Earth Photos from the Moon: Anomalies
Part One: Apollo 11
by Phil Kouts PhD
Two unique photographs
A genuine program to land humans on the Moon should produce a variety of verifiable evidence confirming a lunar landing. Inevitably, any such confirmation should include photographs of the Earth as it is seen from the Moon, since this would provide unambiguous proof through multiple parameters. The Earth is nearly four times larger in diameter than the Moon and when viewed from the Moon the resultant image would inevitably be very impressive by any account.
The Earth as seen from the Moon does not appear to move in the Moon’s ‘sky’ but amazingly seems to ‘hang’ in one place, while the pattern of continents continuously changes due to the rotation of the Earth. Further, the pattern of clouds over the continents never repeats and can provide evidence regarding the exact timing of the photographic exposure. Moreover, if a photograph from the Moon is genuine, the author of such a shot would no doubt encourage any meteorological comparisons.
From the point of view of scientifically meticulous investigation, astronomical evidence should be rich in detail and strictly verifiable – parameters providing convincing, undeniable proof. The backdrop of stars for example, moves slowly behind the Earth so an investigator could unambiguously confirm the vantage point. An image including stars surrounding the Earth could be obtained if, say, the brightness of the Earth is reduced by a filter, or the luminance of the stars against the black ‘sky’ increased during post-production analysis. And so on.
The following analysis – based entirely on publicly available NASA data except for a few original software generated images – is not a question of belief, but rather a subject of quality scrutiny. This material is available to all for checking and further examination. All sources are quoted for verification purposes, and credits are given with regard to the origin of the data. Pictures from NASA’s Apollo records are included entirely for research purposes for the sake of evidential clarity.
So, what has become available since the first acclaimed Apollo Moon landing? Only two pictures of Earth were claimed to have been taken by the Apollo 11 crew from the lunar surface. These two images, AS11-40-5923 and AS11-40-5924 in the Apollo 11 Image Library are rather similar, one of them can be seen above and in Figure 1. Both pictures are attributed to the same time – right to one second. The NASA record states that they were taken at 110 hours, 50 minutes, 26 seconds of the so-called ‘ground elapsed time’ (GET)1. This GET is the same as 04 hours 22 minutes 26 seconds GMT on 21 July 1969.
Astonishingly, it remains unknown whether it was Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin who took these two famous pictures. This is not to say that NASA doesn’t appreciate the significance of photographing Earth and has not endeavoured to clarify the authorship of these very special shots. In fact, the situation has recently been reinterpreted in NASA’s Apollo11 Lunar Surface Journal (ALSJ) “Mobility and Photography”: Corrected Transcript and Commentary 1995, revised 4 October 2007 with updates. However, despite an extensive addition in italics to the original Apollo 11 Image Library commentary, the corrections of 1995 and revisions from 2007 – with references to Neil Armstrong’s interview of 1991 – the outcome remains totally inconclusive. NASA admits that the authorship remains ‘a minor mystery’.
So, believe it or not, it is actually admitted in the ALSJ image library that ‘there is some uncertainty about who took these pictures of Earth’. This is most surprising, since the authorship of other photographs taken just before and immediately after these two is known. Indeed, regarding AS11-40-5921, taken 2 minutes and 21 seconds before AS11-40-5923, the image library states, ‘Buzz took this photo…’ And, with regard to AS11-40-5927 taken 3 min and 12 sec. after AS11-40-5924, ‘Neil now has the Hasselblad. Buzz is preparing to remove the passive seismometer…’
Therefore, the camera changed hands during a time period of approx. 5 min and 30 sec. and during this time interval two shots of Earth were taken. Was it Buzz who after that handed the camera over, or was it Neil? Apparently, the Apollo 11 Technical Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription, Manned Space Center, 1969, p.398, provides an answer. At 110 hr 52 min 01 sec, Buzz said: ‘And Neil, if you’ll take the camera I’ll get to work on the SEQ bay’.
However, another NASA document Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary July 16-24 1969, Manned Space Center, 1969, p.355/1, commencing at GET 110:49, attributes some of Aldrin’s words to Armstrong, while the above phrase at 110 hr 52 min is reported differently: ‘And Neil, if you pick [up] the camera holder to work on the (garbled)’.
The major fact to be noticed is that at the time of the acclaimed photographing of Earth, the astronauts didn’t mention the Earth at all. Moreover, before and after that time they spoke on a totally different subject, they observed possible damage of the Lunar Module’s (LM) descent stage due to the impact at landing.
Figure 1. The Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal states: ‘View of Earth over the LM. Australia is in sunlight on the left side of the Earth image.’
(see also larger image above)
The audio recording of the communication between Houston and the crew on the lunar surface gives no hint of any possible fascination for their view of the Earth. Only after a relatively long silence of approx. 50 sec, when both astronauts were out of the TV camera’s field of view, did the following dialogue take place:
110:50:26 Aldrin: ‘Just too big an angle, Neil.’
[and eight seconds later]
110:50:34 Armstrong: ‘Yeah. I think you are right.’
These two short phrases have later been interpreted as evidence of the unique moment of photographing the Earth. Only after another prolonged silence of 55 sec. did Aldrin say: ‘We are back at the minus Z strut now.’
If the photographs of Earth were indeed taken at this moment, why did Armstrong and Aldrin keep silent? And why did Houston also remain silent at the same time? The crew was not visible, so one would expect Mission Control to maintain contact, say every 20 to 30 sec. Houston didn’t actually speak for almost 5 min, whilst at the midpoint the astronauts were silent for 50 to 55 sec. before and after the alleged photographic event.
This situation is extraordinary. One explanation is that the tape ended at this time, as can be seen in one document Apollo 11 Spacecraft Commentary, July 16-24 1969. In the audio record available at Live 365 the recording is clear around 110 hr 50 min, but after the event in question at 110 hr 52 min the phrase ‘And Neil, if you pick the camera…’ is jammed, abridged and simply not finished. However, the above mentioned voice transcription document continues at the moment of the alleged Earth photography (ibid. p.398) without interruption.
Although NASA’s record insists that one of the astronauts took these pictures midway during this minimal dialogue exchange, the agency admits its failure to ascertain who was the photographer. Was it problematic to actually ask the astronauts? Common sense dictates that it shouldn’t have been at all difficult to check with them shortly after the mission. Otherwise one must assume that the astronauts were asked this question but neither of them could remember – which indeed would be most strange.
The more one tries to look into the details of the infamous Earth photography the more inconsistencies one finds. For example in his book* published a few years after the flight of Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin says:
‘We had hoped to take a picture which would include the earth, the LM and one of us. In order to do so, however, one of us would have had to lie down on his belly to get the proper angle, and getting back up would likely have been quite an effort. But I did manage to take a picture of the LM and the earth. It turned out to be a disappointment.’ (emphasis added)
With the camera fixed on his chest bracket, was it a simple ‘slip of the tongue’ that led Buzz to say that one would have had ‘to lie down on his belly’ instead of ‘to lie down on his back’? In any event, the situation isn’t that simple. With a camera directed vertically upwards, the Earth would be caught on the edge of the frame with an ‘empty’ field in the middle. The point is that the author of the two shots would have been neither lying down on his belly, nor lying down on his back (actually too dangerous in a spacesuit on the Moon). Again, it is totally implausible to accept that the astronauts have forgotten who took these photos and how – especially since NASA insists that the Hasselblad photographs were taken using a camera mounted on the astronauts’ chests. Let us consider this key point more closely.
Figure 2. Astronaut with a Hasselblad camera in front of the LM:
a) Taking picture as usual, the camera chest mounted
b) Position for taking the picture as per AS11-40-5923 and AS11-40-5924
The coordinates of the landing point in the Sea of Tranquillity are well known, and, accordingly, the Earth was visible from the landing point at approx. 66.5 degrees to the lunar horizon. The Hasselblad 500 EL/70 Lunar Surface Camera with its 60mm focal length Biogon lens (having a ‘vertical’ angle-of-view of approx. 47 degrees) was mounted on the astronaut’s chest.
As one can see from Figure 2a, when standing vertically the cameraman had an opportunity to catch objects in the frame at 23.5 degrees upwards. To include the Earth at the edge of the frame, the cameraman would have to bend backwards approx. 45 degrees depending on the actual horizon of the camera on the astronaut’s chest. Then he would have to bend approx. 10 to 15 degrees further backwards (between 55 to 60 degrees in total) to get the Earth into frame as captured on the two photos. To perform this stunt, most likely he would have had to ask his colleague to support his back for the duration of setting up the composition and taking the picture.
In practice, in a low gravity location, this bending backwards is perhaps not a difficult exercise but no doubt the photographer would have asked for assistance from his colleague for safety reasons. This could be considered to be a rather dangerous and risky move. So it is most likely that both astronauts would have been involved. However, recently NASA has started referring to the stiffness of the EVA space suit which would have totally prevented taking such a position. Furthermore, this ‘bend over backwards’ option has never been recognised as a practical way to take pictures during a mission.
Alternatively, the astronaut could have hand-held the camera. But without a viewfinder, the photographer would have been working blind – unsure which angle to adopt, and whether the Earth was actually included in the composition. Extremely risky to leave such an important picture to chance.
Whatever happened, how could this exceptional photographic achievement be forgotten? This is the first ever picture of the Earth taken from the surface of the Moon! How can it be possible to be ignorant of details of such an historic act of photographing Earth from another celestial body? Where is the excitement of the photographer? He was privileged to take the very first photograph of our fragile planet from the surface of another world. His feelings of sacred humbleness should be utterly overwhelming, and at the very least unforgettable. This could surely be compared only to the privilege of being the first person to physically step down onto the lunar surface.
Another important question: where is that photograph that Buzz Aldrin was talking about? If it was unsuccessful then what went wrong? How bad was the shot? To what degree was the picture ‘a disappointment’? The irony is, that in his book, Buzz is talking about the same image: the LM and the Earth in one frame.
Magazine 40/S covers the entire series of colour photographs taken on the lunar surface. If any photograph Buzz took ‘turned out to be a disappointment’ where are these disappointing shots? They are not on the magazine roll. And, what about the two pictures of the LM and the Earth published by NASA in the image library?
So, who is the author? The image library states that NASA couldn’t figure out the name of this individual. The whole story leaves the impression that NASA has failed in its responsibility to act as a competent insider to provide reliable information. Surprisingly, it seems the agency prefers to rely on private observers who have merely speculated but cannot make responsible, conclusive statements. The most recently published comments on the technicalities add to the impression that NASA has had to invent further explanations in response to recurring questioning rather than offer solid explanations.
Again, how can there be speculation on a subject which is supposed to be an absolutely certain fact?
The puzzling nature of the story would be resolved if one merely assumes that there never was any actual photography of the Earth from the lunar surface. Then this conflict of puzzle pieces would cease, because they don’t need to be artificially tied to facts.
From the Lunar Surface, and from Orbit
Photographs of the Earth were also supposedly taken from lunar orbit by the Apollo 11 crew, a series of earthrises over the Moon’s horizon, images AS11-44-6547 to AS11-44-6564. Remarkably, these pictures of Earth from orbit have much better resolution, and the continents are clearly distinguishable. The 18(!) consecutive pictures were photographed within approx. 2 minutes, indicating that they were probably taken with some enthusiasm.
From the mission documents one can confidently conclude that these photos were taken with the Hasselblad camera fitted with a 250 mm focal length lens used on the orbiting Command Module (CM). One can only guess as to why there was no such enthusiasm when it would be most expected – when the astronauts stepped onto the surface of the Moon.
Figure 3. Earthrise before Apollo 11 landing
Figure 3 is AS11-44-6553 from this series. The Image Library states that these pictures of Earth were taken just before the landing. They are described as: ‘View of the Earth from the Command Module Columbia, possibly at AOS on either Rev 12 or Rev 13’. (Retrieved from the Apollo 11 Image Library on 28 December 2006.) Here, the AOS stands for “Acquisition of Signal” from the CM appearing from behind the Moon.
'In looking at Earth, Australia is at the left, just above the lunar horizon.’ This comment accompanying AS11-44-6547 in the Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal is valid for each photo in the series.
Again, there is no indication in the audio record of communications with Houston that anybody is actually taking these historic pictures.
The cloud pattern in Figure 3 (taken from lunar orbit) is remarkably similar to those in AS11-40-5923 and AS11-40-5924. What is the time interval between these two series of pictures? Unfortunately, the exact timing of taking these 18 photos is not mentioned in the Image Library, there is only that vague reference to ‘Rev 12 or Rev 13’.
But there is a clue: Australia is seen in both pictures. The continent in the frames from orbit is in exactly the same place as in the photos from the lunar surface. What a perfect match! To obtain this correspondence, the time interval between the two photos should be quite precisely 24 hr and 55 min.
Actually, this is a considerable restricting factor. If one accepts that the photos from orbit were taken before the lunar landing, and since the two acclaimed photos from the surface were taken at 110 hr 50 min. then there is no choice but to admit that the 18 photos were taken from lunar orbit at approx. 86 hours 00 min GET.
Figure 4. Earth photographs taken during the Apollo 11 mission
a) Part of frame AS11-44-6553 from lunar orbit
b) Part of frame AS11-40-5924 from the lunar surface
Now to the problem: as far as one can ascertain from audio records of communications between those on board and Mission Control in Houston, (GET 86:06 to 94:48) that after the AOS at 86 hr 30 min, it is clear from the audio archive that the crew were sleeping. However, this moment (i.e. by approx. 86 hr 40 min) is the most suitable time for taking a picture to match the Earth rotation seen in AS11-44-6553.**
Added to NASA’s statement that the photographs in this series were taken on revolution 12 or 13, and the situation becomes very perplexing indeed. The fact is that between revs 12 and 13 Australia was neither visible from the surface of the Moon, nor from lunar orbit – but the Atlantic Ocean with South America and part of Africa were (see Figure 5 below).
Further, regarding timing, there is no other option before the landing, for taking the photographs from orbit, except at Rev 6. The only possible time for the shooting after ascending from the surface of the Moon, was 135 hr 35 min, and a less suitable time would be difficult to imagine. In fact there were other Earthrise pictures allegedly taken at this time.** The crew were busy completing the trans-Earth insertion process, in fact, insertion had already been underway for approx. 12 min. As the craft was moving away from the Moon, the shape of the visible Earth would be considerably ‘squeezed’ compared to the globe in the photographs. On the other hand, the actual shape on the photos perfectly corresponds to a software simulation run for 85 hr, 55 min.
Now, a similar question occurs: who took the series AS11-44-6547 to AS–44-6564? And why was it necessary to refer to ‘Rev 12 or 13’ when the images should be attributed only to Rev 6?
Figure 5. Software-generated images of Earth visible from the Moon at specific elapsed times (GET):
a) 85 hr 55 min, Rev 6; sleeping time for the crew, the CM is behind the Moon
b) 100 hr 12 min, undocking the LM from the CM on Rev 13
c) 110 hr 50 min, the crew on the lunar surface – the two images with Earth
Another aspect that could confirm the genuineness of any given shot of Earth at any given moment is the pattern of the clouds. Taken at a certain time, on a certain day over the Pacific Ocean, the cloud patterns on AS11-40-5923 and AS11-40-5924 are available for verification. However, the ‘cloud pattern’ aspect alone cannot lead to the conclusion that the photographs were taken either from lunar orbit or the lunar surface by the Apollo astronauts.
A ‘glow’ that should not be visible
In Figure 6, the original pictures retrieved from the Apollo 11 Image Library (AS11-40-5923 and AS11-40-5924), are compared to versions with increased brightness and saturation of colours (using MGI PhotoSuite 8.6a software). A surprisingly bright ‘glow’ around some LM components can be clearly seen. It looks like the space around these components was illuminated by a closely-positioned bright source of light. Actually, the most viable explanation is that the photos were taken in an atmosphere, not in a vacuum.
Figure 6. Left: AS11-40-5923 – Right: AS11-40-5924
Indeed, photo 2 (right) has a vantage point of approx. a couple of metres to the left and tilted down when compared to photo 1. Accordingly, the glow is more distinctive on the left image since the visible air in the frame is closer to the source of light. The glow on the right photo is slightly different and seems to be more dissipated. This is understandable since the angle of the second shot is slightly steeper compared to the first photo (Figure 6, right). Accordingly, the glow on the right image is less bright since the source of light is hidden deeper behind the LM. It is conceivable that a source of back lighting was positioned directly behind the module.
How can one be so certain about this? Could this effect be attributed to patchily-enhanced colours on the contrast borders, for example, during printing? No, the assertion is sustained – since the visible glow is clearly protruding from behind the LM body but only in a distinctively localized area. Any other areas of the LM with the same level of contrast, are clean and do not glow.
On photo 1, (left), the shape of the glow is more or less oval, as might correspond to a linear lighting rig. The glowing area shifts a little to the left when the vantage point is moved left, as in photo 2. This is exactly what might be expected with a light source positioned immediately behind the LM.
The same glow is also clearly seen in a set of thumbnail images of the entire Magazine 40 made from low-resolution scans provided by NASA. This glow is evidence that the LM was photographed in an atmosphere. In addition, each of these photos is probably a composite – comprising two images: a photo of Earth (possibly taken from a lunar orbit, or simply from Earth orbit) and a picture of the LM taken in a studio here on Earth in an atmosphere.
Another surprising feature can be noted in Figure 6, photo 1 (left) there is a contrast border between upper and lower parts of the image. On an airless Moon, the ‘sky’ should be pitch black without any hues. The variation in the black ‘sky’ background indicates the possibility that the picture was combined from two separate images. Prior to the more recent use of computer enhancement processing that is now available, these ‘errors’ would have gone unnoticed.
Questions still outstanding
A golden opportunity has been missed to present these photographs of the Earth from the Moon as a reliable means of confirmation that the astronauts actually stood on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 mission. Moreover, the quality of these two acclaimed shots, as well as the relevant information in NASA’s reports, are both contradictory and confusing.
Recent comments added to NASA’s mission documents for refining the information about these photographs look like a helpless effort to stitch together irreconcilable pieces – rather than to deliver a satisfactory resolution of the problem. Of course, taken alone, the fact that images of Earth have not been exploited at length, as supportive evidence of a lunar landing, does not automatically invalidate such a landing. It is the combination of missed opportunities, together with the disappointingly poor quality of the available information, plus the inadequate interpretation of NASA’s own data, that leaves the overall situation inconclusive and therefore highly suspicious.
To sum up, many facts require full explanation from NASA
• Why are the unique pictures of Earth allegedly taken by the Apollo 11 crew from the lunar surface not accompanied by relevant verbal accounts by the crew, not to mention the expected fascination for the very opportunity to accomplish this task?
• There is no indication in the communications with the Apollo crew that Houston was at all interested in the crew taking a picture (or pictures) of the Earth from the Moon. Was it really the case that NASA was so uninterested in obtaining photos of the Earth from the Moon?
• Where is the photograph of Earth with the LM which Buzz Aldrin refers to as ‘a disappointment’ – considering that the Image Library claims to have a complete set of photos taken on the Moon’s surface?
• Who did take the series of pictures from orbit with exactly the same view of the Earth as in the two photos from the lunar surface – at the time when the astronauts were supposedly sleeping?
• Why is the timing of the series of photos from orbit vaguely suggested by NASA to relate to the Rev 12 or 13 when the photography could have only been done at Rev 6?
• How can the distinctive ‘glow’ behind the LM be explained – if these photos were actually taken on the lunar surface in vacuum?
• How is it possible that neither astronaut can recollect who took the two historic pictures, nor can the agency figure out the author of these two pictures – the first ever photographs of Earth taken by human beings from the surface of the Moon?
So, forty-five years later – if astronauts really did walk on the Moon – the fact that such an event cannot be confirmed by analysis of the photographs taken on the Moon, is highly problematic for NASA.
Indeed, genuine photographs should triumphantly support a lunar landing in every respect. For example, a photograph of the lunar ‘sky’, exposed for the stars with the Earth in the centre, taken at a specified time, would enable independent astronomers to verify the evidence by comparing the images with a star map.
This inability to verify the authenticity of these images allegedly taken by the Apollo 11 crew from the surface of the Moon simply adds to further suspicion and doubt as to the true validity of the acclaimed Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969.
2008, revised November 2014
Continue with the AFTERWORD – NEXT Article
About the Author
Phil Kouts lives and works in New Zealand.
Phil Kouts has a PhD in applied physics and gained considerable experience in applied research, working as research fellow in various universities in the UK as well as an R&D manager in private companies.
He writes under a pseudonym to differentiate his professional occupation from his interests, and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
* ..Aldrin, E and Warga, W. Return to Earth, New York, Random House, 1973, p.236.
** Please see Afterword for further details.
1. Editor’s Note