4.3.1b Mission images – The first steps
Several images exist that allow comparison if different parts of the Earth's surface during the preparations for the landing. The first images to be examined are AS11-
Figure 4.3.45: AS11-
Figure 4.3.46: AS11-
Figure 4.3.47: ESSA-
Both magazines are from cameras that made it to the lunar surface, as they both feature the surface in them later on. Magazine 36, from which most of the preceding images were taken, was taken with a camera that remained on the CSM, as can be seen by photographs taken later in the magazine 36 that show parts of the LM after Aldrin & Armstrong had transferred to it.
The first thing to note about the Earths visible in the figures is that they are pretty much identical, and the immediate question must be: why would two photographs be taken at exactly the same time? Stellarium's terminator puts this time at roughly midnight on the 20th (confirmation of the date will follow) which would be around 82 hours and 30 minutes into the mission -
"Alright, then, I think -
Followed at 82:15 by
"Okay. I'll get another good picture of what comes along. Well, hell, I guess we might as well load the other camera and make sure it works, too, huh?"
At 82:16 minutes Collins says
“Well, look, if we load this one -
At 82:32 Aldrin says:
“I see the Earth, but it's a lousy picture.”
Then 5 minutes later
“I got the Earth down by the strut.”
That strut and this picture could easily have been AS11-
“I'm checking out camera number 4 now.”
“Roger, Houston. Eagle has checked out both 70-
So, it becomes pretty clear from this discussion that the reason for the two identical photographs is that just around 82 -
For ESSA, the relevant pass on the image dated the 19th occurred at around 21:03 (track 4, number 1798) – only 4 hours away from the actual time the images were taken. No NIMBUS data exist for the 19th, so none are given for this image.
As for the weather systems, the most obvious features are those of the low cloud off the coasts of north & south America. These cloud banks persist into the following day's satellite images, but their shape has clearly changed over the half a day+ interval between the Apollo images and those taken on the 20th by ESSA. Stellarium and the ALSJ transcripts provide, in this case, a better fix on the timing of the image.
Over the next 12 hours the crew busy themselves preparing the LM, and the next image to be examined is one taken from the CM a few hours into that preparation around the time of a rest period. AS11-
Figure 4.3.48: AS11-
The ALSJ initially reported that this image was probably taken sometime during lunar orbit 12 or 13, which would suggest a time of 98 hours or 100 hours in to the mission, or roughly between 15:00 – 17:00. Immediately following this Earthrise sequence, there are a number of photographs detailing the separation of the CSM from the LM, which we know is timed at 18:11 on the 20th. As time has moved on slightly from the previous analysis, two satellites are once again available and the satellite analysis is given in figure 4.3.49, together with the usual Stellarium terminator screenshot. The NIMBUS data used are visible spectrum, as they provided the best image. ATS-
Figure 4.3.49: ESSA-
In this case, Stellarium suggests that the time of the image would have been somewhere around 04:00 in the morning, seems to be at odds with the ALSJ's interpretation of when the image was taken, and would put it as being taken somewhere after start of orbit 6, after which the crew got some sleep before the next phase of the mission. Had it been taken on orbit 12, it would have shown the Atlantic rather than the Pacific.
Orbit 6 commenced at 86:06 MET, with Earthrise on this orbit at about 86:30 MET, or shortly after 04:00 GMT. At this time in the CM transcript, we have this exchange between Collins (CMP) and Armstrong (CDR):
03 14 24 48 CMP Where the hell is the horizon with the world coming over it? I guess it's behind us, huh?
03 14 24 58 CDR Up there? We should be getting Earthshine – Earthrise features -
after which they discuss which films are available, so they are apparently looking for Earthrise with cameras at hand.
Both north and south Pacific have distinctive weather features that should be readily identifiable, notably the large swirl off eastern Australia, the '>' shaped feature over SE Australia itself, & the cedilla shaped cloud off China. All these features are clearly visible on the satellite photographs.
As far as placing a time on the satellite images, ESSA's track covering the terminator line on the 20th is actually orbit 1796 on the image dated the 19th. This pass commenced at 03:05 on the 20th, so the satellite passed over Australia not much before the time the Apollo crew took their picture. Unsurprisingly, the weather patterns observed by ESSA match exactly those in the Apollo image.
The NIMBUS image is difficult to decipher because there is relatively little of it and what is there is of relatively low quality. There is, however, a clearer image made available by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. This image was sent after an initial inquiry as to whether they had any data. This inquiry led to them finding an unscanned collection of old NIMBUS images, requiring them to buy new scanning equipment to archive it. The author would like to apologise to the Australian taxpayer for costing them money.
From the information they sent, the image was from orbit 1297 (which is how the composite image in the previous figure was selected – the continents were difficult to pick out otherwise), and the time for this pass was commenced at 01:22 on the 20th – 4 hours before the Apollo image. This NIMBUS image is shown with a zoomed & cropped part of AS11-
Figure 4.3.50: Parts of NIMBUS orbit 1297 supplied by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology compared with the South Pacific and Australia from AS11-
Even allowing for the NIMBUS' flat images and the Earth's curvature, there is a huge amount of correspondence between the two pictures. It is a useful example that the level of detail present in many of the Apollo photographs belies the argument that they are clumsy, hastily produced fakes. The storm over Australia appears in both photographs because both cameras were where they claimed to be: Over Australia, one passing in from a few hundred miles, one from 240000 miles in orbit around the Moon.
Amusingly, one of the chief proponents of the ‘Apollo was hoaxed’ myth, the ‘Aulis’ website (I’m not linking to them, Google it) where you can buy lots of material (there’s a clue there people) also seem to have cottoned on to clouds as an indicator of precision.
The author of one article on here, who claims to have a PhD but is ‘too scared’ to put his real name to it, also noted that ‘orbit 12’ error (who knows, he may even have spotted it here), and has cleverly spotted the similarity in clouds patterns between the two images, and even notes that Australia is on view. He says this:
“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-
It’s very strange that while he says the clouds could confirm the genuineness of the image he doesn’t actually bother trying -
As always, these people prefer to latch onto a simple mistake and try and attach way too much importance to it.
Here’s more evidence they can ignore: In another study of one of these same Earthrise photographs, a youtube user has also tried to verify the time of the images, this time by looking at the Earth’s physical appearance in terms of the angle of the terminator relative to the lunar horizon. His conclusion is the same as mine: it as taken at around 04:00 just as NASA said it was, in orbit around the moon, just as NASA said it was. I should point out that he gets the orbit wrong and says it is on orbit 5! The youtube analysis is below.
As this video shows, it isn’t just the clouds that prove Aulis wrong -
Meanwhile, back in the real world. 12 hours later the crew were in the process of undocking the LM, recorded as being at 110 hours 12 minutes, and image AS11-
Figure 4.3.51: AS11-
The photograph is obviously taken from inside the lunar module, and time has clearly moved on as far as the Earth is concerned as the main landmass visible is Africa. The ALSJ records a photograph taken a few frames before this one (AS11-
Figure 4.3.52a: Main image -
Figure 4.3.52b: Section of NIMBUS-
Anyone who denies that there is an exact match in this image is an idiot.
In terms of satellite timings, the ATS-
The satellite comparison again shows that there is excellent correspondence between all 3 satellites' images and the Apollo photograph. The most obvious weather system is that shaped like a bass clef picked out by the blue arrow. The large cloud pattern off Africa shown 24 hours earlier is still visible (magenta arrow) but has changed shape and position.
It's interesting to note that the blue-
While Armstrong & Aldrin were in the LM, Collins was left to orbit the moon alone in the CSM, and part of his responsibility during those orbits was to take photographs of the lunar surface (and with any luck identify Tranquillity Base. While orbiting he captured a series of black & white Earthrise images & one of those, AS11-
Figure 4.3.53: AS11-
Figure 4.3.54: Main image -
As the cloud masses picked out in red & green on the ATS are still visible in the Apollo image, it is reasonable to assume it that it was also taken on the 20th. ESSA's image on the 20th covering the western coasts of south America was commenced at 20:02 (track 4, orbit 1805), while NIMBUS orbit 1306, covering the same coast, was commenced at 16:39.
The Apollo 11 transcripts show that at 103:24 MET signal was lost from the CSM as it disappeared from view, and 41 minutes later at 104:15 (or 21:47) on orbit 15, Mike Collins says:
“Houston, Columbia. How's it going?”
as he emerged from behind the moon and has acquired a signal from Capcom again. Given that an Earthrise photo is taken at AOS, it seems reasonable to suggest that the black & white photograph was taken just before Collins makes his 'How’s it going' radio call. Stellarium's terminator set at 21:45 shows that the Earth in the Apollo image is an exact match for what should be there.
This Earthrise photo is part of a sequence that has been compiled into a video, and this can be seen below as Video 3.
At around the same time as this image was being taken, the decision was made to start the EVA procedure, and a few hours later at 02:56 on the 21st of July, 109 hours and 24 minutes after launch, Neil Armstrong sets foot on the Moon.
While Aldrin & Armstrong worked on the lunar surface, Collins continued his orbits around the Moon and captured another Earthrise image on magazine 44 in AS11-
Figure 4.3.55: AS11-
Figure 4.3.56a: ESSA-
Figure 4.3.56b: Section of NIMBUS-
According to the mission transcript, at 4 days 14 hours and 7 minutes (or 110 hours 7 minutes or 03:39 GMT) & 20 minutes after the start of orbit 18 Capcom contacts the CSM to confirm AOS, which Collins acknowledges some 30 seconds later (it maybe that his message to Houston is not a confirmation of AOS, but querying Houston as to whether he had it).
Stellarium has been set at 03:45 on the 21st, and there is a clear match with the photograph in terms of Australia's position. As with previous photographs where Australasia is featured, the ESSA image featured is not from the 21st but from the 20th, and the NIMBUS image is a composite of strips from the 20th and 21st, The timings will be examined shortly. As far as the weather patterns that are visible are concerned, the system picked out by the green arrow in figure 4.3.49 has moved from a position south of Victoria state to one covering New South Wales coastline. The detail in figure 4.3.56b of the cloud circulation around North Island New Zealand is superb. The clouds over Japan and off the coast of east & south east Asia have persisted, but have changed configuration from figure 4.3.49.
For the satellite timings, ESSA 9's track 8 is the nearest one to pass the east coast of Australia. The ESSA composite dated July 20th shows this track (orbit 1809) as commencing at 04:03 on the 21st. As mentioned previously, the two passes available from NIMBUS covering the area shown in the Apollo image are picked from orbits 1309 and 1310. The former is shown on the composite image dated the 20th, the latter on the composite dated the 21st, these were commenced at 22:02 on the 20th and at 23:50 on the 20th respectively, several hours before the start of the EVA and the Apollo image.
Meanwhile on the surface, Armstrong and Aldrin are collecting samples and installing a variety of scientific equipment. They take many photographs, three of which show the Earth (two of these are the same scene taken twice). The first of these images to be analysed here is AS11-
Figure 4.3.58: ESSA-
The weather patterns in shown in the image taken from the surface are a clear match with the ones taken from the orbiting CSM, although there is more detail observable in the clouds, particularly over Australia, and satellite timings will be the same.
The first check to make now is whether it is the same view of Earth or not, and figure 4.3.59 compares Australia's position in AS11-
Figure 4.3.59: Comparison of Australia's position in AS11-
Australia has evidently moved between the two images (the white arrows are the same length), and this movement is consistent with the suggested half an hour time gap between the time of AOS in Collins' orbital image and the Stellarium estimate of time in the ground based picture. At this point in the mission the timeline and mission transcript shows Aldrin engaged in photographing the LM landing gear, and AS11-
The next photograph of Earth is AS11-
Figure 4.3.60: AS11-
This photograph is the only successful attempt of several made to take a picture of the Earth from inside the LM. As the flag and astronaut footprints are visible in the images preceding and following this one, it is reasonable to assume that the crew are back inside the LM after their EVA, so this photograph must have been taken sometime after 05:11, when the LM hatch was closed but before returning to orbit.
Despite the lower quality, brought on both by Armstrong photographing the Earth through the LM window and mis-
The weather system that started off south over Victoria State before moving east of New South Wales appears to have progressed further eastwards, although it is difficult to tell how far. What is evident is that Australia has moved further eastwards with the Earth's rotation, consistent with being taken 90 minutes later than the previous image, and also fitting in with the timeline of the mission. By 05:45, the time suggested by Stellarium's terminator, the crew had been back inside the LM for around 30 minutes, but 90 minutes later the Hasselblads were jettisoned on the lunar surface to save weight. No more images could have been taken from the LM after that time.
The ESSA orbit at the terminator corresponds to track 8, or orbit 1809, and was commenced at 04:03, so the satellite's orbital progress is matching Earth's rotation as seen from the Moon. The clouds picked out by the red arrow were imaged at 00:18 by NIMBUS.
The next view of Earth requires a little speculation and interpretation. It comes in the form of an Earthrise sequence shown in magazine D of the 16mm footage -
Figure 4.3.64: a) AS11-
Figure 4.3.65a: ESSA-
Another photosequence showing the LM arriving back at the CSM can be seen in video 4.
Dating this photograph within the official chronology is pretty straightforward. The transcript at the ALSJ has this:
127:51:36 Collins (onboard): [Garble] I got the Earth coming up already. It's fantastic!
and records the photograph as taken immediately afterwards. LM AOS is reported shortly afterwards. The MET equates to 21:24, and this is the time set on the Stellarium view.
As far as satellite timings are concerned, the ATS-
It is, as usual, obvious that the Apollo image matches the satellite images for the date in question, displaying distinct features not visible in the same configuration on preceding or subsequent days. Particularly obvious are the large 'X' shaped formation over the north Atlantic (marked by the blue arrow in the preceding figure), and the elongated 'C' shape to the south-
Fog banks are also visible off the coast of California and Chile that differ in shape and extent from other days in the mission. Figure 4.3.64b shows that the formations in the Caribbean off the northern coast of south America are also identifiable.
On the subject of Chile, another satellite image is available covering that area for the 21st, as mentioned in the introduction to this section (shown in figure 4.3.66, along with part of AS11-
Figure 4.3.66: Unnamed satellite image of Chile and part of AS11-
Although this adds little to the overall analysis, it is again an illustration that very fine detail can be picked out on the Apollo images with an educated eye, and also that the sources of satellite information were never a secret. This particular image was used to pass on information about a storm in an area that was poorly covered by conventional forecasting, and part of the reason for the report in which the image was printed was to point out the usefulness of satellite data in meteorology, something that was still being evaluated.
While storms were gathering off Chile, the LM ascent module was heading towards the CSM to re-
Figure 4.3.67: AS11-
Figure 4.3.68: Main image -
As far as timing is concerned, the ESSA pass over the terminator for the image dated the 21st is number 1820 (Track 7), which was started at 01:01 on the 22nd. The NIMBUS orbits used are the first started on the 22nd (1324). The last of which started at 00:54 on the 22nd. The restored NIMBUS version shows patterns much more clearly and other features can be identified.
According to the timeline information and the ALSJ, the TEI burn was performed at 04:55, or 135:23m MET, shortly after what would have been the start of orbit 19. Although before the burn the crew were concerned about the cameras getting in the way (as g forces would be generated by the engines, any free floating equipment is a potential hazard), after it had completed they were very keen to take more photographs, and there are many exchanged discussing what films are available and what should be photographed. We then have this conversation in the CM transcript:
05 15 34 11 CMP Yes, more than two. AOS.
05 15 34 34 LMP Yes, we sure as hell have.
05 15 34 38 CDR Get the burn status.
05 15 34 41 LMP Hey, I hope somebody's getting the picture of the earth coming up.
05 15 34 44 CMP ... Not quite pitched far enough. Well, maybe I can get it out -
05 15 34 53 CDR I can get around to here.05 15 34 54 CMP -
05 15 34 57 CDR Upside down; turn the camera upside down; then it'll look right.
At the time Aldrin was asking whether Earthrise was being photographed, the CM had increased its altitude to over 500 miles, which explains the increased curvature of the lunar surface, and it would seem that the photograph just analysed was the final Earthrise seen after the TEI burn. For this reason Stellarium has been set at the time of AOS, and the match between what should be there and what is there is obvious.
The scene was also captured on 16mm footage, and a high resolution version of the shot can be found here. Figure 4.3.69 shows a screenshot from the footage and a close up of Earth.
Figure 4.3.65b: Section of AS11-
Figure 4.3.69: Sill from 16mm footage in lunar orbit.
Figure 4.3.63: ESSA 9 images dated 21 July 1969 compared with still from Apollo 11 16mm footage and Stellarium suggestion of time at terminator. Below these are 3D reconstructions using digitally restored ESSA (left) and NIMBUS (right) satellite data.
Stellarium shows us that the main landmass that ought to be present is South America, with the bulk of the top half of Earth being the north Atlantic. On the western limb is the eastern seaboard of the USA. Africa and western Europe would just be visible on the north-
The next usable image of Earth comes from a fantastic sequence of Earthrise images taken as the LM ascended towards the CSM. The Apollo Image Atlas only has poor quality images of most of this event, but the ALSJ has better ones. There is also a large TIFF image of AS11-
Figure 4.3.62: Still from 16mm footage taken between lunar lift off and docking with the CSM
The magazine starts with lift off from the lunar surface and after the Earthrise shows the CSM approaching, so the Earthrise must be some time between launch and docking. As will be seen below there is footage already from the CSM, as well as clear still images, that even while the view in the figure above is blurry obviously shows very different scenes. The reunion of Eagle with Columbia didn’t occur until three and a half hours after lunar lift off, which gives time for at least one orbit before docking. Earthrise for that would have been at around 19:00, and as can be seen in figure 4.3.63 this puts south America firmly in shot.
We’re at the moon, it would be rude not to take a closer look, so here’s that swirl off South America (figure 4.3.52b).
Figure 4.3.61: Main image -
Again we have video footage that matches the still images.
The next stop for Apollo 11 is home.