6.7 Why did the astronauts only make miserly jumps?

IN A NUTSHELL: They might look miserly until you consider that the astronauts are wearing a suit and backpack that doubles their weight and has very limited flexibility, and that a fall on the airless Moon can kill.

THE DETAILS: One of the best-known lunar jumps is the one performed by John Young as he saluted the American flag during one of the Apollo 16 moonwalks. Figure 6-18 is a still from the video recording of this event, which was also photographed by Charlie Duke (Figure 5-74).

Moon hoax proponents say that Young's jump is strangely short, and so are all the other lunar leaps. Yet on the Moon, with one-sixth of Earth's gravity, astronauts should be able to perform amazing jumps, maybe six times as high as on Earth. Perhaps the hidden wires couldn't lift them up enough?

Figure 6-18. Apollo 16: John Young jumps as he salutes the flag and Charlie Duke takes his photograph.

Actually, there are very practical reasons for these short hops. First of all, every lunar astronaut was wearing a spacesuit and a backpack that weighed, on Earth, about 80 kilograms (176 pounds): as much as the astronaut himself. It's true that on the Moon this gear weighs one sixth of its Earth weight, i.e., about 13 kilograms (28 pounds), but it is still a substantial extra ballast that the astronaut has to lift in order to jump.

Secondly, John Young performed a standing jump, with no run-up (Figure 6-19), and was wearing a very bulky and rigid suit, limiting his freedom of motion and the energy he could put into his leap.

Figure 6-19. John Young just before his allegedly controversial standing jump.

More importantly, the astronaut is on the Moon, surrounded by a deadly vacuum. He is well aware that if he falls and cracks his helmet, damages the backpack that supplies him with air and cooling or tears his pressurized inner suit, he'll die by decompression or suffocation. In such conditions, it is rather wise not to try and set high-jump records.

Many hoax theorists also make the mistake of considering Young's jump as the highest ever made on the Moon. Actually, it was just a hop intended to take an unusual salute photograph. Other jumps were much higher and correspondingly more dangerous.

For example, Young himself and his crewmate Charlie Duke engaged in a high-jump contest at the end Apollo 16's third moonwalk; Duke estimated that Young had jumped “about four feet [120 centimeters]. Duke made an equally high jump, but fell backwards onto his backpack. In his book Moonwalker, he reported that it was “the only time in our whole lunar stay that I had a real moment of panic and thought I had killed myself. The suit and backpack weren't designed to support a four-foot fall. Had the backpack broken or the suit split open, I would have lost my air. A rapid decompression, or as one friend calls it, a high-altitude hiss-out, and I would have been dead instantly. Fortunately, everything held together.”

Neil Armstrong reported that he jumped up to the third rung of Apollo 11's LM ladder, which was “easily five or six feet [150-180 centimeters] above the ground”. His leaps are visible in the recordings of the TV transmission of his moonwalk. However, Armstrong refrained from further experimentation, because he noted that “there was a tendency to tip over backward on a high jump. One time I came close to falling and decided that was enough of that.”*

* Apollo 11 Technical Crew Debriefing, 31 July 1969, Section 10, pages 61 and 28.