illuminating the shadow side. The atmosphere makes little difference – it scatters the light, but not enough, evidenced by density of other shadows. Here’s how it works:
I made this myself. Oh man, I love being a geek!
What I’m showing here is the principle. Water reflects light in specular fashion, and at this angle it’s reflecting 90-95% – rendering the fountain’s shadow side over-exposed. By contrast, lunar regolith reflects about 2% light. And if you check out the moon photo, you’ll see not much light is reflected on Aldrin; Armstrong has set the camera to expose on that shadow. The regolith beyond (as bright as what’s illuminating Aldrin, from the other direction) is grossly over-exposed. That nails the point. Aldrin looks well lit. Actually, he isn’t – and that’s as you’d expect from lunar dirt reflectivity.
I have often wondered why something as stupid as the moon hoax claim could gain traction. Part of it is that we never went back – Apollo ended 40 years ago. Today it seems like a dream. But it also occurs to me that the hoax idea proxies one of the key aspects of the human condition. Humanity, it seems, likes to see patterns where none exist and attribute meaning without reference to context – or by referring to a context that isn’t the one shared by others.
The hoax traction is also, I think, derived at least partly from powerlessness - wanting to find explanations within bound of what the individual knows, as a way of asserting control over a huge and frightening world around. If we assert what we think we know, over what we don’t know, we regain a sense of control. It’s how conspiracies work – the detail of the hoax claim itself is merely symptomatic at this level.
It’s impossible to argue against such people, because what they assert is tied into their sense of self-worth.
What are your thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Next week: the real moon-landing hoax – Moscow style. And coming up, more how-to posts on writing, more fun stuff, and – well, you’ll see!