“During the flight of Gemini 7, the crew will remove their lightweight spacesuits and fly in their underwear.” – James V. Correale, Jr., the head of the Gemini Support Office
“There’s no question in our minds; the only way to fire these things is without pressure suits … I’m convinced we could run the whole works without suits. All we need is a suit for reentry and emergency stored on board somewhere.” – Astronaut Frank Borman, in voice transmissions from the Gemini 7 capsule
Before moving on to some of the other amazing technology allegedly developed for the Apollo missions, I must digress here to discuss a screamingly funny episode of a ridiculous little show known as Mythbusters that my DVR obligingly recorded for me the other day (it knows that I like that kind of thing). In this particular episode, the hosts took a look at the Apollo Moon landings – with some help behind the scenes from none other than Phil Plait and Jay Windley, who were thanked in the closing credits.
Have I mentioned, by the way, that Plait currently serves as president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, helmed by the very same James Randi who sat on the board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (alongside a truly vile collection of CIA-funded psychiatrists and people accused by their own children of being pedophiles), and who was once caught on tape soliciting sexual favors from young boys? Randi is, in other words, just the kind of guy who should be running an educational foundation, and just the kind of guy you would expect someone like Phil Plait to cozy up to.
Anyway, the two jokers who co-host the Mythbusters show took on five of what were purported to be the most common claims of ‘conspiracy theorists’: non-parallel shadows appearing in NASA’s Moon photos; objects in the shadows of those photos appearing to be lit with a secondary light source; the astronauts’ boot prints being too well defined to have been left in dry soil; the video footage appearing to have been faked by altering the playback speed; and, of course, the flag appearing to wave.
Though the ‘debunkers,’ as I’ve mentioned before, just can’t get enough of the waving flag, I am pretty sure that I have already stated that I don’t really care so much about it, so I am going to skip it once again. As for the boot prints, the Mythbusters gang ‘debunked’ the claims of skeptics by producing a distinct print in ‘simulated’ lunar soil that was provided to the show specifically for this little demonstration by the helpful folks at – where else? – NASA. Unfortunately, this demonstration taught us nothing about the Apollo missions, but it did conclusively prove that NASA has a synthetic material that will produce a boot print in a vacuum chamber.
In attempting to ‘debunk’ the claim that, in the alleged Moon photos, there are objects lying in the shadows that are far too well lit, the hosts cynically proclaimed their experiment to be a success despite the fact that the results clearly indicated that their demonstration had actually failed. And they had failed in spite of the fact that they had given themselves two huge, and entirely unmentioned, advantages: the reenactment was photographed here on Earth, where air causes light to scatter, and the image was deliberately overexposed.
This seems like a good time to note that HJP Arnold, who provided the Kodak film for the mission cameras and later created a photo library devoted to space photography, said that on the Moon, “where you have no atmosphere, shadow is very black and highlight is really violent highlight, so you have an enormous contrast problem.” I have to keep throwing those quotes in, you see, because if I say stuff like that, then for some unexplained reason a cabal of ‘debunkers’ will quickly form a circle and begin furiously jerking each other off (if you need a laugh, by the way, their stuff is funnier than mine, and they’re not even trying to be funny).
Anyway, the point here is that the Mythbusters gang had the advantage of scattered light. And as is clearly visible in the screen-cap below, they also deliberately overexposed the photo in an obvious attempt to further lighten the shadows. Even so, the astronaut in the Mythbusters’ image is significantly less illuminated than is NASA’s astronaut. NASA’s astronaut, though standing completely within the shadow of the lander, is nearly as bright as the sunlit background of the image. In the Mythbusters’ image, on the other hand, the astronaut is nowhere near as bright as the overexposed background.
Had the guys taken the shot in NASA’s vacuum chamber, which they had access to but chose not to use in their demonstration, their astronaut would have been even darker. To claim then that a ‘myth’ has been ‘busted’ when the results of their own biased demonstration clearly suggested otherwise says much about the integrity of this show and the ‘consultants’ behind the scenes. And since we’re on the subject of curiously illuminated shadows, take a look at the shot below and to the right, which was allegedly taken moments before the shot used by Mythbusters.
As can be seen in the shot to the left, the egress side of the LEM was supposed to be the shaded side. And yet, in the photo to the right, that entire side of the module is gloriously lit, and we are apparently supposed to believe that that is entirely the result of reflected light. Aldrin is even very well lit and he hasn’t even climbed out of the hatch yet!
Moving on, the guys also tried to ‘debunk’ the claim that NASA’s Moon photos shouldn’t depict non-parallel shadows. The hosts took a rather novel approach though: they used a single studio light source in close proximity to the subjects to reproduce an image that had been created by using a single studio light source in close proximity to the subjects. They then, of course, proclaimed that yet another ‘myth’ had been ‘busted.’ Nice work, guys.
The most revealing segment of the show concerned the way that the astronauts moved in NASA’s video footage. The hosts picked out three brief clips showing the astronauts running, skipping and jumping. One of the two hosts then donned a spacesuit and was filmed recreating the movements. That tape was then played back at half-speed and compared to the original. The same would-be actor then performed the same movements while suspended from cables. In both cases, the new footage did not match the original.
It was perfectly obvious, however, that the awkward movements by Mythbusters’ fake astronaut were very different than the movements by NASA’s fake astronauts. A much easier, and far more relevant demonstration would have been to simply speed up the original footage. When this was done, albeit very briefly, it was perfectly obvious that the astronauts were moving in normal, earthly ways. But because the hosts couldn’t reproduce the footage using a hack who appeared to be doing a deliberately piss-poor job of reproducing the motions, the demonstration was deemed to be inconclusive.
The only way to resolve the issue, according to the hosts, was to do a demonstration in a 1/6 gravity environment. Luckily for the guys, they had access to a ‘vomit comet.’ While normally used to provide a zero-gravity environment for training purposes, by slightly adjusting its flight path the plane can also simulate the Moon’s gravity. But by filming this demonstration, the show unwittingly showed viewers how the Apollo crews would have really moved if they had been on the Moon.
As the spacesuited host informed viewers, “at 1/6 my weight, I felt pretty weightless. I felt like I could jump ten feet in the air.” And indeed it was perfectly obvious that, had he not been in a plane with very limited headroom, he could have effortlessly jumped ten feet in the air. Hilariously, the uninhibited support crew can be seen in the background easily performing dazzling acrobatic feats, such as the guy to the left of the frame effortlessly balancing on one hand, and the other guy in the background floating through the air in a ninja pose.
These are the types of movements that the Apollo boys would have been able to perform with ease had they actually been on the Moon. And yet we saw nothing of the sort in any of the alleged transmissions from the lunar surface. Nevertheless, the Mythbusters gang haughtily declared that they had successfully ‘busted’ yet another ‘myth.’ What they had actually done, thus far, was to perform three completely meaningless demonstrations (the flag, the boot print, and the non-parallel shadows simulation) and two more demonstrations that, despite the hosts’ contentions to the contrary, clearly confirmed claims made by ‘conspiracy theorists.’
In the show’s final segment, they presented what was billed as the “ultimate proof of man’s Moon missions” – which turned out to be nothing more significant than laser ranging targets.
Really, guys?! That’s the best you can do? After failing throughout the hour to ‘debunk’ a single ‘conspiracy’ claim, you’re now going to brazenly claim that the existence of man-made artifacts on the Moon is the “ultimate proof” that Apollo astronauts walked on the lunar surface? Are you fucking kidding me? There are manmade artifacts on Mars and Venus as well, so I guess we have “ultimate proof” that NASA has secretly sent men to other planets. And my kid’s ball is over in the neighbor’s yard right now, so I guess we have “ultimate proof” that she’s been there.
I’d have to say that, while I obviously would have done things a little differently, overall the guys did a pretty good job of busting that ridiculous myth about man walking on the Moon.
Let’s now turn our attention to some of the other technology that had to be developed for the Apollo program, beginning with those magic suits. “In the early 1960s, as NASA began training astronauts to meet President Kennedy’s challenge, it realized there was one key area of expertise it knew nothing about. Nobody knew how to build a spacesuit that would enable a human being to survive in the lethal lunar environment.”
So begins Moon Machines: The Space Suit. As previously noted, Alan Shepard had ridden the first manned Mercury capsule into sub-orbit just before Kennedy’s announcement. The Mercury program, launched in 1959, just after the formation of NASA, was America’s first space program. The suits used for that program were, according to both NASA and the talking-heads on the Science Channel, redundant. The capsules provided the astronauts with their first line of defense; the suits were only an emergency back-up that no one was sure would even work.
But now, with Kennedy’s commitment to the Apollo program, our astronauts were going to need suits that provided their first and only line of defense. NASA did not yet have suits that could operate off the ship’s life support systems through umbilical cords (such as would be needed to perform space-walks) and now it needed suits capable of providing fully independent life support. In other words, starting essentially from scratch, NASA was going to have to come up with one of the most technologically advanced spacesuits ever conceived. And it was going to have to do it very quickly.
Eight companies reportedly submitted proposals to NASA for consideration. Almost all were companies that were known within the aerospace industry. One, however, was known for its work in a somewhat different field of endeavor; the International Latex Corporation was best known as the manufacturer of Playtex bras and girdles. Improbably enough though, it would soon be adding Apollo spacesuits to its product line.
(Wikipedia, it should be noted, contains a much different version of events than what was provided by Moon Machines, including a claim that ILC began designing spacesuits “as early as 1955.” The version provided by the Science Channel, however, came directly from the people who were involved in the project. And the company’s own promotional materials hold that “ILC started designing suits on 1961; started making test and prototype suits in 1964; and started delivering suits for use by Apollo astronauts in 1966.”)
In April 1962, NASA awarded the Apollo spacesuit contract to ILC. Hamilton Standard, a company known for manufacturing aircraft propellers, was assigned to oversee the project. ILC quickly put its bra and girdle seamstresses to work cutting and sewing Apollo spacesuits. Meanwhile, Hamilton Standard went to work designing and building the life-support packs, known as PLSS units.
Amazingly enough, the first spacesuits to roll off the line were delivered to NASA for testing in 1963. ILC had designed and built the suits in just over a year. Unfortunately though, they had a major flaw: astronauts testing them quickly overheated in the Florida sun, which is roughly 160° F cooler than the surface of the Moon. NASA issued an ultimatum to Hamilton Standard: solve the cooling problem and do it immediately or the contract would be cancelled.
The solution was to design a water-cooled undergarment. By early 1964, just two years after the awarding of the contract, the redesigned suits were being shipped to NASA for testing. NASA, however, was still not impressed with what Hamilton and ILC had come up with. The suits were deemed to be too heavy, extremely difficult to move around in, and intensely uncomfortable to wear even for short durations.
In the fall of 1964, NASA canceled the contracts with both ILC and Hamilton Standard. With just five years left to fulfill Kennedy’s dream, NASA had no working spacesuits and no contract with anyone to design and build working spacesuits. After briefly experimenting with so-called ‘hard suits,’ NASA decided in the spring of 1965 to reopen the bidding on the spacesuit contract. Both Hamilton and ILC again submitted proposals, and again the contract was awarded to the makers of Playtex bras. Hamilton was awarded a separate contract to design and build the life support packs.
Just weeks after NASA awarded those contracts, Gemini astronaut Ed White allegedly became the first American to perform a space-walk, despite the fact that NASA did not yet appear to have a suit that would allow for such a maneuver. Nevertheless, on June 3, 1965, White allegedly performed a successful 22-minute EVA (extra-vehicular activity, in NASA jargon) which was yet another “We can do it too!” response to the Soviet Union’s first space-walk.
As astronaut Gene Cernan recalled, Leonov’s space-walk on March 18, 1965 “shocked a lot of people. It caught us totally unexpected, and, you know, we were just barely flying in space in our own little capsules. They weren’t even big enough to be called spaceships.” Indeed, the United States hadn’t yet gotten its first two-man capsule into space. The Mercury program, which had ended nearly two years earlier, had only gotten four single-occupancy capsules into orbit. NASA’s plan had been to attempt a space-walk on the fourth manned Gemini flight, and it had not yet gotten the first Gemini capsule off the ground.
NASA’s plan apparently changed rather abruptly and a few days before the launch of Gemini 4, which was only the second manned Gemini mission (the first having completed just three orbits), it was announced that White would be performing an EVA while Jim McDivitt piloted the capsule. According to astronaut Frank Borman, “NASA scrambled around kind of hurriedly and, in my estimation, without a great deal of safety factor, had Ed go EVA on Gemini 4.”
As McDivitt recalled, “Our EVA was very confidential at the time. We had not announced we were gonna do this, and we were doing all of our training at night, and only a group of maybe 30 or 40 people even knew we were gonna try it.” Translated from NASA-speak, what that very likely means is that a select group worked covertly with the astronauts to fake the space-walk footage prior to the launch of Gemini 4.
Notably, NASA did not attempt the maneuver again for an entire year, until June 3, 1966, despite the fact that four Gemini capsules were launched during the intervening year and those four spent a combined total of twenty-three days in low-Earth orbit. Yet none of those four crews, it would appear, had time to practice space-walking, even though practicing and perfecting EVAs was one of the primary goals of the Gemini program. Not even Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, who spent nearly two weeks orbiting Earth in a tiny capsule with virtually nothing to do for the majority of their mission, had time to perform a space-walk.
It was not until Gemini 9 that NASA attempted to duplicate White’s alleged performance. But that ‘second’ space-walk, by Gene Cernan, was by all accounts a complete failure that almost cost Cernan his life. Problems began almost immediately, with Cernan’s heart rate at times soaring as high as 170. His visor became fogged, leaving him blinded and disoriented. His breathing was labored and he was sweating profusely. Doctors on the ground monitoring the situation feared he would not make it back in alive and would have to be cut loose.
The next two EVA attempts, by Michael Collins aboard Gemini 10 and Richard Gordon aboard Gemini 11, were failures as well. As 1966 was drawing to a close, three astronauts in a row had failed to replicate what Ed White had supposedly easily accomplished over a year earlier. But then, in November 1966, a year-and-a-half after White’s alleged space-walk, none other than Buzz Aldrin performed a wildly successful EVA during the Gemini 12 mission. Aldrin had come through just in time – Gemini 12 was the last Gemini mission.
In sum, the Gemini program resulted in one faked EVA, three failed EVAs, and one presumably successful EVA. Even if we give the agency every benefit of the doubt, the record would be three failures and only two successes. And with that impressive record, we were ready to send our guys off on a series of EVAs of a complexity that remains unmatched to this day. Have I mentioned lately, by the way, that America totally kicked ass in the 1960s?
Curiously, the footage of White’s alleged space walk is characterized by the very same slow-motion photographic technique later employed on the alleged Moon missions. The footage released by the Soviets of Leonov’s EVA, on the other hand, does not appear to be slowed down. The logical conclusion to draw, of course, is that moving in slow-motion in space is more a matter of culture than science.
The final spacesuits sent by ILC to NASA were supposedly composed of three layers: the water-cooled undergarment, a pressurized inner suit that featured flexible, bellows joints, and a white outer covering made of an experimental fabric known as Beta cloth. The bra and girdle manufacturer, which I’m guessing must have had a large engineering division, designed and built the entire integrated suit, including the helmet and visor and the specially designed boots and gloves.
The Apollo spacesuits supposedly weighed in at 180 pounds each, including the PLSS backpacks. You would think that with the advanced technology now available, NASA would have been able to streamline the package. To the contrary, the suits now worn aboard the space shuttle weigh in at 310 pounds each. And ILC claims that it takes three months and 5,000 man-hours to produce each one. Back in the ‘60s, they claimed to be cranking out a minimum of nine of them for each Apollo flight.
One final note on the magic suits: they also were allegedly designed for what was euphemistically dubbed “sanitation management.” According to the designers, the suits contained urine bags attached to the astronauts via what were described as condoms. How that would have possibly worked is anyone’s guess. The existence of fecal bags was also alluded to, but no details were given.
For what it’s worth, NASA says that its astronauts now wear what are euphemistically dubbed ‘MAGs,’ or Maximum Absorbency Garments, under their spacesuits. The same product is more commonly referred to as an adult diaper. And that is likely what the Apollo crews would have worn as well had they actually gone on their alleged missions. That would though, I suppose, have taken a bit of the glamour away from the romanticized notion of being a space traveler.
Another piece of advanced technology that had to be developed for the Apollo program was the command module – the cone-shaped tip of the Saturn V rocket that was to be the only piece of the original launch vehicle that returned to Earth. To this day, the Apollo command modules remain the only capsules ever designed that were allegedly capable of keeping astronauts alive while reentering the Earth’s atmosphere from outside of low-Earth orbit.
According to those who claim to know about such things, reentering from beyond low-Earth orbit is an exponentially more risky maneuver than reentering from Earth orbit. First of all, the Apollo capsules were allegedly traveling at 25,000 mph at the time of reentry as opposed to the 17,000 mph that spacecraft travel in Earth orbit. That additional speed results in a doubling of the already intensely high temperatures experienced during reentry.
In addition, the returning Apollo command modules had to enter Earth’s atmosphere at precisely the right angle. If they hit at too wide an angle, the spacecraft would essentially bounce off and veer off into space. And if they hit at too sharp an angle, the spaceship and it’s crew would not survive the impact. The capsule also had to be in the proper orientation, with the bottom, and thus the heat shield, pointing down. Luckily though, all nine of the Apollo modules that allegedly returned from the Moon hit that narrow window in the proper orientation, despite the fact that the command modules, having jettisoned the attached service modules, had no propulsion or steering capability.
The contract to design and build the command modules was assigned to North American Aviation, whose engineers, it’s safe to say, had quite a formidable task before them. As noted on Moon Machines, the combined command and service modules would require a propulsion system, a navigation system, an environmental control system, plentiful supplies of oxygen, water and food, heat shields capable of handling reentry temperatures beyond anything before experienced, parachutes capable of performing near-miraculous feats, a human waste disposal system, shaving supplies, hygiene supplies, life preservers, protection from micrometeorites, and, for reasons left unexplained, machetes.
What also wasn’t explained was why the lunar modules, which would be exposed throughout the flight to the Moon, didn’t need that very same “protection from micrometeorites.”
By the end of 1966, naturally enough, North American already had a prototype command module ready for NASA to put through the pre-flight test regimen. As designed, the command module featured living space measuring roughly 6’x6’x6’. On January 27, 1967, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White squeezed into that confined space for what was dubbed a ‘plugs out’ test, to verify that the ship was capable of running under its own power. There was another test scheduled that day as well – a pressurization test of the cabin.
Allegedly to “save time,” NASA opted to conduct both tests simultaneously. So once the astronauts were in place, the cabin was filled with 16 PSI of pure oxygen. With the inward-opening hatch sealed by the interior cabin pressure, the astronauts never had a chance to survive the ‘test.’ All it took was a spark, allegedly from some faulty wiring, to turn the capsule into a crematorium. In a pressurized oxygen environment, even aluminum will ignite. The crew reportedly were dead within 30 seconds of the onset of the fire. It took rescuers five minutes to pry the hatch open.
Weighing in with perhaps the most appalling quote to make it into these articles, George Jeffs, the chief engineer of the command and service modules, had this to say: “From a technical point of view, I think the fire had a, a very beneficial final effect on the program. It enabled the program to stop and re-review exactly where we stood on every element of the system and to fix every problem that we saw in the system.” Of course, roughly the same effect would have been achieved by burning up the module while the astronauts weren’t in it, but there is no need to quibble over minor details, I suppose.
It took eighteen months to redesign the command modules. Over 100 design changes were made to correct various shortcomings. This redesign process was undoubtedly made more difficult by the fact that no paper records had been kept of what had been installed in the module. As we have already seen, the Apollo program didn’t place a high priority on record keeping.
One bit of technology that had to be developed for the command modules (presumably for the lunar modules as well) was what Moon Machines described as “an environmental control system designed to cope with the most extreme environment ever encountered by humans.” Cliff Hess was an environmental systems test engineer with NASA during the Apollo days, and he described the challenge they faced as follows: “You can go from +250° F down to -250° F, and it can happen just as you cross the line of a shadow … so you can instantaneously go from one extreme to the other and have like a 500° F change.” Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman described his alleged flight to and from the Moon in precisely the same terms: “You’d be 250° plus on the sunny side, and once the spaceship rotated and you were in the shade, [then] you’re minus 250°!”
This is yet another example of a claim that I previously made that was ridiculed by the ‘debunker’ brigade as being ill-informed. And yet here we see once again that the very same claim has been made by one of the guys who actually worked on that aspect of the project, as well as by one of the guys who allegedly flew the missions. It’s rather shocking to find that so many of the people who developed and/or utilized the Apollo technology actually know significantly less about it than the ‘debunkers.’ Before running their mouths off to documentary film crews, these old-timers really should visit a couple of ‘debunking’ websites.
I wonder why it is, by the way, that the Apollo 13 astronauts were said to have been very cold throughout their return flight in their allegedly crippled spaceship? As recalled by Jim Lovell, “The trip was marked by discomfort beyond the lack of food and water. Sleep was almost impossible because of the cold. When we turned off the electrical systems, we lost our source of heat, and the sun streaming in the windows didn’t much help … It wasn’t simply that the temperature dropped to 38° F: the sight of perspiring walls and wet windows made it seem even colder. We considered putting on our spacesuits, but they would have been bulky and too sweaty … We found the CM a cold, clammy tin can when we started to power up. The walls, ceiling, floor, wire harnesses, and panels were all covered with droplets of water.”
There is so much wrong with that brief description of the flight that it is difficult to know where to begin critiquing it, but let’s start by pondering why they would have been short on food and water. The mission ended up returning a few days early, so unless they overindulged the first few days, there should have been more than enough food and water for the trio in the conjoined command and lunar modules. And as for the cold, how could that 250° F “sun streaming in the windows” not help much? What does Lovell use to warm himself at home – a blowtorch?
As for the water droplets covering the interior of the command and lunar modules, wouldn’t many of those droplets have been airborne if they were in a zero-gravity environment? Wouldn’t the inside of the module have looked something like a snow-globe? And as for opting not to don the spacesuits, that is just laughably absurd. As already noted, without the suits the only thing that would have been protecting the astronauts from the hazards of space was a double layer of aluminum foil. For that reason alone it is inconceivable that they wouldn’t have been wearing them. And now we find that they were also facing near-freezing conditions and yet they still chose not to utilize the suits – because the suits were, you know, a little bulky, and it is much better to nearly freeze to death than it is to break a little sweat.
Anyway, returning more or less to where we left off, Apollo 7, equipped with the redesigned command module, became the first manned Apollo flight to triumphantly lift off from Cape Kennedy on October 11, 1968. Three previous flights had gone up unmanned. This one wasn’t quite a real Apollo launch, however, since it was powered by the smaller Saturn 1-B rocket. No one had yet ridden a Saturn V rocket off the launch pad, and there was just one year to go to meet Kennedy’s goal of landing men on the Moon.
Apollo 7 was the first of a series of Apollo launches that came in incredibly rapid succession. Just 71 days after Apollo 7 took flight, Apollo 8 lifted off. Apollo 9 followed just 72 days later, followed by Apollo 10 only 76 days after that. A mere 59 days later, Apollo 11 took flight. In just nine months, NASA assembled and launched five incredibly complex, multi-staged rockets (and ILC provided at least forty-five spacesuits). Three of those ships allegedly flew all the way to the Moon.
Apollo 8 would be the first to allegedly do so.