With the anniversary of the passing of one of the most iconic figures in mankind’s space exploration program, it affords us an excuse to re-examine the short but history-making space mission we all know today as Apollo 11. Landmark events in human exploration and scientific discovery can often capture the human imagination to such a degree that certain aspects become enveloped in a cloud of mystery from which bizarre interpretations eventually emerge. Neil Armstrong’s July 1969 lunar voyage was no exception.
Since the Apollo 11 spacemen re-entered society after their lunar voyage, the quieter aftermath seems to have provided a fertile pool for the spawning of many myths concerning the space mission, ranging from the farcical to the speculatively ingenious. From across this spectrum let’s examine some of the more intriguing.
Did Neil Armstrong convert to Islam?
Firstly there was the Islamic conversion myth. Not long after the first moonwalk crew returned home did a story emerge that Neil Armstrong had become a Muslim. According to the myth, while in space both Aldrin and Armstrong had heard a voice which Armstrong later discovered had been chanting the ‘Adhan’ (the traditional Muslim call to prayer). The rumour goes that on finding out what the words were, Armstrong converted to Islam. Although the source of this myth is unclear the story found its way onto the pages of newspapers in Egypt, Indonesia, and Malaysia. So was there truth in the myth?
Well, we may find a clue in Armstrong’s response in the second part of the story. Over a period of time the first man on the Moon was then contacted by particular religious organisations, governments, and individuals inviting him to take part in Islamic activities. Although emphasising his desire not to offend anybody or disrespect any religion he advised the Department of State that the news of his Islamic conversion was inaccurate and that any individual(s) making further enquiries be politely but firmly told that he had not had a conversion experience nor was planning to participate in any religious activities overseas. When Neil Armstrong continued to find himself the focus of some similar unwanted attentions, he felt it necessary to have a phone conference with members of the press in Cairo in which they heard him say that he was not a Muslim. To this day some are rumoured to believe that his public denials on the issue were only under extreme pressure from the US government.
Did Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew observe alien spacecraft?
As if humanity’s first landing trip to an extra-terrestrial object in the Solar System was not exciting enough, a myth latterly came to light that the Apollo 11 astronauts had witnessed some UFO’s in space. It was rumoured that at least one unidentified flying object, cylindrical in shape and matching the speed of the Columbia spacecraft, was observed by its crew during the Trans-lunar cruise, but disappeared before any photographs could be taken. To verify if it was possibly the upper section of the Saturn V launch rocket chasing them, the crew radioed Mission Control to try and establish the estimated distance between Columbia and their last nearest known manmade object in space. Houston’s reply confirmed to the crew that having been detached from it so long ago along the way, it would not be possible for them to see any part of the launch rocket at that point in time. After flying parallel to the spacecraft for a few minutes this bright, flashing object eventually fell behind and Columbia completed the rest of its journey to the Moon void of escort. Although no-one will ever be able to say with a hundred percent certainty what the object briefly accompanying the flight of the spacemen was, the Apollo 11 crew came to the conclusion that the reflective, high-speed object was none other than a jettisoned panel of the Lunar Module’s housing container whose flight momentum had initially enabled it to keep pace with the spacecraft after separation. Their agreement on this point is based on their sure knowledge of the shape of an LM housing bay protection panel which the UFO was similar to.
Did Neil Armstrong have to take special fitness training?
A particularly bizarre myth that came into circulation was the ‘Exercise Fanatic’ myth. Somewhere along the line a rumour emerged that in terms of physical strength, Neil Armstrong would have initially fallen far short of what was required for the role of astronaut, had he not taken drastic action. According to the myth, as compensation, he put himself through long arduous hours at the gym which ultimately saw him cleared for going into space. The actual facts however were quite different. Although overall he lived out a fairly healthy lifestyle, Armstrong rarely exercised. His well-known philosophy on the theme was that he believed a man had only a certain number of heartbeats allocated to him in his lifetime. As a result, he had no intention of doing anything that would use them up faster.
Did a coke bottle roll past Neil Armstrong on the Moon?
As we know, food and liquids consumed by astronauts have to be specially prepared and packaged before being taken into the vacuous environment of space. So the suggestion that an everyday Coke bottle may have rolled passed the camera and was caught on film while Armstrong and Aldrin were out on the surface of the Moon, is simply too fantastic for words. Although common sense triggers a knee-jerk reaction to any notion that the Apollo 11 landing astronauts could have or would have smuggled a carbonated drink such as Coca-Cola to the Moon in such a ‘messy’ form, we should allow ourselves a moment to weigh up the real implication of this alleged sighting, that the lunar environment was faked, and the whole mission was a studio-based fabrication.
In so doing we acknowledge that from the varying shades of myth regarding mankind’s maiden Moonwalk, the greatest swell of speculations in fact centred on the notion that it never really took place. As this frontier-crossing American adventure had been played out so publically in the world arena via TV and clearly told the tale of a national success, any credence given to the ‘hoax’ notion would of course immediately have had huge implications.
Primarily that the most cohesive corporate conspiracy imaginable, had taken place in NASA along with at least the government’s knowledge, and more likely, at its instigation. Recognising therefore that the next few myths we will look at have ‘government conspiracy’ written all over them in giant letters and that your own outlook may drastically differ from such grandiose paranoid ideologies, let’s none-the-less look at the mechanics of them and see how well these myths stand up to scrutiny.
So on closer inspection of the Coke bottle conundrum, this Moon myth really does not fare well. The main reason being that although the offending article in the Apollo 11 Moonwalk footage, allegedly observed by an Una Ronald from Australia, was so obviously incongruous with its lunar surroundings, none of the other millions of observers around the world watching the same NASA-relayed footage in 1969, managed to spot it. That of course slightly undermines the entire myth. So perhaps the real question we should ask ourselves is, just how did some Apollo 11 hoax myths with so little real substance to them, such as this one, ever manage to gain such a high profile in the first place?
Are the stars missing from Armstrong’s photographs
Another well-known myth from the canon of Apollo 11 hoax theories is the ‘Absent Stars’ myth. As with a growing number of more sophisticated hoax myths to become associated with Armstrong’s lunar mission, it sought the more solid ground of better conceived scientific objections to the lunar environment captured on camera in 1969. In the case of this myth, sceptics claimed they had found visual proof of the LM landing site being a mere studio set in the unrealistic absence of stars pictured in the dark sky above the surface of the Moon. However this is a good example of a myth where ‘real science’ actually undermines its main principle. Although a clear night on Earth is generally associated with a black sky and the visual presence of stars, we know that light from our nearest star, the Sun, overwhelms and drowns-out all other comparatively dimmer light sources in space. The myth-makers in this story forgot that any photographs and videos showing the astronauts, their experiments, and the Eagle on the surface of the Moon could only be seen because they were filmed during the day, with the aid of sunlight. Once again, as on Earth, the bright glare from the Sun and its reflection off the lunar terrain hid the other stars in the blackness from view.
Is the Hubble Space Telescope forbidden from looking at the Apollo 11 landing site?
With escalating public controversy surrounding the numerous Apollo 11 hoax myths, one unanimous request eventually came to the fore. Namely that NASA employ the telescopic power of the Hubble Space Telescope to provide bird’s-eye-view photographic evidence of the Eagle, equipment, and lunar operations site, as was left on lunar soil in 1969. To date however, the Hubble Telescope has never been pointed at the Moon for such a purpose and in turn, NASA’s refusal to do so has been branded by some conspiracy theorists as ‘the Hubble cover-up’.
Speaking specifically on the subject NASA have said that as powerful as the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope may be, the instrument would be utterly incapable of distinguishing these objects because some of the Moon’s comparatively larger natural features are in themselves already on too small a scale to be seen. Any attempt to look for the Apollo 11 landing site with the Hubble telescope they explained would therefore be pointless. Well we’ve all heard it said “time will tell”, and in the case of this myth nothing could be truer. Just as NASA, the owners of the Hubble Space Telescope ought to be able to vouch for its optical power better than most armchair experts, they ought also to be able to do so for the rest of their fleet of space satellites. Recently their estimations were again proved correct as photos taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the Apollo 11 landing site have indeed verified vehicle tracks on the Moon, the stationary lander module, and the remains of Armstrong and Aldrin’s boot prints left over 40 years ago.
Looking back, perhaps one of the biggest mysteries of all is that in the midst of such a wealth of photographic, video, and human evidence that Apollo 11 really happened, some still find it possible to accept the hoax myths instead. Moreover, the idea that the remaining Apollo astronauts could have delivered such convincing performances in countless interviews or could have lived with themselves for all these years after lying so publically to the world – will probably remain too much for many of us to believe.
Others may take the view that although entertaining, and a historic part of the rich space exploration tapestry, the myths are of little consequence, as Armstrong himself explained:
“People love conspiracy theories. I mean, they are very attractive. But it was never a concern to me, because I know that one day, somebody’s going to go and fly back up there, and pick up that camera that I left.”
(Article by Nick Parke, Education Support Officer)