4.3.5 -  Apollo 11: Day 5, the Moon

While checking out the cameras to use on the surface, the crew pick an obvious target for their test: Earth. We therefore get several images that allow comparison of different parts of the Earth's surface during those preparations.

The first images to be examined are AS11-37-5435 & AS11-40-5845. As will be demonstrated, these were taken at the same time using different cameras. Figure shows the original photos for 37-5435, figure shows the original for 40-5845 combined with a zoomed and cropped Earth from it for comparison, and the analysis of AS11-37-5435, the clearer of the two photographs.

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Figure AS11-37-5435. Source

Figure AS11-40-5845 and zoomed & cropped Earth from it. Source

Figure ESSA-9 image compared with AS11-37-5435 and SkySafari time estimate.  Left is a 3D reconstruction using digitally restored ESSA satellite data.

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.

AS11-37-5435 occurs near the beginning of the magazine, after an image of a curved lunar horizon, suggesting that it is not yet in final orbit. It follows AS11-37-5434 showing the same weather patterns and more LM in view, although there is a suggestion that it may have been taken slightly earlier. It is also well before an impressive sequence of images of the CSM taking during separation, which puts this image sometime after 17:27 on the 19th, but before 18:11 on the 20th (the time of the separation manoeuvre).  The ALSJ records that the image taken 2 pictures later in the magazine was taken at 94 hours and 50 minutes into the mission, or 12:22 on the 20th, which narrows down the window still more. The image shows the west coast of the USA near the terminator, and was evidently taken from behind glass, as there is a clear 'ghost' Earth on reflected on the window.

AS11-40-5845 also occurs at the start of its magazine and is immediately preceded by a very circular lunar horizon. There are no other indicators of the likely time period in which the image could have been taken, other than photographs showing the lunar surface. This narrows down the window to between 17:27 on the 19th and 20:05 on the 20th, the beginning of powered descent towards the surface. This image also features the west Coast of the USA close to the terminator, indicating that it was taken at the same time of day as AS11-37-5435. The sharp black line crossing the Earth's is part of a Reseau mark used to calibrate the images for distance and perspective.

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? SkySafari'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 - before the final transfer to the LM. Note the position of the spacecraft on the SkySafari estimate. The ALSJ records a number of conversations between Armstrong, Aldrin & Collins concerning camera equipment that needed to be transferred to the LM. They complain about fogged windows, and then suggest that if they clean the windows they ought to be able to get some nice pictures. At 82:12 Aldrin says:

082:12:44 Aldrin (onboard): Alright, then, I think - the way we're sitting, why, we're going to be able to get a picture - of the Earth coming right up there.         What do you think about that?

Followed at 82:15 by

082:15:32 Collins (onboard): I'm just fooling around. What do you need - AOS time? AOS is going to be - well, let's see - 82:30 - about 15 minutes from          now.

082:15:50 Aldrin (onboard): 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

082:16:06 Collins (onboard): Well, look, if we load this one - if I put the film on this one, and take a picture or two, well, I'll have to take it back off               again; that's the only trouble. I won't have to, but it doesn't stow as neatly. If you don't mind doing - powered descent with the camera in there, I think         that's probably alright. Well, wait a minute, I bet I could put this one loaded where the other one goes...

At 82:32 Aldrin says:

082:32:07 Aldrin (onboard): But I can't see [garble] - I see the Earth, but it's a lousy picture.

Then 5 minutes later

082:37:23 Aldrin (onboard): I got the Earth down by the strut.

That strut and this picture could easily have been AS11-37-5434, and 82:37 equates to roughly 00:05.

An hour later, after Aldrin & Armstrong have transferred to the LM, we get this from Aldrin at 83 hours and 19 minutes:

083:19:09 Aldrin: Roger. Understand. I'm checking out camera number 4 now. [Long pause.]

Then finally:

083:19:35 Aldrin: Roger, Houston. Eagle has checked out both 70-millimeter cameras and both 16-millimeter cameras, and all work fine. Over.

So, it becomes pretty clear from this discussion that the reason for the two identical photographs is that just around 82 - 83 hours into the mission, prior to final transfer to the LM, the crew take a few shots to check that the cameras actually work, and 83 and a quarter hours is around  01:00 on the 20th. It is also clear that the Earth has definitely moved on since figure, and the weather systems visible on the ESSA image from the 19th are clearly present on the Apollo images taken in the early hours of the morning on the 20th. 01:00 would be the latest time for the image: other transcript data suggest around 00:20, supported by lunar terminator position research on this site, as Aldrin records taking a photograph over Tranquility Base at 082:56:25, or 00:28.

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. SkySafari 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. AS11-44-6550 is one of the clearest sequences of Earthrise images over the mission, and is shown in figure

Figure AS11-44-6550. Source

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 4.3.48b, together with the usual SkySafari terminator screenshot. The NIMBUS data used are visible spectrum, as they provided the best image. ATS-3 does not cover any of the area shown.

Figure ESSA-9 (above left) and NIMBUS-3 (below left) images compared with AS11-44-6550, 3D satelite reconstructions  and SkySafari time estimate.

In this case, SkySafari 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):

086:24:48 Collins (onboard): Where the hell is the horizon with the world coming over it? I guess it's behind us, huh?

086:24:58 Armstrong (onboard): Up there? We should be getting Earthshine - Earthrise features - should be coming up pretty soon.

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 AS11-44-6550 is shown in figure, along with the newly restored NIMBUS images from the same day.

Figure Parts of NIMBUS orbit 1297 supplied by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology compared with the South Pacific and Australia from AS11-44-6550. Newly restored NIMBUS-3 images are given as a comparison.

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 AS11-40-5923 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.”

It’s very strange that while he says the clouds could confirm the genuineness of the image he doesn’t actually bother trying - despite the fact that it’s not difficult to find everything you need. His other statement - that the clouds don’t prove it was on or near the moon’ is also nonsense given that the photo he discusses (and a later surface one taken by Armstrong with the lunar module) feature the Earth in exactly the right configuration for the time of the photograph, and that they actually feature the moon, and all the other accompanying evidence that support the fact that they were there. They feature a time and date specific Earth, where exactly does he think they were taken?

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 - everything does.

It’s also worth pointing out that even 12 year olds can spot the use of satellite images - as shown by this article examining how the Apollo record could be of use in checking how well satellite images match up to reality (figure

Figure comparison of AS11-44-6550 with various NIMBUS spectra from the MRIR image. Source. My own version of the MRIR from orbit 1297 is right.

The article recognises that the satellite image takes time to be composed, allowing for slight differences in the ‘instant’ Apollo photo, and notes how the infra-red spectra ‘sees through’ the cloud layers. They are in no doubt that the Apollo photo is genuine, and while we are proving the Apollo photos are genuine with weather data, they are confirming the weather data with Apollo photographs!

12 hours later the crew were in the process of undocking the LM, recorded as being at 110 hours 12 minutes, and image AS11-37-5442 (figure is part of an Earthrise sequence taken (according to the ALSJ)  just after this and featuring parts of the LM in shot. Certainly the photographs immediately after this one shows the CSM taken from the LM.

Figure AS11-37-5442. : Source

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 (AS11-37-5437) as being taken at 94hrs and 50 minutes into the mission, or 12:22 GMT on the 20th. All three satellites can be used to compare weather features, and the analysis is given in figure

Figure ESSA-9 (top left), ATS-3 (centre right) and NMBUS-3 (centre left) images compared with AS11-37-5442 and SkySafari time estimate.  Below this is the NIMBUS-3 HRIR image.

We’re at the moon, it would be rude not to take a closer look, so here’s that swirl off South America (figure

Figure Section of NIMBUS-3 HRIR orbit compared with the same area of AS11-37-5442

Anyone who denies that there is an exact match in this image is an idiot.

In terms of satellite timings, the ATS-3 image is labelled as having been taken at 15:53. The ESSA path over the east African terminator would be track 12, which would be orbit 1801 on the image dated the 20th, commencing at 13:01.  The relevant orbit for NIMBUS would be orbit 1302, which commenced at 09:30. The final NIMBUS orbit start time can be seen above as 14:53, just over an hour before the Apollo image. Again, the satellite image would not have been completed by the time the photo was taken. The nearest orbit to the time shown by SkySafari of 15:50 is orbit 12, which had an AOS time of 98:18, or around 15:50 on the 20th - which is exactly where the Apollo 11 craft can be seen in the SkySafari view.

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-arrowed system seems to appear in all 3 satellite images in roughly the same place, and the reason for this is based around the fact that the ESSA & NIMBUS images are composites of several orbits. The NIMBUS orbit passing over the system in question would have started at around 14:30. Likewise ESSA's orbit over it would have been commenced at 15:06 (track 1, orbit 1802). These compare well with the ATS-3's time of 15:53, and are all relatively close to the time Stellarium suggests of 16:00, which means that this image is one of the last taken before the LM & CSM separated.

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, AS11-41-6023 (figure will be examined next. The suggestion of this analysis is that magazine 41 was used after separation of the two craft, and that this image was taken a couple of hours after the LM landed on the surface as part of a long sequence of Earthrise images. Figure compares all 3 satellite images with a close up of Earth from this photograph.

Figure AS11-41-6023. Source

Figure 4.3.53: ESSA-9 (top left), ATS-3 (left) and NIMBUS-3 (centre left), HRIR NIMBUS mosaic (centre right) images compared with AS11-41-6023 and SkySafari time estimate.

The ATS-3 image was, as reported earlier, was taken at 15:52, and the by the time of the Apollo photograph Earth has, for the most part, rotated beyond what ATS-3 can see from its geostationary position.

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:

104:15:00 Collins: 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.

That’s it for Day 5. Collins is carrying out his lonely vigil, Armstrong and Aldrin are on the surface. The next shots of Earth are a mix of surface and orbital images on Day 6. Click the link to see them.

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