4. My Response to Bart Sibrel's Arguments
One of the self-proclaimed “Messiahs” of the CTs is Bart W. Sibrel, producer of a so-called “documentary” video entitled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon. Sibrel made headlines in 2002, when, after stalking Buzz Aldrin for some time, he accosted Aldrin outside a hotel, and demanded, for the umpteenth time, that he “swear on the Bible” that he had really walked on the Moon. ( Since 40% of Americans profess to be practicing Christians, he was presumably banking on his intended audience attaching great importance to this. ) By way of an answer, he received a punch in the face.
Inevitably, Sibrel and his “disciples” claim that his refusal is further “proof” that he didn’t walk on the Moon… A far more likely explanation is that Aldrin objected to his privacy being invaded by some idiot sticking a video camera in his face, insulting him and casting aspersions on his integrity! Sibrel had even called him “a thief”, for allegedly “accepting money to give interviews about something he didn’t really do”!
Sibrel would rather we didn’t know about the result of his trying the same thing with Ed Mitchell of Apollo 14. He tricked his way into Mitchell’s house, by using forged credentials and claiming to be a journalist for a respectable TV channel, and then pulled the same stunt. Unlike Aldrin, Mitchell kept his cool, and did swear on his Bible, before kicking him out – literally, with a boot up his backside.
Sibrel has compiled a “top ten” list of arguments which, in his opinion, “prove” that the Moon landings never happened. In fact, he later revised these, and actually lists a total of 16 “reasons why no man has ever set foot on the Moon”. These can be found on his web site, www.moonmovie.com . Jim McDade, on his site, presents an excellent, rational demolition of each of Sibrel’s arguments in turn; this section is my effort to do the same. Some of Sibrel’s arguments are the same as those of Jones, and thus have already been dealt with in Section 3; this section deals with the remainder.
4.1. “Richard ‘Tricky Dicky’ Nixon was President at the time. He was the king of cover-up, secret tapes and scandal. Think about all of his potential antics that were not discovered.”
This is a classic “guilt by association” argument; Sibrel is claiming that because Nixon couldn’t be trusted, neither could NASA.
Ahem. Nixon was elected in November 1968, and took office as President in January 1969 – all of six months before Apollo 11.
Let’s suppose, for a moment, that the US government did attempt a scam as massive as faking the Moon landings. It’s surely obvious that such a thing would never be possible without years of meticulous planning – yet Sibrel believes that Nixon was able to do it all in six months! Less than that, in fact, as Apollo 10 flew in May 1969; for that matter, Apollo 8 – which the CTs believe was also faked – flew in December 1968 – a few weeks before Nixon took office.
The US space program had been developing under three other presidents, before Nixon. It was begun in the 1950’s under Eisenhower. Project Apollo had its origins with Kennedy’s “challenge to the nation” in 1961, and had been fully researched and developed under the government of Lyndon Johnson. The budgets were allocated, and the sequence of Apollo missions mapped out, long before Nixon even won the election.
Besides, how exactly does anyone make out that Nixon was “the king of cover-up”? He got caught! He couldn’t even stage a simple burglary and get away with it – but we’re supposed to believe that he was capable of faking the Moon landings?
4.2. “A successful manned mission to the Moon offered a wonderful pride-boosting distraction for the near revolt of the citizens of America over 50,000 deaths in the Vietnam War.”
I don’t know enough about American social and political history to answer this one with certainty – so I’ll quote Jim McDade:
“I was at the airport in July of 1969, and watched a grieving family stand on the tarmac while an honour guard removed a family member’s military coffin from a plane. I hardly think they were in the mood to be ‘distracted’ by a Moon landing. They were obviously proud of their lost loved one, however, as they accepted the U.S. flag that draped his coffin. Check the facts once again. It was a slow, painful withdrawal from Vietnam for the USA, but the nation was never ‘on the verge of revolution’. The vast majority of draft-notice recipients dutifully reported for processing. Nixon had already announced the initial phase of U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam one month before Apollo 11, when he called 25,000 troops home.”
Generally speaking, it appears that the same people who opposed the war also opposed the space programme; crowds of anti-war protesters booed the announcement of Apollo 11’s landing. The majority of Americans were still in favour of the war – or at least, accepted that it was necessary - and regarded the troops as heroes. Apparently, a number one hit song during 1969 was The Ballad of the Green Beret.
In any case, this argument is completely pointless. Even if Sibrel’s daft supposition was correct, then it would apply equally, whether the landings were real or faked, and would prove nothing.
4.3. “The Soviets had a five-to-one superiority to the US in manned hours in space. They were first in achieving the following seven important milestones:
First satellite in Earth orbit.
First man in space.
First man to orbit the Earth.
First woman in space.
First crew of three cosmonauts aboard one spacecraft.
The first spacewalk.
The first rendezvous of two orbiting spacecraft.
This put America at a perceived military disadvantage in missile technology during the very height of the Cold War.”
This is a common CT argument; the inference is that, given that the Soviet Union achieved all those early leads, and appeared to be pulling way ahead in the Space Race, it’s hard to believe that the United States was able to catch up, and then leave the Russians behind, in such a short time.
First, let’s look at the first statement above: “The Soviets had a five-to-one superiority to the US in manned hours in space.” This is meaningless, unless it’s qualified by saying when this was the case. This was true at the start of the Gemini programme in early 1965. However, during the next two years, America flew the entire series of ten Gemini missions, while the Soviet Union didn’t fly a single manned spacecraft. By the time of the first Apollo flight, the ratio had changed to nearly three to one in favour of the US.
While the Soviet Union did, of course, achieve the two vital “firsts” – the first satellite and the first manned flight – the Americans were very close behind them. Most of the Russians’ other apparently spectacular achievements in the early days were either misleading exaggerations, or were achieved by means of cutting corners and taking considerable risks, purely for the propaganda value of saying “Up yours, America! We’ve done it first!”
Let’s look at each of those early Soviet leads in turn; for the sake of thoroughness, I’ll even include one which Sibrel omits to mention. Oh, and unlike him, I’ll also list them in the correct chronological order.
The first satellite: The Soviet Union took the lead in October 1957, with the launch of Sputnik 1 - but it didn’t actually do anything, other than transmit a “beep-beep” radio signal to announce its existence. By contrast, the first US satellite, Explorer 1 – launched just three months later – carried a couple of scientific instruments and made important measurements, which led to the discovery of the van Allen belts. Nevertheless, the Russians had first shown that they had the capability of launching spacecraft.
The first animal in space: Only a month after Sputnik 1, the Soviet Union launched the first living animal into space – Laika the dog, aboard Sputnik 2. But they had not yet developed a means of bringing the spacecraft back to Earth; poor Laika was sent on a one-way trip. ( Her last meal was poisoned, so she would die in a relatively humane manner, rather than from starvation or suffocation. )
NASA didn’t attempt anything similar, for an obvious reason; the American public – i.e. the voters! - would not have stood for it! They did not attempt to launch animals, until they had developed and tested the technique of re-entry. Had a monkey or chimpanzee been killed in an accident, then people would have shrugged it off with “Better a monkey than a human” – but deliberately sending an animal to its certain death would simply not have been considered acceptable.
The first man in space and in orbit: This, of course, was the most important “first”, with Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok 1 flight in April 1961. But again, the US wasn’t very far behind. Their first manned spaceflight followed only three weeks later – though admittedly, this was only a 15-minute suborbital “hop”. It was another nine months before John Glenn became the first American to go into orbit – but this simply meant that NASA was taking a more cautious approach. As they later discovered, their Mercury spacecraft was considerably more sophisticated than the Russian Vostok.
The “first rendezvous”: In August 1962, the Russians launched their third and fourth cosmonauts on successive days; they spent two days in orbit simultaneously. At one point, the two spacecraft passed within four miles of each other. The Soviet government claimed that this was the first “space rendezvous”; in fact, it was nothing of the sort. The Vostok spacecraft had no manoeuvring capability, and had simply been launched into orbits which were calculated to bring them close together. The first true rendezvous was not achieved until more than three years later, by the American Geminis 6 and 7.
The first woman in space: In June 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, when she flew aboard Vostok 6. Well, so what? Today, of course, we would think that was no big deal; there’s no reason why a woman can’t do the job as well as a man, and women have been routinely flying aboard the shuttle for the last 20 years. But in those days, long before political correctness or sex equality, it was seen as a big deal. However, the fact that no other female cosmonaut followed her for 19 years indicates that it was purely a political gimmick.
The first “three-man spacecraft”, and the first spacewalk: The then Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, took a gung-ho attitude to space, and demanded that his space agency produce “spectaculars”, simply to upstage the Americans. This policy led to the mysterious Voskhod programme; this consisted of only two flights, but they were the two most gimmicky, propaganda-laden missions ever undertaken – not to mention the most dangerous!
Towards the end of 1964, NASA was preparing its second series of manned spacecraft, the Geminis, which would each carry two men. The first Gemini flight was scheduled for early the next year. But in October 1964, the Russians suddenly announced that they had launched a three-man spacecraft, called Voskhod 1, which spent 24 hours in orbit. It was another major propaganda coup – “Look, everyone – we’ve launched a three-man spacecraft, before the Americans have managed a two-man!”
NASA had also announced that during the Gemini programme, they intended to develop the technique of extravehicular activity, or “spacewalking”. But the Russians beat them to it yet again. In March 1965, just five days before the first Gemini launch, they launched the two-man Voskhod 2, from which Alexei Leonov made the first spacewalk.
At the time, they never released to the West any pictures of their new spacecraft, or any technical details whatsoever; it remained a mystery for two decades. Not until 1985, when they finally came clean under President Gorbachev’s new policy of openness, did we find out why…
Their “three-man spacecraft” was actually nothing more than a modified Vostok, with three men crammed into a capsule designed for one! The capsule was all of 8½ feet across. There was no room for ejector seats, which had been used on Vostok; in fact, it was so cramped, they had to fly without spacesuits – a pretty risky thing to do at that early stage! Thankfully, they got away with it.
For Voskhod 2, they somehow managed to cram in two men, complete with spacesuits – but there was an added requirement. The way the Gemini crews did their spacewalks was quite simple; with both men suited up, they depressurised the cabin, then opened the hatch. But the Russians couldn’t do that, because their less sophisticated electronics in the capsule couldn’t tolerate being exposed to vacuum – so they had to use an airlock.
So how did they fit an airlock into that 8½-foot capsule as well? The answer was – they stuck it on the outside! The airlock was an inflatable tube, just big enough for a man in a spacesuit to crawl through, which was extended from the outside of the main hatch.
Getting out through this contraption was easy enough, but getting back in proved to be a different matter altogether. After 15 minutes surrounded by vacuum, Leonov found that his suit had ballooned, to such a degree that it was impossible for him to get back into the airlock! The only way he managed it was by reducing the pressure in his suit to a near-lethal level; by the time he managed to get back into the capsule, he was close to passing out.
So the Russians achieved their objective of stealing the show from the Americans once again – but the way they did it was so crude and risky, that Leonov was very lucky to come back alive!
After that, the Soviet effort slowed down somewhat. Khrushchev had been toppled during the Voskhod 1 mission. His successor, Leonid Brezhnev, took a more cautious approach; his government decided that no manned spacecraft should be launched, without fully flight-testing an unmanned prototype first. There was a two-year gap before the first flight of the new Soyuz spacecraft – one which ended in tragedy, when Vladimir Komarov was killed by the failure of his landing parachutes.
Meanwhile, America pulled ahead. During the Gemini programme in 1965-66, they mastered the techniques which would be required for Apollo to go to the Moon. Geminis 6 and 7 achieved the first rendezvous, then Gemini 8 – commanded by none other than Neil Armstrong – achieved the first docking, with an unmanned target vehicle. ( The Russians gained one “consolation prize” in 1969, with the first docking of two manned spacecraft. ) They also learned to do properly what Leonov had done in such a risky manner – EVAs.
We can therefore conclude that there was nothing the slightest bit suspicious about America’s “overtaking” of the Soviet Union; that had already happened, long before the first Apollo mission flew. NASA did not suddenly catch up and take the lead, virtually overnight, as Sibrel infers; they did it gradually, over a two-year period, during which they flew ten missions and the Russians none.
[ Update, October 2010: In 2008, I was privileged to visit the private museum of the S. P. Korolev Energia Rocket and Space Corporation - the company which builds many of Russia’s spacecraft and rockets - near Moscow. Among the exhibits there are the actual re-entry capsules from several early missions - the “pride and joy” being that of Vostok 1, in which Gagarin flew.
Also exhibited are the capsules from both Voskhod spacecraft. Fig. 8 – I took the photo myself – shows the Voskhod 2 capsule, from which Leonov made that first risky spacewalk, with its inflatable airlock extended, and a dummy representing Leonov emerging from it. ( It’s the real capsule, but the airlock is a replica, as the real one was jettisoned after use. )
Though I already knew the story of how the spacewalk was achieved, it was still an eye-opener to actually see the contraption with my own eyes, and see just how crude and Heath-Robinsonish it really was! ]
4.4. “Neil Armstrong, the first man to supposedly walk on the moon, refuses to give interviews to anyone on the subject. ‘Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.’ Collins also refuses to be interviewed.”
According to Jim McDade, Sibrel has gone further than this, and actually stated that “Neil Armstrong is a liar!” Armstrong has, in the past, given many hours of interviews; McDade himself interviewed him and Aldrin at the 30th anniversary celebrations in 1999. Perhaps his reluctance to give any these days is simply due to the fact that he is a quiet, modest and reserved man, who has never tried to cash in on his fame. This much is well known; for example, unlike some of his colleagues, he has never accepted any financial offer to advertise or endorse products. ( He once sued a company for using his name without his permission; even then, he didn’t do so for personal gain, but donated the proceeds to his university. ) In fact, McDade, who knows Armstrong personally, describes him as “one of the most moral men I have ever met”, and says that “Sibrel's accusation that Neil Armstrong is the kind of man who would betray his country and the entire world enraged me more than any of the other outrageous charges that he leveled.”
In 2001, the previously described “documentary”, shown on an American TV channel, included the outrageous accusation that astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who were tragically killed in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire, were murdered, to prevent them “blowing the whistle” on NASA’s great scam. In response to this, Armstrong’s office issued a statement, saying that while he "accepts that individuals may believe whatever they wish", he was "substantially offended by the program's implication that his fellow Apollo crewmen were possible accomplices in the murder of his very good friends Grissom, White and Chaffee.”
4.5. “Newly retouched photographs correct errors from previously released versions. Why would they be updating 30-year-old pictures if they really went to the Moon?”
The inference here is that NASA has been altering some of the photos, to remove “incriminating evidence”. An example, to which Sibrel refers on his web site, is the “C Rock” photo ( see Section 3.19 ), which he claims has been tampered with to remove the incriminating “prop marking”. This particular bit of stupidity has already been thoroughly disproved, as explained in Section 3.19.
In fact, none of the Apollo photos have ever been “retouched”. Many of them have, however, been considerably enhanced, using modern digital image processing methods. Asking why this is being done reminds me of an old and slightly risqué joke: Why does a dog lick his privates? Answer: Because he can!
We now have many kinds of digital image processing technology, which simply didn’t exist at the time of Apollo. Software packages such as Adobe Photoshop, which we all now run on our home PCs, are vastly more powerful than any ( non-digital ) processing techniques which were available to professional photo labs in the 1960s and ‘70s. At the same time, today’s printing technology allows photos to be reproduced in books and glossy magazines, to a far higher quality than was possible 30 years ago – so it’s hardly surprising that NASA is taking advantage of modern digital processing to improve the quality of its old photos, for publication in modern-day media.
This is analogous to a modern-day record company re-issuing a classic Elvis or Beatles album on CD. The sound quality of the original studio tapes, recorded in the ‘60s, would be abysmal by today’s standards, so modern digital processing is used to improve the sound quality, to the level expected by today’s listeners. So why should NASA photos be any different?
Note that enhancing photos is not the same thing as “retouching” or “tampering” with them. Digital enhancement improves the quality of a picture, and can often bring out fine detail which is hard to see in the original – but only detail which is there in the first place!
Some CTs have taken this ridiculous argument a step further. In one internet forum, someone actually claims that “it would be easy to fake the Moon landing photos, using Adobe Photoshop”! Yes, of course it would now – but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to this imbecile that Adobe Photoshop and its ilk didn’t exist in 1969, and nor did computers powerful enough to run it! He then claims that the photos which are now available on the internet were “created” only a few years ago, for the purpose of posting them on the internet.
This is the kind of argument which you might expect from someone less than about 15 years old, who doesn’t realise that there actually was life before the internet! For all the Apollo photos reproduced on the internet, the originals – in the form of good old-fashioned slides and paper prints – exist in the NASA archives at Johnson Spaceflight Centre and other institutions, as could be verified by any researcher who made the effort to actually get on a plane and go there, to see for himself.
4.6. “Recently uncovered mislabeled, unedited, behind-the-scenes video footage, dated by NASA three days after they left for the Moon, shows the crew of Apollo 11 staging part of their photography. Is this the arm of God moving across the Earth, or an outtake of an astronaut’s arm in front of a mockup of the Earth as it might appear from a distance if they were actually able to leave Earth orbit? See our streaming video: ‘God’s arm or astronaut’s?’ Either way, it’s one-of-a-kind footage and is only available in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Moon!”
Note the last sentence there; this is where Sibrel tells you that you have to pay for his video to see his “evidence” – get it?
Firstly, there is no such thing as “recently uncovered mislabeled, unedited, behind-the-scenes video footage”; as I’ve already said several times, all the footage ever taken is available in the NASA archives, and always has been.
Sibrel proposes the bizarre theory that the Apollo spacecraft were actually launched with astronauts aboard, but never went further than low Earth orbit. He claims that various aspects of the flights were faked aboard the Earth-orbiting spacecraft, while actors on Earth enacted the lunar surface scenes. The absurdity of this idea, and the impossibility of getting away with such a thing, is discussed in detail in Section 4.10.
As part of this, he claims that they used “templates” to fake photos of the Earth, as it would appear from various distances during the journey to the Moon. This idea is so ludicrous, and so simple to debunk, that I won’t even waste space doing so; Jim McDade has thoroughly demolished it on the second page of his web site.
As for Sibrel’s “arm of God” footage; I haven’t seen it ( as I’m obviously not going to pay good money to see his video! ), so I can’t explain this specific “anomaly”. But in general, there is a pretty obvious explanation for any claim of this kind. Prior to the Apollo flights, the astronauts trained extensively in simulators – accurate mock-ups of the CM and LM interiors, driven by software which mimicked the behaviour of their controls. Again, this is nothing surprising; airline pilots also train in simulators, before being “let loose” at the controls of real planes. It’s perfectly feasible that someone could have got hold of footage taken during simulator runs, and mistaken it for the real thing.
One further point; some CTs have made a big deal out of the fact that some NASA video footage, used for internal reporting purposes, is labelled as “not for general public distribution”, claiming that this is “secret” film which contains “proof” of the conspiracy. It’s nothing of the sort. The simple truth is that NASA had a contract with a media company for the publishing and distribution of material after the event ( as opposed to the live transmissions ); had the agency directly distributed any material for public viewing, then it would have been in breach of that contract.
4.7. "The top portion of the lunar module which landed on the Moon supposedly popped up off the Moon with two astronauts aboard, entered lunar orbit 60 miles up, and docked with the command module in lunar orbit. To look at its design and think such could have actually occurred is absolutely ludicrous. The fuel tanks were nowhere near one-sixth the size of those on the space shuttle as one would expect to achieve lunar orbit."
This man’s ability to talk complete gibberish is astonishing! Not only is he totally ignorant of anything to do with engineering or astronautics, but here, he shows himself to be equally ignorant of even the most elementary physics! He somehow imagines that, because the Moon has one sixth of Earth’s gravity, the LM should have required one sixth as much fuel as the space shuttle, to get itself into orbit.
Is he actually serious? Anyone with so much as a GCSE in physics could spot the obvious flaws in this one, but just for the record…
As is obvious to anyone with any knowledge of physics, the energy which must be supplied – and hence the fuel which must be consumed – to lift a spacecraft into orbit depends on several other factors besides the strength of gravity. ( It obviously doesn’t occur to Sibrel that the rockets used to launch spacecraft from Earth come in a vast range of sizes; think of the difference between the Atlas launcher, used to launch Mercury spacecraft, and the Saturn V! ) It depends on the spacecraft’s mass, the height it has to reach, and the velocity to which it has to accelerate. The latter is especially important, as an object’s kinetic energy is not merely proportional to its velocity, but to its velocity squared. ( A complete Apollo spacecraft had less than half of the mass of a shuttle orbiter, yet the rocket required to launch it had to burn considerably more fuel than a shuttle does. Why? Because it had to be accelerated to a substantially higher velocity, to escape from Earth orbit. )
The energy which a spacecraft has to acquire to get into orbit is a combination of potential energy and kinetic energy. Potential energy is the energy required to lift a mass to a height against gravity; when a mass m is lifted to a height h, the potential energy gained is equal to mgh, where g is the acceleration due to gravity. Kinetic energy can also be called “energy of motion”; when a mass m travels with a velocity v, its kinetic energy is equal to ½mv2.
Now let’s look at some figures. On Earth, the acceleration due to gravity, g, is 9.80 ms-2; on the Moon, the value of g is 1.62 ms-2 – just under 1/6 of its value on Earth. These values can easily be verified from first principles, if you look up the masses and radii of the Earth and Moon, and are familiar with Newton’s Law of Gravitation. The mass of a space shuttle orbiter is typically about 110 tonnes; that of an LM ascent stage was a mere 5 tonnes. A typical orbital height for the shuttle is about 200 km; for an Apollo CSM in lunar orbit, it was only 80 km. ( I’m using approximate figures here, as the exact figures varied from mission to mission. )
So we can immediately see that the potential energy which must be gained by the shuttle is greater than that for the LM, by a factor of
( 110 / 5 ) x 6 x ( 200 / 80 ) = 330.
But this factor pales into insignificance, when we consider the kinetic energy. The shuttle has to reach a velocity of about 28000 km per hour, or 7800 ms-1. For the LM, the required orbital velocity was a mere 5900 km per hour, or 1640 ms-1. So the shuttle has 22 times the mass, and must reach a speed 4.8 times higher; therefore, the kinetic energy it has to gain is greater by a factor of
22 x 4.82 = 506.9.
I’ve calculated the actual amounts of energy required, using the above figures, expressed in the appropriate units, so as to give the answer in joules.
For the shuttle orbiter:
m = 110000 kg
g = 9.80 ms-2
h = 200000 m
v = 7800 ms-1
Potential energy = mgh = 110000 x 9.80 x 200000 = 2.16 x 1011 J
Kinetic energy = ½mv2 = ½ x 110000 x 78002 = 3.35 x 1012 J
Total energy = 2.16 x 1011 + 3.35 x 1012 = 3.57 x 1012 J.
For the LM ascent stage:
m = 5000 kg
g = 1.62 ms-2
h = 80000 m
v = 1640 ms-1
Potential energy = mgh = 5000 x 1.62 x 80000 = 6.48 x 108 J
Kinetic energy = ½mv2 = ½ x 5000 x 16402 = 6.72 x 109 J
Total energy = 6.48 x 108 + 6.72 x 109 = 7.37 x 109 J.
We therefore see that, as a first approximation, the energy which needs to be supplied to the shuttle is a factor of ( 3.57 x 1012 / 7.37 x 109 ) = 484 times that for the LM.
I’ve simplifying things here, by assuming that both vehicles use the same type of fuel, with the same energy yield per kilo; in reality, they don’t. The actual ratio is also increased by other factors. Firstly, the shuttle has to accelerate against air resistance as well as gravity, which the LM doesn’t. Secondly, the size of the tanks needed to carry the shuttle’s fuel adds a great deal of extra mass.
So in reality, the ratio of the required fuel masses is significantly greater than 500:1 – probably nearer to 1000:1!
4.8. “Take a look at the lunar module which supposedly flew from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon. It is a cylindrical shape with a high centre of gravity and one big thrust engine at the bottom. Upon just looking at this design, to think it would not immediately pinwheel and crash, as the lunar module trainer did three weeks prior on Earth, is absurd.”
The only absurd thing here is Sibrel’s “logic”! Firstly, since when was the LM ascent stage cylindrical? It was nothing of the sort; take a look at its shape in Fig. 4 ( in Section 2.1 )! It was a complex, irregular shape, and not even symmetrical. ( It didn’t need to be, as it didn’t need to be aerodynamic. )
Secondly, who says it had “a high centre of gravity”? How can you possibly tell where the centre of gravity of an object is, just by looking at it? Answer: you can’t! An object’s centre of gravity – or centre of mass, as it’s more correctly called – depends not only on its geometric shape, but also on the distribution of mass within it.
Why doesn’t a double decker bus topple over with the slightest sideways tilt? Because the majority of its mass is concentrated near the bottom, in the chassis and engine, so that its centre of gravity is only a few feet above the ground. Similarly, the LM ascent stage had a low centre of gravity, because its heaviest components – the engine and fuel tanks – were located near its base.
The trainer to which Sibrel refers was not a replica of the LM, nor was it meant to be ( see Section 3.9 ) – so any comparison between it and the LM itself is meaningless.
Some CTs have also claimed that the movement of the astronauts within the cabin would have altered its centre of gravity, and thus upset its balance. Yes, their movement would have altered the centre of gravity – but as the vehicle weighed five tons, the shift in its centre of gravity due to the movement of two human beings was miniscule!
Its centre of gravity did change significantly – steadily and gradually, as the fuel in its tanks was depleted. Some CTs claim this as another reason why the LM supposedly couldn’t fly. But this is another remarkable piece of selective thinking, as this same problem applies to every rocket which has ever been built – and every jet aircraft, for that matter! Yet they are not denying that rockets and aircraft work in principle!
The latter is something on which I can comment from experience. My job involves testing safety-critical software for the electronic control of aircraft engines; there are hundreds of lines of code devoted to centre of gravity calculations - constantly recalculating the centre of gravity as the mass of fuel in the tanks changes, and as the fuel in partly full tanks shifts position with changes in the aircraft’s attitude, to enable the engines to compensate for these changes.
Every rocket has a feedback system which detects changes in the vehicle’s axis, and usually compensates by slightly changing the direction of the engine nozzles; this is known as gimballing. This was done on the LM’s descent stage. The engine nozzle of the ascent stage was fixed, but the same compensation was achieved by firing its manoeuvring thrusters.
Finally, there are many thousands of engineers throughout the world, who have no connection with NASA or the US government, but who work in the aerospace industry. If the LM couldn’t fly, is it not likely that some of those people would have realised it, and blown the whistle, decades ago?
4.9. “In 1967, three astronauts were burned alive on the launch pad. The upshot of the congressional inquiry was that the entire Apollo program was in shambles, and it was a miracle no one was killed sooner. All of the problems were supposedly fixed by 1969, just two years later. How could they have made such a large improvement in ‘quality control’ in such a short period of time?”
Jim McDade says, “Only a scumbag would tread over the graves of those three brave astronauts in order to sell a hoax.” Quite. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
On 27 January 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, the intended crew of Apollo 1, were tragically killed by a fire which broke out in their command module during a pre-launch test on the launch pad. The fire was caused by an electrical short, which set alight some inflammable material in the cabin. Fed by the spacecraft’s pure oxygen atmosphere, the fire very rapidly spread out of control, and the astronauts were dead by the time the technicians managed to open the hatch.
As McDade says, it’s disgusting that Sibrel and his ilk should use the tragic deaths of three brave men to promote their ludicrous conspiracy theory. Sibrel is inferring that the Apollo 1 disaster was the point at which NASA realised that they couldn’t go to the Moon, and consequently decided to fake the whole thing. In fact, the problems which led to the tragedy were nowhere near as insurmountable as he would have his followers believe. The following is the summary report of the investigation into the fire:
Although the Board was not able to determine conclusively the specific initiator of the Apollo 204 fire, it has identified the conditions which led to the disaster. These conditions were:
A sealed cabin, pressurized with an oxygen atmosphere.
An extensive distribution of combustible materials in the cabin.
Vulnerable wiring carrying spacecraft power.
Vulnerable plumbing carrying a combustible and corrosive coolant.
Inadequate provisions for the crew to escape.
Inadequate provisions for rescue or medical assistance.
Having identified the conditions that led to the disaster, the Board addressed itself to the question of how these conditions came to exist. Careful consideration of this question leads the Board to the conclusion that in its devotion to the many difficult problems of space travel, the Apollo team failed to give adequate attention to certain mundane but equally vital questions of crew safety. The Board's investigation revealed many deficiencies in design and engineering, manufacture and quality control. When these deficiencies are corrected, the overall reliability of the Apollo Program will be increased greatly."
It took 21 months for all the identified problems to be corrected. Following a number of unmanned test flights, the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7, finally flew in October 1968, manned by the dead men’s backup crew.
Some CTs treat the tragedy in an even more despicable manner. They claim that the “faking” was already underway by the time of the fire, and have even made the obscene allegation that the deaths of Grissom, White and Chaffee were no accident, but that they were murdered, because they were about to “blow the whistle” on the scam! This outrageous claim has even been made in a so-called “documentary” on American TV.
I feel nothing but absolute contempt for anyone who can make such a moronic and offensive accusation, simply to sell their shoddy books or videos, or to satisfy their need to take a swipe at the Establishment. I have only one thing to say to these people; Shut up, and go back to whichever sewer you crawled out of!!!!
4.10. “All Apollo missions stayed in low Earth orbit for the duration of the trip. We uncovered some mislabeled, unedited, behind-the-scenes footage from NASA that shows the crew of Apollo 11 clearly staging a shot of being half-way to the Moon. This clip, shown in our documentary, proves they did not leave low Earth orbit. You won't see this anywhere else!”
This is really just another way of stating the argument in Section 4.6. This appears to be Sibrel’s pet theory – that the Apollo spacecraft were indeed launched with astronauts aboard, but remained in low Earth orbit, while stand-ins on the ground enacted the lunar surface scenes. He also claims that the crews, while in Earth orbit, used “templates” to fake the view of Earth as it would appear from various distances, in order to fool viewers into thinking that they were on the way to the Moon. Jim McDade, on his web site, has done a good job of shooting down this insane idea.
At this point, I’ll say again that there is no such thing as “unseen” footage; the footage which Sibrel describes as “unseen” was in fact broadcast live to the entire world! See Section 4.6 for the explanation of NASA video tapes labelled as “not for general public distribution”.
I can’t comment on the footage which supposedly “shows the crew of Apollo 11 clearly staging a shot of being half-way to the Moon”, as I haven’t seen it; as I said earlier, there’s no way I’m going to pay good money to see Sibrel’s stupid video. But McDade has, and confirms that the footage in question was broadcast live at the time, and that Sibrel has simply misinterpreted it, due to his ignorance of the layout of the spacecraft.
I can, however, comment on the whole ridiculous idea that the spacecraft never left Earth orbit. ( This is also closely related to one of Nathan Jones’ arguments; see Section 3.15. ) Does anyone actually imagine for a moment that it would have been possible to do such a thing, and get away with it?
Firstly, the Soviet Union, or anyone else who so desired, could have monitored the radio transmissions from the spacecraft, and plotted their trajectories. A spacecraft on the way to the Moon, obviously, would have always been located in the sky in a direction not far from that of the Moon. One in low Earth orbit would have travelled right around the sky every couple of hours.
Secondly, the Doppler shift in the radio frequency would have indicated the spacecraft’s velocity of motion. A spacecraft in low Earth orbit travels at around 17500 mph; one on a translunar trajectory initially has a velocity of 24500 mph, which steadily falls as it recedes from Earth, reaching a minimum of only 2200 mph at the point of gravitational balance, and then increasing again to 5000 mph as it approaches the Moon. For a Moon-bound spacecraft, the Doppler shift would indicate that it was steadily receding from the observer during its outward journey, and then steadily approaching him during its return. For one in Earth orbit, the signals would be alternately blue- and redshifted during each orbit, as the spacecraft alternately approached and receded from the observer.
It’s conceivable that by cleverly varying the radio frequencies, the appearance of a Moon-bound Doppler shift could have been faked, so as to fool anyone monitoring the transmissions. But this could not have fooled radar! The Russians, or anyone else, could have used a radio telescope as a radar transmitter to track the spacecraft, and the Doppler shift of the returned signal would have unambiguously indicated its velocity. After all, this is exactly how police speed traps work here on Earth; the speed cameras which we all know and hate employ Doppler radar to measure your car’s speed.
Jones claims that the radio transmissions could have been made “highly directional”, to prevent the Russians or anyone else detecting them. Wrong! The transmissions from a spacecraft in low Earth orbit would be highly directional, but those from a Moon-bound spacecraft would be nothing of the sort.
The “directionality” of a radio signal is directly related to the size of the antenna and the radio frequency used; for a given wavelength ( which is inversely proportional to frequency; the product of frequency and wavelength is the velocity of light ), the bigger the antenna, the narrower the beam. Obviously, the beam spreads out with distance from the source, but the amount by which it spreads is inversely proportional to the diameter of the antenna. For an antenna of diameter d, and signals of wavelength l , the diameter of the beam at a distance s from the antenna is given by
2.4 s l / d.
Apollo spacecraft transmitted at “S-Band” frequencies of around 2 GHz, with a wavelength l of about 15 cm or 0.15 m. The diameter of the main antenna mounted on the SM was roughly 1.5 m; this can be verified by looking at any diagram of the spacecraft which shows the antenna. Fig. 3 ( in Section 2.1 ) shows it in its “folded away” position; it’s at the base of the SM, to the left of the engine nozzle.
When the spacecraft was in the vicinity of the Moon, the distance s was roughly 400000 km or 4 x 108 m. Therefore, the diameter of the radio beam on reaching the Earth was equal to
( 2.4 x 4 x 108 x 0.15 ) / 1.5 = 9.6 x 107 m = 96000 km.
So as the diameter of the beam was several times greater than that of the Earth itself, there was absolutely no way of preventing the Russians or anyone else intercepting it!
Now let’s consider the case of a spacecraft in low Earth orbit; the distance s is now about 200 km or 200000 m. So the beam diameter on the ground is equal to
( 2.4 x 200000 x 0.15 ) / 1.5 = 48000 m = 48 km.
So if, as Sibrel claims, the spacecraft had remained in low Earth orbit, then the beam diameter would have been only 48 km. It would have been quite easy to prevent the radio signals being intercepted, by being careful to transmit only when the craft was passing over the United States or certain friendly countries.
But wait a moment! Any Russian who knew his physics would have done the same calculations as I’ve just done, and would know perfectly well that the signal from a Moon-bound spacecraft couldn’t possibly have been that directional. So the lack of any intercepted signal would have been a dead giveaway!
Finally, anyone who buys the “never left Earth orbit” theory has obviously never heard of Geoffrey Perry… Perry was a physics teacher at Kettering Grammar School in England, and was also an amateur radio enthusiast. After Sputnik 1 was launched in 1957, he and a group of his pupils found that they could track it and plot its orbit, using nothing more sophisticated than an amateur radio set.
Throughout the 1960s, Perry and successive groups of schoolboys carried out an ever more sophisticated programme of monitoring Soviet spacecraft and calculating their orbits. Among their many achievements was the discovery, independently of the American intelligence services, of the existence of Russia’s “secret” military launch site at Plesetsk, as their determination of the orbits of certain satellites indicated that they could not have been launched from either of the known launch sites.
So if a group of schoolboys, armed only with amateur radio sets, could do that, then it’s pretty certain that the Soviet government was able to track the orbit of any US spacecraft as and when it desired!
Footnote: Since writing the above, I have learned that some Apollo 11 footage does exist, which was never broadcast. This was nothing more than a practice run by the astronauts, filmed just minutes before the actual live broadcast took place. But this footage is definitely not "unseen", or exclusive to Sibrel's video! It's now included, together with every bit of footage shot on Apollo 11, in a commercially produced DVD set, available from Spacecraft Films. This company now supplies DVD sets of the complete footage from every manned Apollo mission, as well as some from the Mercury and Gemini programmes. See www.spacecraftfilms.com .
My thanks to Jason Thompson, for informing me about this valuable resource.
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