Monday, December 22, 2008

Fly me to the moon

I was asked to view a couple of programs and to write my thoughts on them. The first is Fox TV’s “Conspiracy: Did we Land on the Moon?” The other is “The Great Conspiracy” – a documentary focusing on the events surrounding the 9/11 tragedy. This review will focus on the first and at some time later I’ll try to review the second.

To begin with and to be fair, I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t own a tin foil hat. So I am already biased against any “factual” evidence or information that was presented in these documentaries. Also, there are many, many websites that have reviewed this program and conspiracy theory. One of which is of course, Snopes. Another site is Bad Astronomy (BA), which reviews the program in detail and which I have cited a couple of times.

The “Conspiracy: Did We Land on the Moon?” program examines whether or not NASA’s Apollo space program actually succeeded in putting a man on the moon. The program attempts to question the validity of the government’s claim that we did indeed land on the moon by presenting a number of “factual problems” that conspiracy theorists have with the evidence. The difficulty that I have with conspiracy theories such as these is that each claims to have an inside scoop on what really happened. They supposedly say that they simply want the viewer to decide for themselves, yet only show one side of the argument – theirs. There are so many factually incorrect statements or faulty assumptions made that to go over each of them would take too long and probably bore the reader. I’ll only touch on a few of them, but if you are interested further, I would highly recommend visiting the Bad Astronomy site above.

The main protagonist is a skeptical analyst and engineer named Bill Kaysing, who worked for Rocketdyne, the designing company of the Apollo rockets. His first comment arises from the many issues of the Apollo program “that led people to believe that we’re never going to make it to the moon.” Right off the bat, there are a couple of things worth noting. First, Kaysing is “regarded as the instigator of the moon hoax movement.” (Wikipedia) As such, the program cites him heavily. Second, although he is presented as an authority on the Apollo rockets, Kaysing was not actually employed by Rocketdyne during any of the Apollo space program’s manned flights. (He resigned in 1963 and the first manned flight was not until 1968.) Third, while he claims to have knowledge of this and other space programs by way of documents he was privy to, this was apparently not even sufficient concrete evidence for him because all he could lay claim to was “a hunch, an intuition, … a true conviction.” In my opinion, if someone has seen documented evidence that a hoax was being perpetrated, as Kaysing claims, that person shouldn’t have to rely on “a hunch.” Later in the program, Kaysing says (with dramatic music cueing in the background!) “What actually happened in my mind, during the 60’s, is they said if you can’t make it, fake it (emphasis added).” So Fox TV is here quoting a guy who relies heavily on hunches and his own interpretation (“What actually [?] happened in my mind [!]) of what may have happened.

Kaysing’s first real issues come when he’s watching video footage of the Apollo landing and realizes that there are no stars in any of the photographs, that the U.S. flag is waving in an atmosphere without air (i.e., a vacuum), and there is no blast crater underneath the Lunar Landing Module (LLM). I’ll only mention the bit about the stars by copying a quote from the BA site:

So why aren't they in the Apollo pictures? Pretend for a moment you are an astronaut on the surface of the Moon. You want to take a picture of your fellow space traveler. The Sun is low off the horizon, since all the lunar landings were done at local morning. How do you set your camera? The lunar landscape is brightly lit by the Sun, of course, and your friend is wearing a white spacesuit also brilliantly lit by the Sun. To take a picture of a bright object with a bright background, you need to set the exposure time to be fast, and close down the aperture setting too; that's like the pupil in your eye constricting to let less light in when you walk outside on a sunny day.

"So the picture you take is set for bright objects. Stars are faint objects! In the fast exposure, they simply do not have time to register on the film. It has nothing to do with the sky being black or the lack of air, it's just a matter of exposure time. If you were to go outside here on Earth on the darkest night imaginable and take a picture with the exact same camera settings the astronauts used, you won't see any stars!"

Perhaps the silliest part of the program is where similarities are drawn between the movie Capricorn One and the Apollo landings. Capricorn One was a movie about how NASA had to fake a landing on Mars. Fox TV’s program says “The Apollo footage is strikingly similar to the scenes in Capricorn One” even down to some of the dialogue (“the surface is fine and powdery…”) Wow, so the Apollo hoaxers copied the movie to make their fake moon landings, right? Well, um, no. See, Capricorn One wasn’t made until 1978, almost 10 years after the Apollo 11 landings. So is it any surprise that a movie being made about a hoax landing be patterned after a real landing to offer authenticity? That this correlation between the movie and the Apollo landing was even mentioned in the program is incredibly sensationalizing at best. Once again, a Kaysing interview is shown where his reasoning for claiming that the whole thing was a hoax was that NASA had the budget to pull it off (since their budget is obviously so much greater than a film producer), but didn’t have the technology for the real thing. However, even then, no factual evidence is even presented.

Coming a close second in silliness is the association with, you guessed it, Area 51. Did you know that Area 51 has hangers that look like movie studios? Never mind the fact that movie studios look like hangers. Did you know that in the desert around Area 51, there is sand very similar in texture to moon dust/sand? And (and I know this is hard to imagine), the desert is barren just like the moon, complete with craters! Why, even astronauts see the similarities! Yes, this is the kind of ridiculous associations made by these conspiracy theorists.

Unfortunately, the program along with the conspiracy theory is chock full of these astounding assumptions, all of which are necessary to uphold the absurd claims made by those who believe them. As noted by a NASA spokesman in the program, every single piece of evidence showing a moon landing must be refuted in order to allow the conspiracy theorists their day in the spotlight. However, all the theorists have is conjecture, presupposition, and a whole rocket load full of faulty assumptions. They even go so far as to claim that NASA purposefully murdered astronauts in order to keep the hoax a secret. As pointed out earlier, they “have a hunch” or present what happened “in their mind” or what "could/may have happened"– all this without one shred of evidence to support these hunches. Overall, this program, like the theory it is about, can have holes poked in it as easy as, well, as tin foil.


Michael said...

I personally think a tin foil hat would look dashing on you. :-)

Hmmm, I don't know that I'm convinced one way or the other. Perhaps a bigger question now is, "Was this a wise use of taxpayers money, and our future generations' debt?"

Stephen said...

Well, that depends on whether or not it comes with a tin foil cane. :)

I'm definitely convinced we went to the moon. But I'm also definitely convinced that it was by no means a wise use of taxpayers' money. Looking back, had we not been pushing to beats the Soviets to the moon, I don't think it would have made a difference in the outcome of the Cold War era. But hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.