4.7 Apollo 15

Having re-established the Apollo missions with 14, Apollo 15 took them to new levels of scientific exploration of the Moon, rather than just a technical demonstration that it was possible. It was launched at 13:34 on 26/07/71. It arrived in lunar orbit on the 29th, and landed on the 30th. After 3 EVAs, the surface crew headed back to re-unite with the CSM on the 2nd of August. TEI occurred on the 4th of August, splashing down on the 7th.

Previous missions had been focussed on the need to get back once the surface had been successfully reached, and had resisted suggestions to extend the orbital stay for further study. Apollo 15 changed that by spending additional time in orbit before and after the landing. It featured a number of instruments in the SM's Scientific Instrumentation Module (SIM) to measure the x-ray and gamma ray characteristics of the lunar surface, and deployed a small sub-satellite with its own experimental equipment to measure and map the magnetic and gravitational features of the lunar environment, and to monitor charged particles. Data from the SIM were retrieved by a spacewalk in TEC.

This mission employed an ultra-violet camera, used at set points during the mission, in order to capture images of the Moon and Earth for comparison with similar images of our neighbouring planets. It was not judged a success, and future missions carried additional UV filters.

The crew also had the availability of the LRV (lunar roving vehicle), which greatly extended the exploratory capabilities of the astronauts. The presence of the LRV dominates the photographic record of the mission. 19 magazines were exposed consisting of 2640 photographs, the majority of which seem to consist of images taken from the LRV, with many photographs showing the small TV camera mounted on the front. The other dominant theme of the photographs is the lunar surface, and most of the orbital magazines are downward photographs of the moon.

While the mission took off with the Earth at ¾ full, the length of their stay in space meant that by the time they left for the return journey the Earth was again a thin crescent, and as a result the best photographs of Earth are from the early phases of the flight. Some good Earthrise images were taken, but unfortunately many are either overexposed or there is so little of the Earth's surface visible that little useful information can be gleaned from them. These images will be referred to, but not examined.

Many of the images available on line at the ALSJ and AIA are of also poor quality low resolution ones, and the bulk of the images used here were requested through the GAP (see previous chapters for links).

The satellite record is also diminished for this mission. ESSA 9 has good coverage: Source. One day of the mission is missing (July 31st), and many days clearly have technical issues, with missing or misplaced images in the overall mosaic. NIMBUS 4 was not routinely sending visual data from its orbits at that time (none, at least, are recorded in the final data catalogue), and the ATS-3 satellite, while still functioning, does not have a data catalogue of images from this period. Contemporary journals feature images from it, but none has yet been found from during the mission. Likewise ESSA 8 is operational but has no available data catalogue, only images from contemporary journals - some of which do coincide with the mission.

Of the journal sources available, the Mariner's Weather Log volume 15 (1971) and the Monthly Weather Report for July 1971 (Source) have again proved useful.  The MWR shows images of Hurricane Hilary from ESSA 8 on two separate days within the timespan for the mission (July 26th and 31st), as well as Hurricane Ilsa on the 2nd of August. This article on weather modification has an image from the NOAA-1 (also known as ITOS-A) satellite, launched in December 1970 showing part of the USA on July 27th.

The MWL shows Hilary on the 1st and an unnamed Atlantic storm on the 5th (Source). Having identified the available sources for the mission, it is now time to analyse those images of Earth provided by the Apollo 15 astronauts.

Like Apollo 11, there is a breakfast photograph of the crew showing them looking at a weather satellite print-out. It is shown below in figure 4.7.0a.

Figure 4.7.1: AS15-91-12342 from the GAP. Low resolution version available at AIA.

This image was also used as the basis for a 1973 cigarette advertisement, see here.

As is usual with the first Earth images in a mission, there is no difficulty picking out the weather systems shown on the photograph. They are clearly contemporaneous, and as is the way with weather features the patterns visible on the satellite image are different on the following day. The ESSA track covering the centre of the Apollo image would be track number 2, which corresponds to orbit number 996, commenced at 16:01 on the 26th. Again, as has been the case all the way through this exercise, the timing of the satellite image matches that of the Apollo image.

After a duplicate image of AS15-91-12342, another Earth image shows a different surface configuration of clouds. Figure 4.7.3 shows AS15-91-12344.

Figure 4.7.3: AS15-91-12344 from the GAP. Low quality version available here AIA

Once correctly oriented it is easy to see that the only landmass visible is north America, with a prominent bank of low level cloud off the west coast. South of this cloud mass and just north of the equator is a long meandering line of cloud heading towards the western limb. South of the equator is a much more well defined line of cloud extending for the in-darkness south America towards the western limb. This image is compared with ESSA's satellite image in figure 4.7.4.

The blue arrowed system in figure 4.7.4 is the same one as identified in figure 4.7.2, and this system will be discussed in more detail momentarily. The system picked out by the cyan arrow is also visible in 4.7.2, west of the system identified by the green arrow in that figure. As for the other systems, it should again be obvious even without the arrows that those visible in the Apollo image are also present on the ESSA mosaic.

The terminator in Stellarium suggests a time for the image of 23:30. ESSA's most representative track covering this part of the Pacific is number 5, which corresponds to orbit 999. This orbit started at 22:07, giving a good correspondence with the Apollo timing.

The significance of the blue arrowed system can be identified in the weather records of the time, and in the documents mentioned in the preamble to this section. The reason it has been singled out here is because it is identifiable as Hurricane Hilary. The ESSA 8 image recorded in the MWR can be matched with the ESSA 9 images in figure 4.7.2 and 4.7.4, as shown in figure 4.7.5.

Figure 4.7.5: ESSA 9 (bottom left), ESSA 8 (bottom right), AS15-91-12342 (top left) and AS15-91-12344 (top right) images of Hurricane Hilary, 26/07/71.


Hilary formed on the 26th (or at least the system was officially designated as a tropical storm on the 26th) and lasted just over a week before declining in strength. It succeeded Hurricane Georgette, and overlapped with Hurricane Ilsa, the remnants of the former still being just visible in the above figure, marked by the yellow arrow, and more clearly in figure 4.7.4 (purple arrow). ESSA 8's image of Georgette from July 24th in the MWL on page 332 (Source) is shown in figure 4.7.6.

Figure 4.7.6: ESSA 9 image of Hurricane Georgette on 24/07/71. Source given in text.

As with other examples in this research, it is worth noting that while all 4 images show the same features, they are not identical. The cloud immediately to the north of the eye (blue arrow) is thicker in the later Apollo image, and in the ESSA 9 version. The two adjacent small patches of cloud (green arrow) change their overall shape and position in relation to Mexico. Every component of the Hurricane is slightly different in each of the 4 images, showing that each image was taken at a different time and not, as some conspiracists would argue, merely reproductions of the same image.

The next in this short series of receding Earth pictures is AS15-91-12345 (see figure 4.7.7 – low resolution version at AIA).

Figure 4.7.7: GAP high resolution version of AS15-91-12345

Zooming in on this image shows that Australia has just become visible on the western edge, and a number of the weather patterns already identified in figure 4.7.4 are still visible in this one – notably the fog banks off California and the long lines of cloud stretching from east to west either side of the equator. Hurricane Hilary is just the other side of the terminator. The cloud systems that are still visible are compared with the satellite image in figure 4.7.8.

Stellarium's terminator line suggests time for the Apollo image of around 02:30 on the 27th, and the 3 hour time gap between this image and the previous one is amply demonstrated by the appearance of Australia and by differences that are evident in the cloud patterns that are visible in the earlier image. The system identified by the yellow arrow, for example, has clouds that are different to the north and south of it when they are examined closely – see figure 4.7.9.

Figure 4.7.9: Zoomed section of AS15-91-12344 and AS15-91-12345 showing the same weather system several hours apart. No two clouds are the same, but the overall features are.


The next image in this sequence of photographs is AS12-91-12347 (see figure 4.7.10, low resolution version available here AIA).

Figure 4.7.10: GAP copy of AS15-91-12347.

More detail will be given about this image after the satellite analysis in figure 4.7.11.

For this latest photograph, north America is back in focus, which means it was taken some time later than the previous photograph. Despite this time gap, some weather features persist from the previous one. Hurricane Hilary is still making progress across the Pacific (blue arrow), and while they have become less coherent systems, the sub-equatorial bands of clouds (magenta and yellow) are still there. Fog also persists along the west coast of north America. It’s worth comparing a close-up view of the Apollo image with one from the NOAA-1 satellite (see introduction for source), specifically the cloud system identified by the green arrow (figure 4.7.12).


Figure 4.7.13: GAP version of AS15-91-12350

The weather systems shown in the Apollo image match, as usual, those visible on the satellite image but this is not the only story. Hurricane Hilary is still visible on the Apollo image, and the sub-equatorial cloud in the southern hemisphere is also still present, albeit in an evolved form.

These two features can not, however, be seen on the satellite image as there are large sections where data are absent. This will be discussed momentarily, but first there are some formalities to be attended to: Stellarium puts the terminator line at around 22:00, and the satellite image that most resembles the weather patterns in the Apollo image is from the 28th, so at around the time the Apollo astronauts were taking photographs inside the LM, there is a photograph of Earth. In all probability it is taken from the LM. ESSA's most complete orbit for the Apollo image is number 1023 (track 4) commenced at 20:04. The similarity between ESSA and Apollo's images of Earth is again a product of their being taken at roughly the same time – one from the vantage point of over halfway to the Moon, the other from LEO.

What needs to be addressed now is the issue of the missing data in the image. In doing this, it is worth refreshing our memories as to how these images were collated. The introduction to the data catalogue describes how:

“The digitized cloud maps that appear in this catalog are prepared by a high speed digital computer. In this process the signals comprising the picture taken by the satellite are assigned numerical values to indicate the relative brightness of each element. These data are normalized brightnesses, earth-located and repositioned in a standard map projection. Magnetic tapes are produced for input into a cathode-ray-tube film-display device.”

Each individual image is loaded from magnetic tape, recorded from the signal transmitted by the satellite, transposed into its correct position on a globe, and then placed on a kinescope for photographing.

As part of that process:

“In some instances, blank areas and mislocated clouds appear on the digitized cloud maps; these are caused by irregularities in the computer operation and should be disregarded.”

And:

“Day to day variations and irregularities which result in improper location or display of the data are apparent in this catalog. At present, inadequate computer facilities prevent any effort to reformat the mosaic on an after-the-fact basis. Some inconsistencies are related to photography and printing problems.”

This has obviously happened in the case of the ESSA image used in the preceding analysis. Large chunks of the image over the Pacific are blank, and there are no clouds marked where there should be some. There are also some very sharp boundary lines within south America that suggest missing data, but often such areas represent differences in contrast between parts of the mosaic.

Figure 4.7.15 indicates an area where there are misplaced clouds. There are 3 areas in the region of south America that show the same curl of cloud with a bifurcated ending – two in the south Pacific and one off the Argentinian coast. Evidently something has gone wrong in the process of positioning the images, or the tapes themselves may be corrupt, or the satellite transmission may have been interrupted. Whatever the cause, there should be only one of them. Examining the satellite mosaic does not reveal any real insight as to which is the correct, and there is insufficient coverage by Apollo images to suggest where they might be from.

Figure 4.7.15: ESSA 9 image mosaic of South America from 28/07/71. The three darker contrasted areas are apparently the same, and are reproduced below the main image.


Evidence of fakery? Manipulation? Hiding of data? This will no doubt be alleged by conspiracy fans, but the preface to the data catalogue points out that there are some days with problems. Some of these days fall outside Apollo mission days. The easiest thing to have done would be for ESSA to have not released this day's image, rather than use computer technology that didn't exist to try and fake an image. What can be deduced is that the experienced eye can identify issues with data and recognise where problems exist.

The easy path for this document would have been to pretend there was no problem, when clearly there is, but problems with some parts of the data do not invalidate those areas where it is completely transparent that the Apollo image and ESSA match. If anything, it re-enforces the idea that the technology to manipulate these image did not exist at the time they were taken, and that no manipulation has been carried out on them since. It also shows the importance of looking at evidence carefully, and using judgement and deduction to arrive at a conclusion.

The next image to be examined for this mission is from magazine 87. AS15-87-11722 (along with a duplicate image after it) shows a distant Earth between a series of images that show the landing sequence as shot from the LM. Figure 4.7.16 shows this image, and a low resolution version can be found here: AIA.

Figure 4.7.16: GAP copy of AS15-87-11722.

The first five images in this magazine show a distant CSM, and the timeline shows that undocking of the LM and CSM occurred at 18:13 on the 30th.  Following this are several orbital images, including one set showing Hadley Rille, the ultimate landing area. Immediately following the photographs of Hadley Rille are the two Earth images described. These are then followed by other orbital images (including Mare Smythii) before the surface is photographed. The landing itself occurred at 22:16 on the 30th, so we have a relatively narrow window within which to look for satellite matches.

If only it could be so simple! July 30th is missing from the original ESSA data catalogue.

Normally when a day's records are unavailable as a result of some technical issue, a blank page will be inserted stating that there is no record. In this case there is no such page, and there are no orbits missing in the record of passes in the Appendix. The obvious conclusion is that it has been missed out in error. Other pages were checked to see if there was a duplicate July 30th, but none was forthcoming.

What is available, however, are the ESSA mosaics from the 29th and the 31st, which should allow us to interpolate which weather patterns can be seen on the Apollo image. This is shown in figure 4.7.17. We do now have the benefit of a digitally restored image from the 30th, and its 3D reconstruction is also included.

Two factors are making life difficult with this image comparison. Firstly, the fuzziness of the Apollo image, and its overexposure, means that it is difficult to pick out the weather systems that make out the bulk of the image over central America and off the coast of south America. Secondly, the satellite image itself appears to be under-exposed, so that those weather systems that are visible are not there in their entirety. This is less of an issue when the satellite image is from the same day as the Apollo image, but when we are having to interpret data between two days it can be difficult.

Despite this, there is a good correspondence between the three images, and it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the Apollo image represents the mid-point between the two ESSA images. As further corroboration, the photographic index records this image as being taken on orbit 13, the mission transcript identifies as starting at 19:20 on the 30th. The image immediately following these two Earth images shows Mare Ingenii, a far side feature recorded as in orbit 14, as are the images of Mare Smythii immediately before the images taken on the ground. LOS on orbit 14 is almost exactly at 21:00 on the 30th, so the estimate of 20:30 seems like a good one. The fact that we now have a digitally restored version of the image from the 30th confirms our estimates even more.

Thankfully the next image under the microscope involves a little more reliance on hard evidence rather than deductive logic, and sees a return to magazine 91. It is clear form looking at this magazine's images that it stayed in orbit with the CSM. AS15-91-12404 is the penultimate image in this magazine and one of two identical Earth photographs. A low resolution version is available here: AIA. A high resolution version is shown in figure 4.7.18 and analysed in figure 4.7.19.

Figure 4.7.18: High resolution GAP version of AS15-91-12404.

The dominant land mass shown is Africa, with the Saharan region showing towards the top of the globe. Brazil is visible in the south-western limb as a much darker landmass.

The main areas specifically picking out this Apollo image as being from the 31st are the bands of cloud pointed out by the blue and green arrows. The angle of the Earth photograph makes them less obvious that on the ESSA image, but they are there. The underexposure of the ESSA image also makes the thin band of cloud passing south through Spain into north Africa less obvious, but it is there. The ESSA mosaic again has data reliability issues, this time off the east coast of Argentina. The mosaic manages to capture the break in cloud on the yellow arrowed system, but where that cloud continues into the south Atlantic and South Africa in the Apollo photograph, it is truncated and mis-shapen in the ESSA version. The images over South Africa also show suggestions of duplication and misplaced mosaic components.

That aside, there is sufficient correspondence with the remainder of the ESSA mosaic to confirm that the Apollo image was taken on the 31st of July at around 17:00. ESSA's own data suggest that the satellite was taking photographs of this area at 17:04 (track 2, orbit 1059).

It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that there are a couple of live TV sequences of Earth taken from the lunar surface, one at the end of EVA-2, one at Station 10 during EVA-3. Neither of these sequences show any great level of detail, but it’s worth having a quick look to see what we can figure out.

The first images (noted at the ALSJ as being the first live TV broadcast of Earth from the moon) were taken during the close-out of EVA-2. The camera pans up as equipment is being transferred to the LM, and is then forcibly panned back down again as the camera gets stuck pointing at the high upward angle. The timing of the footage works out at 18:40 GMT on August 1st 1971, so we can get a good idea of where the Earth would be in the sky at that point.

As there is a substantial gap between when we see the Earth in the pan upwards and the last recognisable landmark of the LM, it’s difficult to work out exactly how far above the LM the Earth is in the footage. It’s easier to use the forced return to horizontal of the camera as this is much quicker and therefore occupies fewer frames of footage. If we assume a constant speed we can use the lens flares in the frame as markers and try and get an idea of where the Earth is in the lunar sky.

Figure 4.7.20 shows a stellarium view of Earth at the time of the broadcast compared with a compilation of screenshots from the footage. The lunar background is from Apollo 11, and is there purely to provide a horizon.

Figure 4.7.24: High resolution GAP version of AS15-88-11976.

The figures given by the timeline for the mission show that the Earth should have been showing the Atlantic, and at least some of Africa. The configuration of the Earth as seen from the Moon also means that the southern Hemisphere is more prominent than the north, placing north Africa at the top of the illuminated crescent. If the levels are adjusted in the image, Africa does become much more visible. This can be seen in figure 4.7.26, where the over-contrasted Apollo image is compared with Google Earth's grid overlay as confirmation that the cloud patterns identified in figure 4.7.25 are in the right place.

The arrows in both sets of figures are identifying clouds bands either side of the equator in the ITCZ, and what appear to be low lying fog banks on Africa's west coast. It should be remembered when looking at the Earth in figure 4.7.26 that the enhancement process effectively moves the terminator, making the crescent narrower.

Figure 4.7.26: AS15-88-11976 enhanced by level reduction to remove excess brightness. Google Earth is oriented in the same way to show where latitude lines fall. Arrows used are as in figure 4.7.25.


It is conceded that the view of Earth used here is blurry, but other evidence does corroborate that the features identified in this analysis are correct. Observant readers will have noted that the time on the Stellarium inset shows 18:57. This is the time recorded in the mission transcript for when the LM crew took what they had hoped was an image of the CSM SIM bay. Capcom was keen to have that image before completing the docking manoeuvre.

The ESSA 9 orbit covering this part of the Earth would have been commenced at 15:01 (track 1, orbit 1083), so ESSA's satellite image was taken at around the right time. Stellarium shows where the terminator would be at the time the image is recorded as being taken, and there are cloud shapes in the right place and consistent with the weather patterns visible from ESSA. It would be preferable to have crystal sharp images, but even without them the available data corroborate the version of events that says the Apollo 15 crew met up with each other in lunar orbit on August 2nd just before 19:00 GMT.

With an increasingly crescented Earth matching satellite derived weather patterns with features from mission photographs becomes increasingly difficult. It is further hampered by over-exposure of the Earth when photographed. This is the case with AS15-88-989, the second of two consecutive Earthrise images. It is surrounded by pictures of the lunar surface, and there is another Earthrise sequence later, so it is obviously not yet at TEI, which occurred on the 4th at 21:22.

This image is shown overleaf in figure 4.7.27 (low resolution source here: AIA), and an attempt at satellite comparison presented beneath it in figure 4.7.28.

Figure 4.7.27: High resolution GAP version of AS15-88-11989

The analysis shown in figure 4.7.28 needs some explaining. Only 4 areas have been identified, and these are less indicators of specific weather systems as variations in light and shade on the Earth. The terminator estimate has been given by the Fourmilab Earthview site (used in previous sections) because it shows land masses more clearly than Stellarium – particularly when the Earth is a thin crescent and less is visible.

The time of the terminator has, in this case, been set at 23:30, because this is the time of AOS on revolution 64. The photo index labels this image as taken in orbits 64-72, but it is only the third in a sequence images with that label, the preceding two being craters on the far side. It seems reasonable to assume that this is the Earthrise from orbit 64 immediately after taking those first two images.

This is not the preferred deductive route for these analyses, as it is effectively deciding in advance what the outcome is and then looking to see if the evidence matches, rather than looking at the evidence, deducing an outcome, and then seeing if the other evidence bears it out. That said, the Apollo image shows an area of bright white north of the equator (blue arrow) in an area that corresponds roughly to the southern USA Gulf states. Below that is a darker area (green arrow) that can be interpreted as ocean over the area corresponding with the Gulf. Below that is a further area of white (red arrow) over central America, and then a darker area (magenta arrow).

These areas seem to correspond well with the pattern of cloud over the southern Gulf states, the Gulf itself, central America, and the Pacific coast of south America. ESSA's satellite pass over this area would have been commenced at 20:02 (track 4, orbit 1098) on the 3rd. Confirmation of this being the 3rd rather than the 2nd or 4th can be deduced from the width of the Earth crescent.

The final Earthrise sequence on magazine 88 suffers from the same problems: overexposed subject and a small area available for image analysis. AS15-88-11999 (low resolution version here: AIA) is not even labelled in the photo index as an Earthrise, such is the glare on the CSM window. This image is shown below in figure 4.7.29, but there is so little detail visible, even after processing, it will not be analysed further other than to suggest that the crescent thickness suggests a time around 12 hours before TEI.

Figure 4.7.29: GAP version of AS15-88-11999.

Two other colour images of Earth are available in 2 other magazines.

AS15-97-13267 is the first in a single sequence of Earthrise images on a magazine that otherwise consists solely of photographs of the lunar surface. The thin crescent suggests a date of August the 4th, and a considerable amount of time was spent attempting to find the exact cloud matches on that date. The image itself was processed by adding extra contrast to a level reduction, and this has been more useful than the same technique employed on magazine 88 images because the image is less exposed, and is zoomed more closely on the Earth.

The image is shown below in figure 4.7.30, and a low resolution version is available here: AIA.

Figure 4.7.30: High resolution GAP image of AS15-97-13267.

As already mentioned, TEI occurred on at 21:22 on the 4th, which at least provides an upper limit to what should be visible – the tip of Brazil would just be visible at that point. The remainder of the magazine shows at least one orbit after this image, which would bring the time back to roughly 20:00 at the latest.  The photographic index shows that it was taken on orbit 70, and figure 4.7.31 shows a satellite comparison on that basis.

Figure 4.7.31: AS15-97-13267 compared with ESSA 9, and an Earthview terminator set at 12:00 on 04/08/71. 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data to the right.

AOS on orbit 70 occurred at 214 hours and 26 minutes in to the mission, or roughly 12 noon on the 4th. This would mean that SE Asia would be just in view. In the widest part of the crescent, the terminator in the above figure (according to Earthview) is roughly following a line along Thailand, and there are definite consistencies in the clouds visible on the satellite mosaic along the terminator and those just discernible on the Apollo image. ESSA's image for that region would have been commenced at 08:02 (track 10, orbit 1104), with mosaic date being the 3rd.

One final image remains, and again there is only a small amount of Earth visible on it. AS15-93-12639 occurs in the middle of another magazine otherwise devoted entirely to lunar surface photography. The thinness of the crescent and the lunar surface photographs again mark it down as being on the 4th of August, and the photo index suggests that it was taken on orbit 71. AOS on Orbit 71 was at 14:00 on the 14th, and the presence of Humboldt crater is next image suggests that this Earth image probably was taken just after Earthrise. This would put a terminator line along the thickest part of the crescent as eastward of Madagascar.

Figure 4.7.32 shows the GAP version of this image, and a low resolution version is available here: AIA.

Figure 4.7.32: High resolution GAP version of AS15-93-12639.

As with other over-exposed crescent Earth images, simple level adjustment is inadequate in revealing much detail, and the analysis carried out on the image (figure 4.7.33) was done after contrast and brightness adjustments were also added.

Figure 4.7.33: AS15-93-12639 compared with ESSA 9 image and Earthview terminator estimate for 14:30 on 04/08/71.

What becomes clear on the adjusted image is that there is a very obvious dark oval area in the central part of the crescent exactly in the place where Madagascar would be according to the terminator estimation. There is a white mark in this dark area which corresponds well to a cloud shown on the ESSA image, so it would appear that we have a good basis to assume that the photograph shows exactly what it should show.

Despite the difficulties with the image, there are visible features (not least Madagascar!) that confirm that this photograph was taken at the time it was claimed to have been taken. There are issues with the ESSA mosaic in that this area is often used as the boundary for delimiting between dates, and there is a clear change in contrast  down the centre of the southern hemisphere portion of the image. The image chosen above is dated 03/08/11 and the track covering it is assumed to be number 12, which corresponds to orbit 1106, commenced at 11:03 on the 4th.

We have a couple more Earth images to examine, but it becomes more difficult to derive any meaningful analysis from them thanks to the increasingly thin size of the Earth crescent. The first one is AS15-96-13104, which occurs after Al Worden’s EVA to retrieve mapping camera magazines, but before images of a lunar eclipse that was broadcast as part of a televised press conference. This puts the time of the photograph somewhere between 16:10 on 05/08/71 and 18:34 on the 06/08/71 (although it’s likely that the first photography session was with the Nikon film and also UV). It’s officially labelled as being ‘blank’, but but as can be seen in figure 4.7.34 - it isn’t!

Figure 4.7.40: Table 5.1 from the mission report showing the UV photography programme.


The last UV images are discussed briefly in the previous section, and the reader will recall there is little of note in them! It is believed that the colour photographs taken are those discussed in the previous section, as they usually took a colour image to help with interpretation. The exception here is the first set of images taken in orbit, where the AFJ suggests that time pressures prevented it.

Only those images showing Earth will be considered, and only those where there is some level of discernible detail. This site recently turned out to have higher quality versions of the UV images, and these will be used in a reworking of the original analysis.

While there was no formal photograph matching for the Earth orbit image, the crew did take an image that covers the area it shows.

The photography itself took place 001:30 into the mission during the first full orbit. There is nothing to identify specifically where they were photographing, but we know the orbital path they were following (figure 4.7.41) and we know that they had just been acquired by Goldstone tracking station in California.

Figure 4.7.43: AS15-99-13413 (archive.gov) compared with ESSA 9 satellite mosaic from 26/07/71.

Comparison of the photograph presented above with the image analysed in figure 4.7.4 (AS15-91-12344) suggests that they were taken at the same time – around 11:30 on the 26th, and is the companion colour photograph for this UV series. The meteorological match is undeniable.

The next sequence of UV images featuring Earth took place at 120000 miles and is the 4th in the sequence of UV images taken.  The next time UV photography is discussed in the mission transcript is at 31 hours, or 23:00 on the 27th.  The best image from that sequence is given in figure 4.7.44, along with a comparison with ESSA mosaics from the 27th.

Figure 4.7.44: AS15-99-13431 (archive.gov) compared with ESSA 9 mosaics from 27/07/71.

With the doubling of distance from Earth has come some deterioration in the quality of the UV image. Despite this, however, it is easily possible to make out the long band of cloud in the southern hemisphere, and once this has been identified it is possible to infer the location of the other major systems identified on the ESSA mosaic. The companion colour image for this UV sequence was analysed in figure 4.7.11, where the time was identified as 22:30 on the 27th. The Apollo image taken at that time was AS15-91-12347.

The next image sequence was taken at 180000 miles out and the transcript records the crew as saying that they had completed them at 21:30 on the 28th.  The best image from that sequence (AS15-99-13439) is shown, together with the relevant ESSA image from that date, in figure 4.7.45.

Figure 4.7.45: AS15-99-13439 (archive.gov) compared with ESSA 9 mosaics from 28/07/71

Observant readers will recall that the 28th was the day when issues regarding ESSA 9 data quality were discussed, in relation to AS15-91-12350 (figure 4.7.14), and so much of what is visible in the UV image is not visible in the ESSA mosaic. It is still just possible to discern the overall shapes of the weather patterns that are present in the mosaic, and to note that the time recorded for the UV photography in this session coincides well with the time derived for AS15-91-12350 of 22:00.

The final image examined in the UV sequence is from in lunar orbit, and as will be evident from it, there is little point in examining the later images of Earth as there is very little detail visible on them.

UV imagery is next mentioned in the mission at being scheduled to start at 123 hours and 50 minutes, or around 17:30 on the 31st of July. Two sets were taken in this sequence. The photo index records this as taking place during orbit 24, which is recorded as starting at 123 hours 54 minutes. As this set of UV photos is of an Earthrise, this seems like a good set of timings.

Figure 4.7.46 shows the best image from these two sets (AS15-99-13447) combined with the ESSA image from the time of orbit 24 on 31/07/71.

Figure 4.7.46: AS15-99-13447 compared with ESSA 9 mosaic from 31/07/71. Terminator line is across eastern Africa. See figure 4.7.19 AS15-91-12404 for reference

Again, those readers paying attention will recall that the colour image this analysis refers back to is one where the ESSA data have some quality issues in the south Atlantic region. Notwithstanding this, it is possible to make out the long band of cloud across the south Atlantic in both Earth images. Once this is recognised then, as with the previous images, the other major cloud systems fall into place.

The ultra-violet images, while obviously not of the same quality as the standard Hasselblad images, provide yet more verification that Apollo took meteorologically accurate images of Earth, in whichever spectrum you choose to view it.

Now for a look at the meteorology itself.

4.7.3 Meteorological data

The preceding sections have already identified several tropical storms and hurricanes that existed during this mission, and these storms were reported in contemporary journals. As with other missions, synoptic charts are available from a few sources, but they are only of any real use for the first half of the mission when there was a sufficient amount of the Earth's surface in view to allow meaningful comparison. The northern hemisphere is also not viewable in many of the Apollo photographs.

The usual synoptic chart sources (German , South African and NOAA) have been selected again here, as they are consistently available. See preceding sections for sources.

The first day of the mission is a good starting point here, as north America is visible, and we have two images taken within a few hours of each other to get good coverage of a considerable amount of the globe.

Figure 4.7.47 shows the NOAA and German synoptic charts for the 26th in comparison with the two Apollo images from that day: AS15-91-12342 and AS15-91-12344.

Figure 4.7.47: Synoptic data from NOAA (top left) and Germany (bottom) compared with AS15-91-12342 (top right) and AS15-91-12344 (right, middle)


The weather system crossing the Atlantic (yellow arrow)  is clear on the German synoptic chart, as is the one over north America. The purple arrowed system marks the line of disturbed cloud along the ITCZ. As with other missions, there is good correspondence between the synoptic and photographic data.

The next synoptic charts to be examined are from the 28th of July, which was analysed in figure 4.7.13 using AS15-91-12350. The synoptic charts for this date are shown, together with a reproduction of the Apollo image, in figure 4.7.48.

Figure 4.7.48: NOAA (top left) and German (bottom) synoptic charts compared with AS15-91-12350


The ITCZ is just visible on the Apollo image, but the other main weather systems, themselves a development of the ones seen in the previous image, are still visible and easily identifiable.

The final synoptic image is from the South African data covering July 31st. This allows us to compensate for the tilt of the Earth relative to the lunar based observers. Africa was covered in figure 4.7.18 using Apollo image AS15-91-12404. Figure 4.7.49 shows the resulting analysis.

Figure 4.7.49: South African synoptic chart from 31/07/71 compared with AS15-91-12404.


As is obvious from the figure above, there is only one feature visible, and that is the front off the south African coast manifesting itself in the curl of cloud in the Apollo image.


4.7.4 Conclusion

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the photographs of Earth taken by Apollo presented here can be demonstrated to match with satellite derived weather patterns. Most images are easy to place, and it is a relatively simple task to derive a time for the photograph purely from the satellite data and then verify this by using secondary data. In other cases the secondary data assist in identifying the time of the photograph. The photographic evidence is backed up by meteorological evidence, not least the presence of a hurricane.

It all points to the conclusion that Apollo 15 went to the Moon and returned safely, just like the missions before it, and just like the next mission, Apollo 16.

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This is in contrast to the image taken earlier, where there are a couple of identifiable cloud masses. While we can’t definitively say when this image was taken, it is clearly a different Earth compared with the previous one where there are no cloud masses on show and both photographs are consistent with the timeline.

These images represent the last available visible spectrum ones taken of Earth on this mission. It is not, however, the last set of analyses that will be carried out, as there were several UV spectrum images taken at specific points through the journey.

These UV images will be examined next.


4.7.2 Ultra-Violet images taken during Apollo 15

UV photography in Apollo 15's mission was carried out at set times, as shown in figure 4.7.40 – a reproduction of table 5.1 from the Apollo 15 Mission Report (source ALSJ). Their aim, as detailed here, was to allow comparison with Earth images that would then allow interpretation of UV images of Mars and Venus.

Figure 4.7.34: AS15-96-13104 - source: GAP

There aren’t any specific references he transcripts that would help here, so we have to see if we can do some guesswork. While we the sun is still visible, we do know that the spacecraft was not directly between the Earth and Moon thanks to the trajectory it was taking, so some would also have been visible.

We also have a small clue in the UV images available, which were being taken at about 18:00 (according to the AFJ transcript here). These UV images are available in magazine 99 and are discussed in more detail in the next section, but an example is shown below in figure 4.7.35 together with a zoom of AS15-96-1304, and a Fourmilab projection of the view of Earth from the moon at 18:00. The similarity between the UV and visible spectrum views strongly suggests that the two sets of images were taken at the same time or comparative purposes, as suggested in the AFJ.

Figure 4.7.35: Zoomed and cropped section of AS15-96-13104 compared with Fourmilab views of Earth set at 18:00 on 06/08/71, and AS15-99-13482


As we’ve already explained, the view of the Earth doesn’t match what you would see from the moon because Apollo 15 isn’t on the moon, but the landmasses visible would be roughly the same.

A little more of Africa would be visible, and it seems likely therefore that the clouds evident in the widest part of the Earth’s crescent are those seen off the west coast of Africa, as indicated in figure 4.7.36.

Figure 4.7.36: ESSA-9 image from 05/08/71 showing Africa. The superimposed lines are scrambled, but the west African coastline in the southern hemisphere is clear to see.

We can say with some certainty is that it also shows a view of Earth entirely consistent with the timeframe available, sandwiched between an EVA and an eclipse that were both broadcast on TV to Earth. We can even show that the lunar images after this shot of Earth are part of the eclipse by comparing 4 taken together (figure 4.7.37).

Figure 4.7.37: Crops from AS15-96-13106-13109, showing lunar eclipse in progress


For the hard of seeing, the Earth’s shadow is moving across the lunar surface.

We now have a couple of final images to look at the end of the magazine, after the final lunar eclipse photographs, and which must, therefore, have been taken after 21:00 on the 6th, when the moon had re-emerged from the Earth’s shadow. One of them (AS15-96-13135) is part of a sequence of images, while AS15-96-13136 is the last in the magazine. The two are shown below in figure 4.7.38.

Figure 4.7.38: GAP scans of AS15-96-13135 (left) and AS15-96-13136 (right).


The AFJ again is helpful here in stating that AS15-96-13135 was actually taken using the UV lens but with normal film but the timing isn’t known precisely. We can, however, be more specific about AS15-96-13136 because again it was taken as a reference image for UV images taken at the same time (see AS15-99-13495 for example) - that time being 290 hours, or around 15:30 on the 07/08/71.

As can be seen in figure 4.7.39, this would put Australia in the middle of the image, and the sliver of sunlight is actually on the East of the image somewhere on the same longitude as Hawaii, so the area lit is largely of the ocean. The satellite data suggest very little would be visible .

Figure 4.7.39: Zoom and crop of AS15-96-13135 (left) and AS15-96-13136 (centre), compared with Fourmilab view of Earth at 15:30 07/08/71 (above).

Figure 4.7.0a: Breakfast with the Apollo 15 crew, picture shown on Facebook.

Let’s see if we can straighten out that image and see where and when it refers to. Figure 4.7.0b shows the section of the satellite image nearest the camera rotated, straightened and compared with images from launch day and the day prior to launch.

Figure 4.7.0b: ESSA satellite images from 25/07/71 (left), 26/07/70 (right), and map from the Apollo 15 breakfast (centre). All images have been stretched and rotated to fit a square image view.


It should be fairly obvious, but the closest match for the image being held by Commander Dave Scott is from the image on the left, the one taken the day before launch, rather than one taken on the day. The same view taken on launch day wouldn’t have been available for a minimum of 3 hours after they launched.


4.7.1 Mission photographs.

The first image of Earth (part of a short sequence of Earth photographs) taken during Apollo 15 was taken using magazine 91. It occurs after a sequence of photographs showing the docking sequence of the CSM and LM and a discarded SIV-B, which immediately places those images after 17:52 on the 26th (see here for the mission timeline: NASA Source.

AS15-91-12342 (see figure 4.7.1) is focused on the Atlantic, with south America the dominant land mass visible. There is a curl of cloud stretching from the Gulf to the mid-north Atlantic, and above the thin line of cloud marking the inter-tropical convergence zone is an unusual system that should be obvious on the satellite image. South America is marked by long banks of cloud along its western coast, and a number of bands of cloud run across it. These weather patterns will now be identified in figure 4.7.2.

Figure 4.7.28: AS15-88-11989 compared with ESSA 9 satellite image from 03/08/71, with Earthview estimate of terminator line at 23:30 03/08/71.

The area covered by the NOAA satellite is given in the source document as North & South Dakota, which corresponds with the line of longitude shown. There is definitely a good match between the Apollo image, viewing the area obliquely, and the view from above taken by the satellite.

Stellarium estimates that this image was taken at 22:30, and the size of the disk is consistent with the suggested date of the 27th – as are the clouds featured on the ESSA mosaics, which are different in the following day's image. ESSA's best fit orbit for this image is number 1011 (track 4), which commenced at 21:01. As usual, the ESSA image and the Apollo image are taken with a short time of each other, which explains their similarity. The NOAA-1 image time is given as 14:00 MDT, which equates to 20:00 GMT.

A further confirmation of timing is given by the two photographs immediately after AS15-91-12347 (eg AS15-91-12349). They are labelled simply as 'Spacecraft interior' on the AIA and in the photographic index (source: ALSJ), but comparison of them with other photographs available on the internet (eg LM interior) clearly identify them as belonging to the lunar module. The LM was inspected at 23:30 on the 27th, and the mission transcript (ALSJ) mentions the camera equipment (the crew were preparing for a TV broadcast). It does seem likely that these two photographs were taken as part of the LM inspection, and this acts both as a later limit for the image 12347 and an earlier limit for the next image, AS15-91-12350.

AS15-91-12350 (see figure 4.7.13) Low resolution version available here: AIA, is the last Earth image taken before arriving at the Moon, and indeed the next images in the magazine are looking down at the lunar surface. LOI occurred at 20:05 on the 29th, so we have a timeframe of 48 hours within which this photograph must have been taken. Comparison with satellite images is carried out in figure 4.7.14.

Figure 4.7.42: AS15-99-13408 compared with a section of AS15-91-12344 and a section of the ESSA view of the same area.


My suggestion is that we are looking at the California coast in the distance, and the little islet of clear water in the midst of the coastal cloud is the same one in both Apollo images. The ESSA view shows the thin offshore cloud and those inland in the distance.

The first full Earth images looked at were taken 60000 miles from Earth during TLC, and are first discussed in the mission transcript at 9 hours and 30 minutes in to the mission, or 23:00 on the 26th. Figure 4.7.43 shows both the original UV image and the satellite comparison with it.

Figure 4.7.41: Orbital track of Apollo 15 (modified from the AFJ)


So we know that the craft is approaching the California coast, and we know that we have an image of that coast taken on the same day. We also have the ESSA image for that day, so this is my suggestion as to where we are looking (figure 4.7.42).

Figure 4.7.23: TV still of Earth compare with Stellarium view at the same time. Source.


Once again the Earth’s phase is entirely consistent with what should be on view, even if we can’t make out any actual details on it.


For the next full analysis we visit a new photographic magazine. AS15-88-11976 occurs two thirds of the way through magazine 88. The magazine starts on the lunar surface, but this image occurs immediately after a photograph of the CSM during rendez-vous. We therefore have an earliest possible time for the image of 17:11 on the 2nd of August. The LM & CSM were docked two hours later at 19:10, and it is just visible in the image, looming out of focus on the right with the Earth in the background. We therefore have a 2 hour window within which this image was taken, and we can now see if the satellite and Stellarium evidence supports this. Figure 4.4.24 shows the high resolution version of the image (low resolution available here: AIA) and figure 4.4.25 the satellite comparison.

Figure 4.7.20: Stellarium view from the Apollo 15 landing site of Earth during the end of the EVA-2 TV broadcast compared with a screenshot compilation from the LM to Earth. Source.


It’s clear from the Stellarium shot that Earth is well above the horizon (the crew consistently complained of the difficulty of angling the LRV antenna towards Earth because of both the angle and the sun being in view). Earth is at angle of 204 degrees from lunar north. Examination of the Earth in the screenshot compilation shows it to be above St George’s crater. Figure 4.7.21 shows the angle of the crater from the LM.


Figure 4.7.21: Angle of St George’s crater as calculated from the Apollo 15 LM

Pretty much bang on. It’s also worth pointing out that the angle of the lens flares is completely consistent with where the sun is relative to the camera and Earth.

We can also see (figure 4.7.22) that the Earth’s phase is completely consistent with what should be visible.

Figure 4.7.22: Stellarium view of Earth compared with TV screenshot


While it would not be reasonable to suggest we can make out any detail in the image of Earth (of which I have adjusted the contrast) we can certainly see that the phase is consistent with what we should be,

The second TV view of Earth took place at Station 10 during EVA-3. The Earth view was pretty much achieved by accident and is seen at the start of the TV footage, which commenced at roughly 11:50 on August 2nd.

The camera is focused on Earth at the start of the footage but is repositioned so quickly once it is realised that it is stuck that we get nothing we can use to provide a sense of distance above the horizon. All we can do is compare what we should be seeing with what is shown, as indicated in figure 4.7.23.

Figure 4.7.2: AS15-91-12342 compared with ESSA 8 images from July 26th. Stellarium insert shows time at terminator. Right is a 3D reconstruction of digitally restored ESSA data.

Figure 4.7.4: AS15-91-12344 compared with ESSA 9 image and Stellarium inset. Right is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data. Blue arrow is as in figure 4.7.2.

Figure 4.7.8: AS15-91-12345 compared with ESSA 9 satellite image and Stellarium terminator estimate. Right is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data. Green, cyan, magenta and yellow arrows are as figure 4.7.5.

Figure 4.7.11: AS15-91-12347 compared with ESSA 9 image and Stellarium terminator estimate. Right is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data.

Figure 4.7.12: Cropped area of AS15-91-12347 compared with NOAA-1 satellite view (above) and section of 3D reconstruction.

Figure 4.7.14: AS15-91-12350 compared with ESSA 9 image and Stellarium terminator estimate. Right is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data.


Figure 4.7.17: AS15-87-11722 compared with ESSA images from the 29th (top & bottom left) and the 31st (top & bottom right). Stellarium shows time at terminator. Right is digitally restored ESSA image from the 30th and a 3D reconstruction.

Figure 4.7.19: AS15-91-12404 compared with ESSA satellite image and Stellarium terminator estimate. Right is 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data.

Figure 4.7.25: AS15-88-11976 compared with ESSA 9 image and Stellarium terminator estimate. Right is 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA data.