9.1 Why do the astronauts have guilty looks on their faces?IN A NUTSHELL: Not guilty, but serious. Hoax theorists cherry-pick the photos in which the Apollo astronauts are serious and solemn and claim that they always had that expression because they felt guilty of their deception. Actually, there are plenty of photographs and film clips in which they smile, joke and laugh.
THE DETAILS: It is often argued that Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin had suspiciously gloomy, guilty, sad and reluctant expressions as they were held in quarantine after their Moon trip and during their first post-flight press conference (Figure 9-1).
Figure 9-1. Gloomy expressions of Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin (Apollo 11) during their post-flight quarantine and press conference.
There’s a good reason why they’re serious in that quarantine photo: they’re listening to President Nixon’s formal speech, so it would have been rather inappropriate for them to be laughing their heads off. Once Nixon changes to a less formal tone, the astronauts smile and laugh with him (Figures 9-2 and 9-3).
Figure 9-2. The Apollo 11 astronauts laughing with Nixon. Detail of NASA photo S69-21365.
Figure 9-3. Another moment of shared laughter of the Apollo 11 crew with Nixon.
The apparently gloomy post-flight press conference image is just a carefully selected frame from the film record of the event, which actually includes many moments of laughter, smiles and outright jokes despite the pressure of it being their first press conference after their historic trip.
Contrary to the claims made by some conspiracy theorists, the other lunar astronauts also were anything but sad and guilty-looking after their flights. In the course of four decades they have been (and still are) part of countless public talks and television events in which they unhesitatingly report their experiences and promote space exploration in many ways, including some unorthodox ones.
Buzz Aldrin, for example, appeared very light-heartedly on Da Ali G Show (2003), recorded a rap song with Snoop Dogg (Rocket Experience, 2009), was a contestant in the 2010 edition of the US show Dancing with the Stars and has guest-starred in TV shows like 30 Rock (2010), Numb3rs (2006) and The Big Bang Theory (2012), as well as in the movie Transformers - Dark of the Moon (2011). In his autobiography, Magnificent Desolation, he has also acknowledged candidly his successful fight against alcohol and depression.
A special mention goes to Alan Bean, Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon, whose video Apollo 12 Uncensored is a hilarious collection of anecdotes and jokes about their lunar landing that certainly doesn’t appear to suggest guilt or unease.
This Moon hoax claim is probably one of the most significant: it shows very clearly the symptoms of a world vision in which everything, even an ordinary, occasional serious expression, is interpreted as evidence of a colossal conspiracy and the facts are cherry-picked to bend them to that distorted vision.
9.2 Did Neil Armstrong hide from the media out of guilt?IN A NUTSHELL: No, he simply picked his media appearances very carefully after the overwhelming barrage of public events that followed the Moon landing. He preferred technical conferences, in which he was anything but shy and indeed proved to have a wry sense of humor.
THE DETAILS: According to some hoax theorists, Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon, became a recluse and never appeared on TV, refusing all interviews, after the initial celebrations for the Apollo 11 trip. This absence from the media was allegedly due to his guilt for lying to the entire world.
The truth is quite different. For example, in the 1970s Armstrong even did TV advertising campaigns for Chrysler (Figure 9-4).
Figure 9-4. Neil Armstrong in a TV advert for Chrysler (1979).
However, it is true that Armstrong chose his media appearances very carefully and protected his own image against anyone who tried to profit from his lunar endeavor. For example, in 1984 he sued Hallmark Cards for using his name and voice without permission for a Christmas decoration. Proceeds from the settlement, less legal feeds and costs, were donated to Purdue University, Armstrong’s alma mater.
In 2005 Armstrong’s barber auctioned off the astronaut’s hair clippings, which were bought by a collector for 3,000 dollars. Armstrong threatened legal action and the barber donated the proceeds of the auction to a charity.
One of Armstrong’s few personal interviews was granted in 2005 to CBS’s 60 Minutes (Figure 9-5) when his biography, curated by historian James Hansen and entitled First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, was published.
Figure 9-5. Neil Armstrong interviewed for 60 Minutes.
Armstrong was an extremely modest and reserved man who preferred to talk about technical matters rather than his personal feelings. He was part of the public inquiry boards for the Apollo 13 accident in 1970 and for the Challenger disaster in 1986. These roles placed him once again in the public spotlight at two dramatic times of the United States’ space program. He also hosted the documentary series First Flights with Neil Armstrong in 1991. More recently, he granted extensive technical interviews to the curators of the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal and appeared in the documentary When We Left Earth (2008).
On a lighter note, in 2009 he celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the first Moon landing by joining Aldrin and Collins at the John H. Glenn Lecture, an annual conference held at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and attended the gala for the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 12 at the Kennedy Space Center, where he demonstrated a talent for self-effacing humor.
In 2010 he also spoke publicly quite vehemently against the plans of the Obama administration to restructure NASA.*
* Neil Armstrong blasts Obama’s ‘devastating’ Nasa cuts, by Jacqui Goddard, Times Online, April 14, 2010.
These don’t seem to be the choices of someone who is shunning publicity out of guilt.
Moreover, Armstrong wasn’t at all impossible to reach: for example, in April 2011 some news reports claimed that he had been a follower of Indian guru Sai Baba, who had just died. So I contacted James Hansen, Armstrong’s biographer, to clarify the matter. Within a day, I received a personal e-mail from Neil Armstrong himself, in which he stated that he didn’t even know who Sai Baba was and had not communicated in any way with any of his associates or followers. He added that he was not surprised, as many religious organizations had claimed him as a member.
9.3 How come NASA refuses to deal with the hoax allegations?IN A NUTSHELL: Actually, NASA has published various rebuttals to the allegations. But the agency has stated that it has no plans to produce any more because it doesn’t want to dignify a set of claims that the science community has long dismissed as ridiculous. NASA prefers to work on more positive enterprises and leave to others the task of answering the individual allegations of fakery.
THE DETAILS: Some doubters find it suspicious that NASA won’t simply answer the hoax theorists’ questions once and for all and debate them. It’s as if it had something to hide, they argue.
In actual fact, NASA has already published quite detailed rebuttals. After the Fox TV program Did We Land on the Moon? was broadcast in 2001, the space agency added several pages of debunking material, based on what it had already released in 1977.
* Did U.S. Astronauts Really Land on the Moon?, in NASA Facts, 1977, republished on April 14, 2001; The Great Moon Hoax, February 23, 2001; The Moon Landing Hoax, March 30, 2001; Did We Really Land on the Moon? Suggestions for Science Teachers, March 4, 2001.
However, there’s a limit to how much effort NASA intends to spend in responding to conspiracy theorists. In 2002, in response to the Fox TV program, NASA allocated 15,000 dollars and asked aerospace engineer and spaceflight historian James Oberg to write a book specifically on the matter, aimed mainly at teachers and students. The project was canceled shortly after, following media criticism that it was a waste of taxpayers’ money. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe stated in November 2002 that “The issue of trying to do a targeted response to this is just lending credibility to something that is, on its face, asinine.”
Since then, the widespread availability of the Internet has allowed many enthusiasts and experts to reply to the hoax theories directly on their own websites, and NASA has redirected doubters to these debunkers. The References section of this book lists some of the most popular debunking sites in various languages.
Accordingly, any further direct response by NASA has become essentially unnecessary. The ultimate rebuttal is NASA’s overwhelmingly vast library of publicly available documents that provide all the details of the reality of the Moon landings.
9.4 How come the lunar astronauts won’t face the doubters?IN A NUTSHELL: On the contrary, many astronauts have answered the doubters directly, have taken part in TV debates and have granted interviews to hoax believers, even swearing on the Bible in front of the conspiracy theorists’ cameras.
THE DETAILS: A recurring complaint among Moon hoax proponents is that the moonwalkers refuse to debate them and don’t answer their questions. This, they say, suggests guilt.
Actually, the astronauts who walked on the Moon have engaged the hoax theorists on several occasions. For example, in 2001 John Young (who flew around the Moon with Apollo 10 and landed on it with Apollo 16) went on NBC’s Today Show to respond to the conspiracy allegations made by Bill Kaysing. He also asked one very pointed question: “If it was a hoax, why did we do it more than once?”
Some moonwalkers have actually accepted to be interviewed at length by hoax proponents. Gene Cernan (Apollo 10, Apollo 17), Alan Bean (Apollo 12) and Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14) even swore on the Bible, on video, to comply with Bart Sibrel’s insistent demands (Figure 9-6).
Figure 9-6. Edgar Mitchell, Gene Cernan and Alan Bean swear on the Bible as requested by hoax theorist Bart Sibrel. Stills from Sibrel’s Astronauts Gone Wild (2004).
Others have preferred to reply to these demands with a punch, as in the case of Buzz Aldrin after Sibrel accused him of being “a coward and a liar”, or with a knee to the butt, as delivered by Edgar Mitchell again to Sibrel at the end of the interview in which he had sworn on the Bible. Both episodes are documented in Sibrel’s video Astronauts Gone Wild (2004).
Usually, however, lunar astronauts dismiss the hoax allegations with a few poignant words, such as those chosen by Gene Cernan for the David Sington documentary In the Shadow of the Moon (2007):
I was there, I made the footprints on the moon, and no one can take that away from me.
9.5 How come NASA documents aren’t available?IN A NUTSHELL: They are. NASA has always provided access to copies of its technical documents, photographs and film footage for anyone willing to file a formal request and pay for duplication and postage. Now that documents can be distributed at no cost via the Internet, an immense amount of NASA data is available with just a few mouse clicks.
THE DETAILS: Bill Kaysing, on page 7 of his book We Never Went to the Moon, asks this question:
Why is it that NASA’s Apollo records are not classified, but are also not available to the general public?
This criticism was perhaps excusable when Kaysing wrote the first edition of his book, in 1974, but today NASA’s Apollo documents are easily available on the Internet: tens of thousands of pages of manuals, technical diagrams, reports, and all the photographs of all the Apollo flights. A partial list of these archives is in the References section at the end of this book.
Kaysing’s claim, however, was factually incorrect even when it was first made: even then, NASA already provided all public records to anyone who requested them and paid the duplication and postage fees. Such requests, however, were rather rare, since just one of the manuals of the Lunar Module, the Apollo Operations Handbook – Lunar Module, LM 10 and Subsequent, has over 1700 pages, so duplication costs were high.
Some documents were kept confidential for a few years because they discussed military technologies (such as used in the Apollo 11 lunar camera) or technologies that could be used for military purposes by potential enemies, but even these were soon declassified.
For example, even the documentation related to a truly state-of-the-art item like the Apollo guidance and navigation computer was declassified and made available to the public already in 1973, just four years after the first Moon landing and less than one year after the end of the lunar missions (Figure 9-7).
Figure 9-7. The cover of the design report on the Apollo navigation computer. Note the stamps indicating release to the public in 1973.
9.6 How is it possible that the Saturn V blueprints have been lost?IN A NUTSHELL: They haven’t. They’re preserved on microfilm at the Marshall Space Flight Center and on paper at Rocketdyne and in US federal archives. The F-1 engines of the giant rocket are being studied in detail and used as engineering templates for the next generation of spacecraft. Three whole Saturn V rockets are on public display, available to anyone who cares to examine them.
THE DETAILS: John Lewis, in his 1996 book Mining the Sky, reported that he had tried in vain to obtain the blueprints of the Saturn V rocket: “My attempts to find them several years ago met with no success: the plans have evidently been ‘lost’. The fleet has been destroyed. The plans are gone”. Some hoax theorists have built on this report to claim that the blueprints were destroyed to hide the fact that the Saturn V actually didn’t work and couldn’t reach the Moon as NASA instead claimed.
However, in 2000 NASA clarified* that the blueprints still exist as microfilm at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Federal Archives in East Point, Georgia, store approximately 82 cubic meters (2,900 cubic feet) of Saturn documents and Rocketdyne (the manufacturer of the main engines of all three Saturn V stages) has preserved dozens of volumes of Saturn-related information as part of its knowledge retention program.
* Saturn 5 Blueprints Safely in Storage, Space.com, March 13, 2000.
Figure 9-8. A detail from one of the allegedly lost schematics of the Saturn V. Credit: Up-ship.com.
Moreover, the fleet has not been “destroyed”. There are three full, original Saturn V rockets on display and freely accessible to the public: one at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, one at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and one at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama (Figure 9-9).
Figure 9-9. An original Saturn V on display at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Credit: Spacecamp.com.
In 2013, a team of engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, actually took to pieces one of the original F-1 engines of the first stage of the Saturn V rocket and test-fired its gas generator, the component that powers the engine’s turbopump, which had to inject almost three tons of propellant per second into the thrust chamber. In other words, the fact that these engines really work as advertised is not just a 40-year-old claim: it has actually been put to the test.
9.7 Does NASA tamper with the recordings? There’s no delayIN A NUTSHELL: NASA doesn’t do any tampering, but documentary makers do. To keep the narrative flowing, they often summarize or edit footage. That’s why, for example, sometimes in documentaries there’s no speed-of-light delay in Apollo’s Earth-Moon communications. But the unabridged reference recordings and transcripts published by NASA have the delay.
THE DETAILS: In some footage of the Moon landings, the astronauts appear to answer the radio messages from Earth too quickly. Radio waves, traveling at the speed of light, take about a second and a quarter to cross the gap between the Earth and the Moon, so there should be at least an equivalent pause between the words uttered in Mission Control in Houston and the replies from the astronauts on the Moon. If there’s no delay, the radio transmissions must have been fake, argue some conspiracy theorists.
A less conspiratorial explanation is that the footage has been edited for conciseness or pacing with respect to the original recordings. Indeed, the lack of delay occurs in documentaries, but not in NASA’s source material. With very few exceptions, documentaries tend to omit unnecessary dialogue and use mismatched images to achieve a more dramatic and interesting narration by focusing on key moments. There’s no real intent to deceive, but the end result is that many documentaries are not as faithful as one might expect.
For example, the Apollo 11 lunar landing is often portrayed so that it seems that the very first words spoken on the Moon were “Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed”. Actually, if you go to the original recordings and transcripts (available at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal website), it turns out that those famous words were preceded by a substantial chunk of technical reporting.
Here’s the unabridged transcript, starting from the very first contact with the lunar surface:
102:45:40 Aldrin: Contact Light.
Aldrin is telling Mission Control that the Lunar Contact warning light has turned on: this means that at least one of the 173-centimeter (68-inch) probes under the footpads of the Lunar Module has touched the ground. Technically, these are the first words spoken on the Moon.
Once the LM has settled on the surface, the series of technical status reports continues, as the spacecraft is prepared for its stay on the Moon:
102:45:43 Armstrong: Shutdown.
102:45:44 Aldrin: Okay. Engine Stop.
102:45:45 Aldrin: ACA out of Detent.
102:45:46 Armstrong: Out of Detent. Auto.
102:45:47 Aldrin: Mode Control, both Auto. Descent Engine Command Override, Off. Engine Arm, Off. 413 is in.
Only at this point does Mission Control speak out: Charlie Duke, future Apollo 16 astronaut, is working as Capcom for Apollo 11. He is one of the few people who talk directly to the crew in space:
102:45:57 Duke: We copy you down, Eagle.
102:45:58 Armstrong: Engine arm is off. [pause] Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
It’s quite obvious that these status reports are of no interest to the average viewer: that’s why they often get cut in documentaries.
Another frequent example of a cut for narrative purposes occurs seconds later: Charlie Duke, momentarily tongue-tied by the excitement of the event, mispronounces the new name of the Lunar Module, i.e., Tranquility Base.
He starts to say “Roger, Twan...”, then pauses and corrects himself: “...Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.” In most documentaries this flub is edited out.
Even the famous phrase “One small step...” is often presented in the wrong context: it’s usually heard as we see Neil Armstrong jump down the ladder of the LM. But actually, in the original video recording Armstrong jumps down and lands on the LM footpad, without touching the ground, describes his surroundings, hops up the ladder again (to test that he will be able to get back up at the end of the moonwalk), jumps down again, and only then does he cautiously place his left foot on the surface of the Moon and utter the historic words (Figure 9-10).
Figure 9-10. Armstrong is about to set foot on the Moon. Frame from the partially restored edition of the live TV broadcast.
Conspiracy theorists persistently make the mistake of considering documentaries to be equivalent to official records. They are not; the only true reference material is constituted by the original raw data and footage.
The extent to which even prize-winning films, such as For All Mankind, present inaccurately and misleadingly images and sounds of the Apollo missions is detailed by spaceflight historian James Oberg’s article Apollo 11 TV Documentary Misrepresentations (Wall Street Journal, 1994).
9.8 How come the Moon rock donated to Holland is fake?IN A NUTSHELL: Because it’s not a NASA Moon rock. Everything points to a mistake or to a hoax orchestrated by two Dutch artists in 2006. NASA has never authenticated the “rock” (there are no documents tracing its origins), it’s far too big to be a donated lunar sample, and its background story is nonsensical. It was reportedly donated privately in 1969 to a retired prime minister instead of being given, as was customary, to a representative of the then-current Dutch government; it wasn’t put on public display as a Moon rock would have deserved; and real donated Moon rocks were encapsulated in transparent plastic, while this one is not.*
* I am indebted to Diego Cuoghi for sharing his research into many of the details of this story.
THE DETAILS: In August 2009, several media outlets began reporting that the curators of the Dutch national museum in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, had discovered that an exhibit that had been presented for years as an Apollo 11 Moon rock was actually a chunk of petrified wood (Figure 9-11).
Figure 9-11. The fake “Moon rock” and its descriptive plaque.
The reports stated that the alleged Moon rock had been donated on October 9, 1969 by J. W. Middendorf II, who was the US ambassador to the Netherlands at the time, to former Dutch prime minister, Willem Drees, during the world tour of the Apollo 11 astronauts following their historic mission. When Drees died, in 1988, the item was reportedly put on display in the museum.
However, in 2006 Arno Wielders, a physicist and aerospace entrepreneur, saw it and warned the museum that it was highly unlikely that NASA had donated such a large, priceless Moon rock just three months after returning from the Moon and before any further samples were brought back by later Apollo flights.
The investigation conducted in 2009 by Xandra Van Gelder, chief editor of the museum’s Oog magazine, confirmed that the exhibit was a fake. Van Gelder reported that NASA hadn’t authenticated the specific item but had merely stated that it was likely that the Netherlands had received a Moon rock, since the US had donated small samples to over 100 countries in the early 1970s. In actual fact, the real Dutch Moon rock was at the Boerhaave museum.
The fakery, if intended, wasn’t particularly subtle. The alleged Moon rock was huge, about 55 by 20 millimeters (2.2 by 0.8 inches), compared to the tiny samples usually donated to foreign countries by the United States. The reddish color of the item was completely different from the usual color of lunar samples. Petrologist Wim van Westrenen, of the Amsterdam Free University, reported that he was immediately aware that something was wrong. Spectroscopic and microscopic inspection of a fragment found quartz and cell-like structures typical of petrified wood. Also, real samples were encapsulated in plastic and accompanied by a flag and an inscription that clearly identified them as Moon rocks (Figure 9-12), whereas the descriptive plaque of the fake doesn’t even say it’s a lunar sample and spells center with an incongruous British spelling (centre).
Van Gelder also noted that the history of the item was suspicious. Real samples would be donated to the people of a country through a representative of the then-current government, not to a former prime minister who in 1969 had been out of office for eleven years. The US ambassador explained that he had received the exhibit from the US State Department, but he could not recall the details of the matter.
Figure 9-12. At the top, encapsulated in clear plastic, a genuine sample of Moon rock donated to the Netherlands by the US. Credit: Museumboerhaave.nl.
Another questionable issue is the fact that such a rare and important item surfaced only during an “art exhibition” organized in 2006 by Rotterdam artists Liesbeth Bik and Jos van der Pol and not during a science-oriented event. The exhibition was rather tongue-in-cheek, since it asked visitors what they thought of the museum’s plans to open an exhibition center on the Moon. However, it is true that on October 9, 1969 the Apollo 11 astronauts were in Amsterdam on an official visit.
Figure 9-13. The “Moon rock” as shown in the Rijksmuseum catalog (where it was classified as fake).
All this leads to two likely scenarios. Perhaps the item was indeed donated by the US ambassador to the former prime minister during the visit of the Apollo 11 astronauts and was misidentified by him or his family as a Moon rock instead of a sample from a petrified forest of the United States. That would explain the ambassador’s donation to a politician no longer in office: J. W. Middendorf II would have been at liberty to procure and donate a piece of petrified wood from his home state, for example. If so, when Drees died, his family bequeathed the item to the Rijksmuseum in good faith.
Another possibility is that the two Dutch artists knowingly or unwittingly used a piece of petrified wood as a stand-in for a Moon rock for their exhibition and the item was later mislabeled as a genuine Moon rock. An intentional hoax might explain the fact that they reported in 2007 that “in a drawer they saw a very small rock with a note with it. On that note it said that this stone came from the moon.” Yet the photographs of the note show that it doesn’t say that the stone is a lunar specimen.
Either way, it is unquestionable that the item was not formally authenticated by NASA and that anyone arguing that this is evidence of faking the trips to the Moon would have to explain why the perpetrators of a conspiracy on which the worldwide standing of the US depended would be so dumb as to manufacture such a crude and easily detectable fake.
9.9 Was astronaut Grissom killed to keep him quiet?IN A NUTSHELL: Unproven and unlikely. The accident in which Grissom was allegedly killed to stop him from revealing the problems of the Apollo spacecraft actually revealed those problems in a tragic way that nobody could ignore. Killing him in a cabin fire that would expose the very troubles that had to be kept hidden doesn’t sound like a particularly bright problem-solving approach.
Figure 9-14. Scott Grissom in the documentary Did We Land on the Moon? (2001).
THE DETAILS: In the Fox TV program Did We Land on the Moon?, Scott Grissom, son of astronaut Gus Grissom, who died with Ed White and Roger Chaffee in the fire of their Apollo 1 capsule during a ground test on January 27, 1967, stated that the spacecraft “was intentionally sabotaged”.
Some Moon hoax proponents claim that Grissom was killed because he was an outspoken critic of the Apollo program and was about to announce that the spacecraft would never be able to get to the Moon.
In other words, allegedly Gus Grissom was going to disclose that the Apollo spacecraft was dangerously unsafe and unreliable and so someone decided to shut him up by making him die in an onboard fire that disclosed to everyone that the Apollo spacecraft was dangerously unsafe and unreliable. A flawless plan.
Scott Grissom’s accusations are not backed by any hard evidence. The Fox TV program says that “the cause of the fire is still a mystery and the capsule remains locked away at a military base”, but this statement is twice incorrect and misleading.
First of all, the primary cause of the fire is known quite precisely: seconds before the first report of fire by the crew, telemetry tapes recorded a short-circuit in the spacecraft cabin, which was built with materials that became highly flammable in a high-pressure (1.13 atm, 16.7 psi), pure-oxygen environment such as the one used for the specific test that was being run on that fatal day. In such conditions, the slightest spark, for example due to static electricity or faulty wiring, could trigger a raging blaze, and it did.
The crew was trapped in the spacecraft by the complicated double hatch, which opened inward and therefore was pressed shut by the sudden internal pressure build-up caused by the heat. Grissom, White and Chaffee died within seconds due to inhalation of toxic gases from the fire.
The tragedy forced NASA and its contractors to review all their procedures and rethink the redesign of the spacecraft that was already in progress, focusing on the need to minimize the risk of fire. In the course of twenty-one frantic months, all flammable materials were replaced by self-extinguishing ones, the nylon spacesuits were replaced with fire- and heat-resistant models, a hatch that could open outward in less than ten seconds was introduced and the onboard atmosphere was changed to 60% oxygen and 40% nitrogen at sea level pressure during liftoff and 0.3 atm (5 psi) of pure oxygen for the remainder of the flight. Apollo 7 was the first flight to introduce these fixes.
Figure 9-15. The remains of the Apollo 1 spacecraft. Source: Chariots for Apollo.
Secondly, the Apollo 1 capsule is not “locked away at a military base”, as if to suggest some secret that has to be kept under wraps: records show that at the end of the inquiry into the accident the capsule was taken to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where it remained until 2007. After that date it was placed in an environmentally controlled warehouse at the same center, which is not a military base (NASA is a civilian agency), although there is a military facility nearby.
The mystery, in other words, is entirely fabricated by Fox TV’s sensationalist scriptwriters.
The alleged motive makes no sense also because Grissom was far from being a lonely voice in the desert as regards the flaws of the Apollo spacecraft. Indeed, a major redesign of the spacecraft was already in progress and NASA’s post-accident report stated openly that “deficiencies in design, manufacture, installation, rework and quality control existed in the electrical wiring... No design features for fire protection were incorporated... Non-certified equipment items were installed in the Command Module at time of test.”*
9.10 Was NASA whistleblower Thomas Baron murdered?IN A NUTSHELL: Safety inspector Thomas Baron died in a car accident after testifying in writing before Congress and after publishing his criticism of the safety of the Apollo spacecraft. Getting rid of an embarrassing witness after he has testified seems to be a rather ineffective scheme.
THE DETAILS: Thomas Ronald Baron was a safety and quality inspector who worked at the Kennedy Space Center from September 1965 to November 1966. He reported to his superiors many acts of worker negligence, poor workmanship and disregard for safety rules.
His reports, however, were not based on direct observation, but on second-hand notes from other people, and this caused them to be taken lightly. He submitted some of his remarks to NASA at the end of 1966 in a 55-page report; some of his warnings were heeded, while others were considered groundless. Baron felt disregarded and sidelined and so leaked his criticism directly to the press. This decision led North American Aviation (the manufacturer of the Apollo command modules) to fire him in January 1967.
Baron began to draft on his own a more detailed 500-page report. After the Apollo 1 fire, which took the lives of Grissom, White and Chaffee on January 27, 1967, Baron delivered this report to the committees of the US Congress that were investigating the disaster and on April 21, 1967 testified before a subcommittee governed by Congressman Olin Teague. One week after testifying, Baron and his family were killed when their car was struck by a train at a level crossing. His full-length report was never made public and has since vanished.
If the facts are told in this way, they certainly lend themselves to a conspiracy theory: Baron was killed to silence him and make sure that nobody found out that the Apollo project was in deep trouble or was a sham.
However, the theory clashes with a basic logic flaw: Baron died after he had talked to the press, after delivering his extended report to Congress, after testifying before the commission subcommittee, and after the very serious problems in the design of the Apollo command module had become public in the most tragic and inescapable way: with the death of three astronauts. Silencing Baron at this point would have been absolutely useless.
Moreover, while the nature of the accident that killed Baron and his family might seem freakish and suspicious at first glance, if you consider the logistics of coordinating a train to pass at the exact time when Baron’s car is passing and making sure Baron can’t see it and avoid being struck, it seems an absurdly complicated way to go about eliminating an embarrassing witness.
What happened to the 500-page report is unclear. The transcripts of Baron’s testimony indicate that the report was discussed and that the Congress committee was reluctant to include it as an official record because its size made it awkward and costly to duplicate and print it, especially if the report included hearsay, which would have been legally inadmissible anyway.
NASA and North American Aviation, the organizations that had most to lose from its publication, never had the opportunity to destroy it, since Baron gave it directly to the Congressmen. It is unknown whether the report was returned to Baron or simply discarded.
Either way, it mattered little whether the report was saved or not: NASA and especially North American Aviation were already in the spotlight for the Apollo 1 disaster and their omissions had already been made public. Baron’s report would have made no difference before the coffins of Grissom, Chaffee and White (Figure 9-17).
Figure 9-17. Gus Grissom’s coffin at the Arlington cemetery, escorted by Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper and John Young. Photo 67-H-141. Scan by Ed Hengeveld.
9.11 Isn’t it suspicious that ten astronauts died in freak accidents?IN A NUTSHELL: No. First of all, two of these ten astronauts had nothing to do with the Apollo project: the compilers of this death list are cooking the books. Also, being a test pilot of experimental, high-performance aircraft and spacecraft has always been dangerous and deadly. Test pilots died often, in the Fifties and Sixties, outside of the American space program as well, as witnessed by any aviation history book.
THE DETAILS: The Fox TV program Did We Land on the Moon? states that “Between 1964 and 1967, a total of ten astronauts lost their lives in freak accidents. These deaths accounted for an astonishing 15% of NASA’s astronaut corps.”
Bill Kaysing then adds that “to keep something that’s a lie wrapped up and covered over, you’ve got to eliminate all the people that can talk about it”. The implication is that these “freak accidents” were staged to keep under wraps the secret that the Apollo missions would be faked. Conspiracy theorists, here, are no longer talking about doctored photographs: they’re openly making accusations of murder.
But let’s fact-check this claim of ten mysterious deaths. The program shows photographs of pilots without identifying them, so it takes some patient historical research to find their names and check whether they did die in freak accidents and were part of the Apollo program. Further details on these men are in the chapter Remembering the fallen, but here are the key facts.
Theodore Cordy Freeman. USAF captain, aeronautical engineer and experimental aircraft test pilot. He died in 1964, two years before the first test flight of the Apollo spacecraft and three years before the first flight of a Saturn V, in a plane crash caused by a bird strike. He had been selected as an astronaut for the Gemini and Apollo projects but was never assigned to a specific mission.
Figure 9-18. Theodore C. Freeman.
Edward Galen Givens, Jr. USAF major and test pilot, selected and trained by NASA in 1966 as an astronaut for the Apollo Applications Program, a planned series of flights that were intended to follow the first lunar landing. He was on the backup crew of Apollo 7. He died in a car accident in 1967.
Figure 9-19. Edward G. Givens, Jr.
Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. USAF major and test pilot, selected in June 1967 for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory project, which intended to place military space stations in Earth orbit to perform reconnaissance of enemy territories. He died on December 8, 1967 in the crash of his F-104 trainer, flown by his student. He was not involved in the Apollo program.
Figure 9-20. Robert H. Lawrence, Jr.
Clifton Curtis Williams, Jr. Major of the Marines and test pilot, chosen for NASA’s third group of astronauts in 1963. He was part of the backup crew of Gemini 10 and Apollo 9. He died in 1967 when the T-38 supersonic trainer that he was flying developed a malfunction and crashed.
Elliot McKay See, Jr. US Navy engineer and test pilot, selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1962. He also supervised the design and development of spacecraft guidance and navigation systems. He had been chosen to command Gemini 9, but died on February 28, 1966 together with astronaut candidate Charles Bassett when their T-38 jet crashed during a low-visibility instrument-only landing.
Michael James Adams. USAF major and test pilot, selected as astronaut for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory military project. He died on November 15, 1967, when his X-15 experimental hypersonic rocket plane broke up as it was flying at five times the speed of sound. He was not involved in any way with the Apollo project.
Charles Arthur “Art” Bassett II. USAF captain and test pilot. Member of NASA’s third group of astronauts, selected in October 1963. He was assigned to Gemini 9 together with Elliot McKay See, but died with See on February 28, 1966, in the crash of their T-38 trainer.
Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom, Edward Higgins White, Roger Bruce Chaffee. As already described in the previous chapters of this book, these three astronauts died together in a fire on the launch pad, during a spacecraft systems test, on January 27, 1967.
To sum up, two of the allegedly suspicious deaths involved military astronauts (Michael James Adams and Robert Henry Lawrence) who had nothing to do with the Apollo project; four (Charles Bassett, Elliott See, Theodore Freeman and Clifton Williams) died in three accidents with T-38 supersonic training jets (they were test pilots); Ed Givens died in a car crash; and Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in the Apollo 1 fire.
Ten deaths over three years was sadly par for the course in the high-risk world of test pilots in those days, as Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff mercilessly recounts, so statistically there’s nothing particularly suspicious about these events. What is suspicious, instead, is that the Fox TV list includes two people who were not part of the Apollo project. It’s easy to create an atmosphere of mystery if you inflate the number of deaths by 20%.