THE DETAILS: One of the many UFO-centered tales regarding the Apollo missions alleges that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the two moonwalkers of Apollo 11, found alien artifacts on the Moon. Overwhelmed by their discovery, they started reporting it excitedly to Mission Control over the public radio link, while Mission Control tried to shut them up and told them to switch to a secure channel.
According to the proponents of this story, the radio transmissions from the Moon had a built-in delay designed to allow censorship and so the discovery was never made public. Some radio enthusiasts, however, allegedly managed to intercept the direct radio signal from the astronauts and recorded it, and so the amazing extraterrestrial discovery was leaked. Here’s the transcript of the astronauts’ excited exchange, which is also available as an audio file:
Astronaut 1: Ha! What is it?
Astronaut 2: We have some explanation for that?
Houston: We have none, don’t worry, continue your program!
Astronaut 1: Oh boy it’s a, it’s, it, it is really something [garbled] fantastic here, you, you could never imagine this!
Houston: Roger, we know about that, could you go the other way, go back the other way!
Astronaut 1: Well it’s kind of [garbled] ha, pretty spectacular... God... what is that there?
Astronaut 1: It’s [garbled], what the hell is that?
Houston: Go Tango, Tango!
Astronaut 1: Ha! There’s kind of light there now!
Houston: Roger, we got it, we (watched it), lose communication, Bravo Tango, Bravo Tango, select Jezebel, Jezebel!
Astronaut 1: ...ya, ha! ... but this is unbelievable!
The claim is actually very easy to debunk. First of all, the voices in the recording are completely different from Armstrong and Aldrin’s. The beeps (formally known as Quindar tones) that separate the astronauts’ voices from the orders from Mission Control are different from the real ones, and so are the background noise and the type of distortion. Also, there’s no sign of the 2.6-second delay between the voice from Mission Control and the replies of the astronauts that inevitably occurs due to the round trip to Earth-Moon distance, covered by the radio signal at the speed of light.
Most importantly, it turns out that the original source of the alleged recording is actually a 1977 British parody documentary, Alternative 3.
Another version of this exchange was published by an American-Canadian tabloid, the National Bulletin, on September 29, 1969, under the title Phony Transmission Failure Hides Apollo 11 Discovery... MOON IS A UFO BASE! It’s not clear whether this was an attempt at parody like Alternative 3, but it certainly has the same implausible setting and is replete with meaningless technobabble such as “orbit scanned” or “In 625 to the fifth, auto-relays set”, which might be impressive to the layperson but are dead giveaways for experts in the field.
The issue of the badly faked beeps is a good opportunity to dispel some frequently repeated myths about them. First of all, the beeps could not be heard by the astronauts and were not used to indicate that it was the other party’s turn to talk. Instead they controlled the transmission of the radio signals from Earth via transmitters located in various countries, which were used as the Earth’s rotation brought them within line-of-sight reach of the spacecraft. They were linked to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, via analog telephone lines, which were affected by interference and noise, so it was necessary to mute the transmitter locally, at the transmission station, instead of closing the microphone in Houston. Essentially, the Quindar tones were remote control signals sent over the telephone lines.
These signals are still used for some space communications. They take their name from Quindar Electronics, Inc.,which provided the equipment that generated these tones and responded to their commands. The tones are 250 milliseconds long at 2,525 Hz for the activation tone (transmission start) and 2,475 Hz for the deactivation tone (transmission stop). A filter eliminated the tones from the signal sent to the Apollo spacecraft and therefore the astronauts usually didn’t hear them. However, during some flights, such as Apollo 8, the filtering didn’t always work fully and the piercing beeps reached the astronaut’s ears.