... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

17: The Great Artists of the Apollo program

On October 4th 1957 the Soviet Union unexpectedly announced the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth.  This took the United States by surprise and initially they scrambled and struggled to keep up.

The Soviets made a few more important ‘firsts’ including Luna 1 in 1959 which crossed the Van Allen radiation belt and became the first manmade object to pass the moon.  On its journey it reported back to us that the moon has no magnetic field, and made the first direct observations of solar winds.  Luna 1’s final resting place is in solar orbit between the Earth and Mars.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space as he orbited the Earth in April 1961.  The first American in space wasn’t until February 1962 when John Glenn piloted Mercury-Atlas 6.  The Soviet Luna program continued to yield a couple more firsts: first soft lunar land of an unmanned spacecraft, and first unmanned spacecraft in lunar orbit (both in 1966).  However by this point the Soviet effort to reach the moon was floundering, and in fact many of their firsts were merely stunts that didn’t serve the progress of science and technology, e.g. first woman in space.

In 1961 JFK had launched the Apollo program, the US effort to put men on the moon.  By 1967 all major space firsts belong to the Apollo program.  The first manned Apollo flight was 7, when Walter Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham orbited the Earth 11 times and tested the new Command Service Module.  The technical successes lead to Apollo 8’s swift despatch to the moon.  On Christmas Eve 1968 Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit the moon.  They orbited 10 times at a distance of between 180 and 190 kilometers.  Mission time was 6 days 3 hours 0 minutes and 42 seconds.

During Apollo 8 Frank Borman photographed in black and white the first Earth Rise witnessed by man.  Minutes later William Anders photographed the same view in colour.

Apollo 9, launching on March 3rd 1969 was the first test of the Lunar Module.  In Earth orbit James McDivitt, David Scott and Russell Schweickart tested rendezvous manoeuvres with the Command Module (named Gumdrop) and Lunar Module (Spider).  Scweickart took a 38 minute spacewalk to test the space suit and backpack.  Mission time was 10d 1h 0m 54s.

Apollo 10 was a return to lunar orbit.  Tom Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan crewed the first Lunar Module (LM) mission to the moon.  Commander Stafford and LM Pilot Cernan took the LM around the moon, practicing the landing manoeuvres 15.6km from the lunar surface, before returning to rendezvous with the Command Module (CM).  During the LM flight Young manned the CM alone, making him the first person to orbit the moon solo.  Mission time was 8d 0h 3m 23s.

Apollo 11 is the one everyone remembers.  While Michael Collins orbited the moon in the CM taking photos of the lunar surface, conducting tests and preparing for the LM’s return, Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin piloted Eagle LM to land on the moon.  The planned landing site proved too uneven, and Armstrong had to choose a new spot, in the Sea of Tranquillity, at the last minute.  Eventually they touched down safely with barely a drop of landing-fuel to spare.  In total Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours and 36 minutes on the lunar surface, including a single moonwalk of 2 hours 31 minutes.  They took photographs and film, collected samples of lunar dust, rock and two core samples (totalling 47.7 pounds), spoke to President Nixon, and deployed a seismograph and a retroreflector.  Today the retroreflector still sits where they left it, and a laser beam sent from Earth and bounced of the reflector returns to Earth in 2.5 seconds, confirming its presence, and the distance between Earth and Moon.

After successfully returning to the CM, the LM was jettisoned unmanned into lunar orbit.  It had run the course of its useful life, would have been dead weight on the journey home, and would not have survived re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.  The Eagle circled the moon for a couple of months at the most before crashing into the surface.

Two months later and Apollo 12 followed.  This time Richard Gordon manned the CM solo, while Charles Conrad and Alan Bean landed on the surface.  Their landing was pinpoint accurate at the chosen spot, 600 feet from the Surveyor 3 probe (an unmanned array of scientific instruments which had landed in 1967).  They took samples of the probe, and of the lunar landscape totalling 75.7 pounds.  They spent 1 day 7 hours 31 minutes on the surface including 2 moonwalks of 3 hours 56 minutes, and 3 hours 49 minutes.

Apollo 13 almost ended in disaster when an oxygen tank exploded causing massive damage to the service module.  The combined efforts and bravery of Jim Lovett, John Swigert, Fred Haise and the entire staff of mission control brought the crew safely home.  This would have been the first mission devoted entirely to scientific exploration; the main focus of 11 and 12 was technical perfection of the modules, equipment and techniques.

Apollo 14 became the first successful mission to focus entirely on scientific exploration.  Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell spent 1 day 9 hours 30 minutes on the moon, while Stuart Roosa piloted the CM in lunar orbit.  Shepard and Mitchell took two moonwalks of duration 4 hours 47 minutes and 4 hours 34 minutes, collecting 94.4 pounds of samples.

Apollo 15 was the first J-mission, meaning an extended time on the lunar surface and a third moonwalk.  It was the first mission to include a Lunar Rover battery-powered car.  Alfred Worden remained in orbit while David Scott and James Irwin landed.  They spent 2 days 18 hours 54 minutes on the surface including three moonwalks of 6 hours 32 minutes, 7 hours 12 minutes and 4 hours 49 minutes, and collected 169 pounds of samples.

Apollo 16 continued along the same successful trajectory, this time with John Young and Charles Duke landing for the first time in a hilly highlands region, and Ken Mattingly remained in orbit. 208.3 pounds of samples collected.

The final Apollo mission, 17, was the first to include a professional scientist among the crew.  Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt, a geologist is currently the only scientist to practice his profession on another world.  Along with Eugene Cernan, finally setting foot on the moon after coming so close during Apollo 10, Schmitt spent 3 days 2 hours 59 minutes on the surface and collected 243.1 pounds of samples.  Ronald Evans remained in orbit.

And with the safe return of the Apollo 17 crew so ended the first – and so far only - era of manned lunar exploration.  The advances in technology brought about by NASA and Apollo forever changed our world.  Computer technology, integrated circuits, fuel cells, fire safety, space suits, life support, LEDs and countless other increases owe their debt, either directly or indirectly, to the Apollo program.

The scientific discoveries made by the countless geologists who have studied the samples brought back, have completely revolutionised our understanding of the history of the moon, and taught us so much about the solar system.

Apollo was perhaps the largest non-military scientific and creative endeavour, unsurpassed until the build of the LHC at CERN.  So many people worked together for the benefit of humanity, in a simple expression of curiosity and adventure.  It is an eternal monument to the power of human ambition, co-operation, intelligence and creativity.

Today there are plans in Europe, Japan, India, China and Russia to repeat the moon-landings in the next 20 or 30 years.  If this goes to plan it will hopefully be followed by a moon-base/laboratory, and eventually a lunar launch pad to take men to Mars.  I hope I live long enough to see this.


Regretful Addendum

It saddens me to say that there are a minority of people out there for whom this counts for naught.  They are the moon-landing conspiracy theorists.  These are people who, like the religious among us, have decided that the real world is not wonderful, exciting and fascinating enough for them.  What their world needs is a vast interconnected unwieldy and contradictory web of deceit.

What it requires to believe the moon landings were faked.

It requires believing that 400,000+ people who contributed to the Apollo project, including America’s bravest, most intelligent and highly skilled pilots and scientists, are in fact the most prolific and arrogant liars who ever lived.  That they wilfully withhold the truth from the world, and not one of them in 40 years has had the good conscious to come forward.
It also bizarrely requires logically that the KGB, the government of the USSR and now Russia and its secret service are involved in the cover-up.  Soviet/Russian intelligence would surely have uncovered a conspiracy by now, yet they have never made any claims the moon-landings were faked.

It requires believing that Nixon’s government could cook this whole thing up in a manner that survives intact for decades, yet couldn’t organise a simple burglary or cover up their involvement (i.e. Watergate).

It requires believing that every scientific discovery/advance we have gained directly or indirectly from the moon-landings, from satellite mapping, digital photography and reliable fuel cells, to computer automated machinery, lunar geology and microchips sprang out of nowhere.  The vast amount of time, energy, money and intelligence ploughed into the Apollo project surely advanced technology quicker than any non-military government project in history.

It requires a frankly weird disregard for all the historical and scientific evidence in support of the moon landings occurring, and a naively high regard for the pathetic and paltry “evidence" in support of the conspiracy (more about that shit later).

It requires that any old shit cooked up by any old nut is, at worst, equally valid to the ‘official story’, and at best, more valuable because it is not influenced by ‘hegemony’, ‘Evil Empire’, The Man or any of that fantasist shite.

It requires complete ignorance of the modern world, based as it is on Scientific Method.  Science is not an absolute authority figure making arbitrary statements on truth.  It is a refined system of thinking and testing ideas against nature, in order to filter out the false from the true.  Humans believe stupid things, make things up, see patterns and causation where there are none, make mistakes and tell lies.  Scientific method is the system we have developed of removing the stupid ideas, the made up stuff, the mistakes and the bullshit from humanities pool of collective knowledge, leaving us with an increasingly accurate picture of nature.  Everyone, even moon-landing conspiracists, neo-Luddites and other despisers of modernity, can clearly see that Scientific Method works.

It requires a complete disinterest in science which borders on pathological intellectual laziness.  It requires a perfunctory half-arsed glance at an online conspiracy forum, for just long enough to decide “there might be something in it”, but without the attention span to linger long enough to realise it is complete bollocks.

It requires a vicious disdain for the most positive traits in humanity: creativity, innovation, scientific method, team work, government, civilisation, adventure, discovery, passion, honesty, truth and public funding of science and art.

It requires a religious belief that everything we see and hear is controlling and manipulated unfailingly by a clandestine global evil working in mysterious ways.

It requires a post-modern view that all information is relative, fact is imaginary and that all beliefs are equally valuable.  It requires thinking that all the advances that science has brought us have just happened by accident, and not as the result of a refined method of distinguishing fact from fiction.  It requires pissing on all modern technology and medical science.

It requires living in a dark and unpleasant world where the greatest achievement in human exploration is replaced with a massive tangle of historical and contemporary deceit.  It requires living in a world where one of the most awe-inspiring, beautiful and fucking ace artistic and scientific projects in history, simply doesn’t exist.

What a hideously masochistic thing to do; to want to live in that world. L

Let’s look at the conspiracy “evidence”.

  • ·         “Look, the flag is blowing in the breeze.  There is no atmosphere on the moon, therefore no breeze.”

Actually quite the opposite: There is no atmosphere on the moon; therefore nothing to stop the flag waving after it has been planted.  The lack of air molecules means that after handling the flag will wave for much longer than it would on Earth.  It will not lose kinetic energy through air resistance, only through the heat generated as the fibres move against one another.
Plus if you actually watch the footage of the flag being planted it only moves while it is being handled and for a short time afterwards. Once it settles it doesn't start moving again until it is handled again. In other words the conspiracy theorist is making stuff up and hoping people won't actually check up on their claims. Unfortunately that seems to be what often does happen. 

  • ·         “Look there are no stars”

The cameras have not picked up stars because they are photographing close-by objects, therefore using a fast shutter speed.  In order to photo the stars they would have needed to use an extremely long shutter speed on a stationary camera.  Time on the lunar surface was extremely limited, and there would have been no point in photographing the stars from the moon (we can get perfectly good pictures of the stars from Earth orbit).
Go out of the city on a clear night and take a picture of a friend with the starry sky in the background.  The stars will not show up in the picture.

  • ·         “The photos were all of extremely high quality.  Seems unlikely.”

Actually there were quite a lot of blurry pointless pictures of astronauts’ feet, etc; however NASA naturally thought it better to release beautiful, interesting and enlightening pictures.  Now it’s easy enough to find badly taken pictures of the Apollo missions.

  • ·         “The shadows stretch in varying directions indicating more than one light source.  Must be studio lights.”

This assumes the lunar surface is perfectly flat.  In reality it is covered in undulations, pits and bumps of various sizes.  This explains any variance in the direction of shadows. 
  • ·         “The technology didn’t exist at the time to do the lunar landings...”

Oh really?  Prove it, because history suggests otherwise.  This argument only works if you have already assumed the lunar landings were faked.  It is a logical fallacy called begging the question i.e. it assumes it is true, yet presents no evidence to back it up other than the initial assumption.   “It was faked because the technology didn’t exist so it must have been faked.”  Not good enough.
Also it ignores one of the reasons the moon landings were so wonderful.  The technology didn’t exist before, that is why no one landed on the moon prior to 1969.  Then NASA and their contractors developed, built, tested, refined, and then used the technology to land on the moon.

  • ·         “I’ve interpreted something or other, via an intentional misunderstanding of a well established scientific principle, to mean that going to the moon is impossible.”

  • "Blah blah, they're on wires, blah, it's just people walking with the video slowed down, blah."

Well done you.  It was so simple yet only you spotted it.  Why didn't I think of that?... 

P.S.  You can tell by the fact that I’m now just posting links that I’ve tired of this nonsense, and now it’s out of my system I promise to never again deign to discuss the conspiracy theories.  The interesting story here is in the moon-landings themselves.  The conspiracies are not interesting; they are petty and boring.  I'm out.

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