The Internet is polluted with craziness, and there is no better example than YouTube. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen when you give everyone on the planet the power to show everyone else on the planet their innermost thoughts, desires, and insane ramblings, you need only look at YouTube.
One of the biggest offenders of incoherent ramblings is the subject of spaceflight. Simply search ‘space shuttle’ on YouTube, and you’ll find accusations of the crew of Columbia being abducted by aliens. Crazy, incoherent, and somewhat insulting. Accusations of a moon landing conspiracy are unavoidable in the ‘related videos’ section and are similarly filled with videos from people with either a tenuous grasp of reality or too much time on their hands.
A broken clock is right twice a day, a broken calendar is right every twenty-eight years or so, and every once in a while, simply from the volume of videos on the subject, one conspiracy theorist will present a new and novel idea. Here we present perhaps the only moon landing conspiracy theory that makes sense, is consistent with physical laws, and that may actually be true.
Comparing other government conspiracies
One of the best ways to figure out what it would take to pull off a project is to compare it to earlier, similar projects. If you’re building a 100-storey skyscraper and need a good idea of how long construction will take, just look at how long it took to build the last 100-storey skyscraper. If you want to build a dam and wonder how much it will cost, just look at earlier, similar dams that used the same construction methods and materials.
The Apollo moon landing conspiracy contends that 400,000 government workers and contractors would need to keep quiet, and no inquisitive journalists would be out in the trenches, digging for the truth. This government conspiracy would ostensibly be headed by none other than Richard Nixon, and fortunately we have a pretty good analog to compare a moon landing conspiracy to other Nixon-era conspiracies. Watergate-gate, with far fewer people involved, was found out. It strains credibility that a conspiracy many orders of magnitude larger would not be uncovered.
Additionally, there are many other nefarious activities sponsored by the US government that have been made public. The MK Ultra experiments dosed hundreds of people including Ted Kaczynski and Sirhan Sirhan with LSD. Not all of the records were destroyed, though, and the entire experiment was disclosed in 1977 with a FOIA request. The US Public Health Service infected people with syphilis, and the CIA is responsible for overthrowing dozens of governments around the world. All of these conspiracies were eventually found out. The very idea that researchers, academics, and journalists are unable to pierce the veil of a moon landing conspiracy over forty years strains credibility.
There is one government project on the scale of the Apollo moon landing that was, for a time, secret: the Manhattan Project. With perhaps 300,000 people involved in the creation of the first atomic bombs, it is the only secret government project with the same scale as NASA in the 1960s. Here, history tells us that secrets that big don’t stay secret for long, with the Soviet Union receiving plans for atomic weapons before the end of the war.
In comparing the scale of an Apollo moon landing conspiracy to other, real conspiracies committed by the US government, the argument completely falls apart. The Tuskegee syphilis experiments involved perhaps a few hundred people. The MK Ultra experiments perhaps a few thousand. Watergate-gate involved less than one hundred. An Apollo moon landing conspiracy would involve nearly a half million over the course of ten years, yet moon landing conspiracists say the largest conspiracy of all time would be the one that succeeded. It doesn’t strain credibility – it completely destroys it.
What then, do the conspiracy theorists say?
Doubt about the reality of men landing on the moon began well before July 20, 1969. In his 2004 autobiography, Bill Clinton told a story about his first encounter with a moon landing denier. A month after Apollo 11’s return from the moon, an “old carpenter” said he didn’t believe it for a minute. After all, “‘them television fellers’ could make things look real that weren’t.”
While doubt is one thing, an argument is another thing entirely. In 1976, this argument would be crystallized in Bill Kaysing’s self published book, We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle.
From 1956 until 1963, Kaysing worked as a technical writer at Rocketdyne, manufacturer of the first stage F-1 engines used in the Saturn V rocket that launched men to the moon. Although the design of the F-1 engine began around 1957, problems plagued the project. It was – and still is – the most powerful engine ever made. As such, a few problems arose involving combustion instability that would lead to failures in testing. These problems would be ironed out by the time the first F-1 engine was delivered to Marshall Space Flight Center in 1963, and in 1964 the F-1 engine was fully flight rated.
The Saturn V and F-1 engines would first be used to launch a spacecraft in 1967 with Apollo 4, an unmanned ‘all-up’ test of the full spacecraft stack. Kaysing quit Rocketdyne long before this test, selling his home, buying a travel trailer, moving to the Pacific northwest, deciding he didn’t like rain, and moving again to Santa Barbara to work in marketing and advertising. All this time, and through the Apollo landings from 1969 to 1972, Kaysing would have ‘a hunch’ that the Apollo program was not all that it appeared to be. This ‘hunch’ would eventually turn itself into a book that formed the foundation of all moon landing conspiracies. This hunch was based on early problems with the F-1 engine he was privy to. However, because Kaysing left Rocketdyne without seeing the results of design improvements, this hunch would never be corrected in the face of reality.
In his book, We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle, Kaysing made several arguments that pointed to a series of fake moon landings, all of which have been repeatedly disproven. These arguments include:
- There are no stars in lunar surface photographs. This can be refuted by an analysis of the exposures of the camera.
- There was no ‘blast crater’ underneath the descent stage of the lunar lander. In one sixth Earth gravity, the lunar lander weighed considerably less than the minimum weight of a Harrier or F-35B jet; you don’t see blast craters when a VTOL aircraft lands.
- Shadows in lunar surface photographs point in different directions, indicating multiple light sources were used. If multiple light sources were used, you would see multiple shadows behind each astronaut. Multiple shadows do not exist in lunar surface photographs.
- NASA lacked the expertise to put a man on the moon. In 1963, when Kaysing quit Rocketdyne, this was correct. This assertion is incorrect for 1969, as Kaysing’s knowledge of NASA’s expertise ends in 1963.
After Kaysing published his opus, the conspiracy theories would be increasingly refined by others who were equally well suited for baseless conjecture and completely ignoring evidence. It has been said by many moon landing conspiracists that if only a gigantic telescope was pointed at the moon and the descent stage of the LEM, trash, moon buggies, and footprints were visible, they would renounce everything they had ever said about NASA’s swindle of the American public and the world.
In 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched. It was the first spacecraft to orbit the moon low enough, and with a high enough resolution camera, to view the shadow of the American flags dotting the lunar regolith. Moon landing conspiracists have not yet shut up, despite direct evidence contrary to their beliefs. If you’ve ever needed proof confirmation bias exists, there you have it.
A funny thing happened on our way to confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency for humans to seek out and favor information that confirms beliefs, while disregarding evidence for alternative possibilities. Everyone is guilty of it to one degree or another, but moon landing deniers even more so. No amount of evidence, including pictures of the moon landing sites taken from lunar orbit, will convince them otherwise. I suspect taking a moon landing conspiracy to Tranquility Base would only convince them that someone had been there mere months before, moving props and sets from Area 51 to the moon.
Everyone is guilty of confirmation bias, though, and anything called a ‘moon landing conspiracy’ will be met with derision by most of the educated population. Even in the face of substantial evidence, many of us will disregard anything called a ‘moon landing conspiracy’. This post is an introduction to the most plausible Apollo moon landing conspiracy ever devised. It’s not a post saying Apollo didn’t go to the moon, nor is it a post saying humans lacked the technology to go to the moon in 1969. This post simply says there was an EVA on Apollo 12 that has not made it into the official record. For lack of a better name, I’m calling this ‘conspiracy theory’ the zeroth EVA of Apollo 12.
The purpose and timeline of Apollo 12
The entire purpose of Apollo 11 was laid out in 1962 by President Kennedy: by December 31, 1969, the United States would land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth. The Apollo 11 mission would follow this plan in the safest way possible. The Eagle would descend to the lunar surface, and Armstrong and Aldrin would spend about two and a half hours collecting rocks, planting a flag, leaving behind a few experiments, and taking a few pictures of magnificent desolation.
Going to the moon once doesn’t make much sense, though, and economies of scale still exist when you’re talking about moon rockets. At the time the Apollo 11 command module Columbia splashed down in the Pacific, nine more moon landings were planned, and there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes to ensure all of the Apollo lunar missions were efficient, safe, and would result in a treasure trove of scientific knowledge. Astronauts were trained in geology, lunar rovers that would allow exploration further from the LEM were being built, and missions were being planned to test the capabilities of spacecraft and crew.
One of the most important objectives to meet after Apollo 11 splashed down was to confirm the ability of the Apollo LEM to land at a specific location on the moon. Armstrong didn’t manage this – because the planned landing site of Eagle was covered with boulders, Armstrong piloted the craft to a smoother landing site four miles downrange. It could be said the entire purpose of Apollo 12 would be to land at a predetermined spot. Thanks to a few probes sent up several years before, NASA already had pictures from the surface of a few good landing sites. Landing next to one of these probes would ensure NASA had the capability to perform precision landings on the moon.
To prove NASA could land at a specific target on the lunar surface, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean would land their lunar module next to Surveyor 3, an unmanned surface probe that landed in 1967. Planned activities for Conrad and Bean on the lunar surface included setting up experiments, gathering samples, and most importantly proving NASA could land exactly where it wanted on the moon. Landing next to Surveyor 3 meant there would be no sharpshooter’s fallacy, and bringing back a few of Surveyor’s parts – the camera, most notably – would provide valuable data for research on materials exposed to the harshness of the lunar surface for years.
The zeroth EVA of Apollo 12
The theory of the zeroth EVA goes something like this: after piloting the lunar module Intrepid down to the surface, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean knew they were within a mile of their intended landing point, but they did not know where they were in relation to Surveyor 3. Because the only windows on the LEM faced forward, and because of the low angle of the sun, and with Surveyor 3 approximately five hundred feet behind them, there was no way to determine how close they were to the intended landing point. In order to solve this navigational problem, the crew of Apollo 12 opened the top hatch of the LEM, poked their head out, and took a look around. Approximately 20 minutes later, this ‘stand-up EVA’ was concluded, and the mission continued as planned.
There are several caveats to this theory. This ‘stand-up EVA’ isn’t a proper extra-vehicular activity. Even if this theory were true, there would still only be two official EVAs on Apollo 12. However, this process of basically opening the door and poking their head out was performed a number of times during Gemini missions, and even during Apollo missions. At all times, these were referred to as ‘SEVAs’, or stand-up EVAs. In any event, Dave Scott performed this exact same task – opening the top hatch of the LEM and taking a look around – during Apollo 15. This SEVA is recorded in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, making the argument of an SEVA not being noteworthy moot.
The theory of the zeroth EVA of Apollo 12 simply states that sometime within the first few hours of landing, the top hatch was opened, and an astronaut (most probably Pete Conrad), poked his head out of the LEM. Surely there must be some evidence of this, right?
The evidence of a cover up
Unfortunately, as is the case with most secrets, evidence comes from an absence of evidence. In this specific case, there is a significant absence of documentation. In the Apollo 12 Lunar Module On-Board Voice Transcript (10 MB PDF), nearly four hours of the transcript is missing. This four hours occurred right after landing, and exactly the time the zeroth EVA should have occurred. Shortly after four days, 14 hours, and 35 minutes into the mission, the transmissions from Intrepid were abruptly terminated, according to the official record.
This official record is expanded in the Apollo 12 Technical Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription (PDF), where much of the missing transcript from the On-Board Voice Transcript can be found. Still, even in this vastly more detailed document, there is a significant amount of dead air on the transcript after landing and before the first EVA. This is just enough time to perform a stand-up EVA. The crew of Apollo 15 performed their stand-up EVA in about thirty minutes. In the most complete version of the Air-to-Ground transcript, there is still about 20 minutes of dead air – more than enough time to pop the top hatch and take a look around.
There are other fragments of evidence that point to an unofficial EVA just after Apollo 12 landed. Just after the most likely time the EVA would have occurred, ground control asked Intrepid to perform comm checks on their PLSS backpacks. These PLSS backpacks – the large, boxy structure on the back of Apollo spacesuits – are one of the few ways mission control could have communicated with the crew of Apollo 12 secretly.
The idea of a secret EVA on the second mission to the surface of the moon, while the same EVA on Apollo 15 would be publicly acknowledged is, on the face of it, slightly absurd. Why would NASA acknowledge one and not the other? Surely, with Apollo 12 being broadcast live on all three TV networks, there would be significant interest in everything happening on the moon in November, 1969.
Apollo 12 was still the beginnings of lunar exploration, and simply from a PR perspective, NASA would want to demonstrate a precision landing on the moon. The landing site selection made it clear a sharpshooter’s fallacy could not occur: either Apollo 12 would land within walking distance of Surveyor 3 or it would not. By keeping one of the major goals of the mission unstated until a precision landing would be demonstrated, NASA plays both sides of the coin.
Did this actually happen?
Conspiracies are hard to pull off. Only a few dozen people knew of Watergate-gate, and this was leaked to the press. Having CIA operatives dose hundreds of people with LSD was found out. In terms of the scale of a conspiracy, the zeroth EVA of Apollo 12 is along the lines of these other famous conspiracies. Perhaps a few dozen people knew of the zeroth EVA at the time – history has shown that’s a small enough group to keep a secret for a short while, at least.
Unlike other government cover ups, the theory of the zeroth EVA of Apollo 12 has another thing going for it: it’s completely inconsequential. The feat of a precision landing on the moon, two EVAs, and partial recovery of a space probe is massive, and far overshadows twenty or thirty minutes of dead air on a radio, an astronaut popping a hatch, and taking a look outside. We’re not talking about the CIA dosing the Unabomber and Bobby Kennedy’s assassin. Even if the zeroth EVA were confirmed, it would only be a footnote in a much more engrossing story.
The most plausible Apollo moon landing conspiracy ever devised is left as an exercise to the reader. Like moon landing conspiracists, those of us who know man walked on the moon can quickly ignore anything calling itself a moon landing conspiracy.
The motive for the zeroth EVA of Apollo 12 exists, and there is ample time missing from any official record for it to happen. It’s also not a large conspiracy – less than one hundred people would ever have first-hand knowledge of this event. While it may not have happened, the zeroth EVA of Apollo 12 is by far the most interesting conspiracy theory to surface.
Thanks to LunaCognita for the inspiration for this post.