Courtesy of David Kring
The reported landing zone for Chang'e 3 mission, the Bay of Rainbows.
Credit: Dimension Films
Apollo 18: Myths of the Moon Missions
Sept. 2, 2011 --
In the movie "Apollo 18," lost footage taken from what was the canceled Apollo 18 mission to the moon reveals a coverup. NASA buried the mission after astronauts encountered hostile life forms on the moon. The Apollo missions captured the imagination of a generation, so it's no small wonder that fictional accounts -- such as that of "Apollo 18" -- of what happened during NASA's golden age still find new angles on a rich history. Although the Apollo program is a technological and historical legend, as with most stories of heroes and triumph, there have been some embellishments and distortions along the way. Explore the myths, misconceptions and urban legends that color the history of the Apollo missions. (And good news for space enthusiasts: We're not even mentioning the delusion that the moon landing was a hoax.)
We begin with a myth of the Apollo era that was soon squashed after astronauts returned home. Prior to the first successful landing of astronauts on the lunar surface, NASA scientists theorized that their astronauts may have been contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms to which humans would have no resistance. The space agency even enforced a 21-day quarantine for astronauts returning from space. In this photo, Aldrin greets his visiting family via telephone while still constrained in the Mobile Quarantine Facility in Houston, Texas. Biomedical studies conducted following the quarantine period determined that neither the astronauts nor any of the living species that brought along on the mission, including plants and animals, suffered any adverse health effects as a direct result of exposure to lunar material.
"Apollo 18" hinges on the premise that the cancelled Apollo 18 mission was in fact carried out, but covered up after the space agency discovered the presence of hostile alien life on the lunar surface. We all know that in reality Apollo astronauts who landed on the moon never stumbled onto any lunar life. But did Buzz Aldrin, as he appears to claim in this interview for a documentary, spot a UFO while en route to the moon? As Aldrin would later go on to explain following the airing of these comments, not even close. What he actually saw, which he and his fellow astronauts immediately confirmed, was "one of the panels from the separation of the spacecraft from the upper stage."
Image: This is not the original space pen. It
The Million Dollar... Pen?
To paraphrase an old joke: When presented with the challenge of writing in a zero-gravity environment, the United States and the Soviet Union approached the same problem in two different ways. NASA spent millions of dollars developing and testing the space pen. The Russians, on the other hand, used a pencil. In reality, the space pen wasn't developed by NASA, but rather a private company that later sold its invention to both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. A kernel of truth is hidden in this story, however. NASA originally used mechanical pencils and hired a private contractor to supply "34 units" at a price of $4,382.50 in 1965 (around $30,000 today). The public outcry against this purchase led NASA to the cheaper alternative designed by Fisher Space.
Why Was Armstrong First?
Everyone knows that Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon, followed closely by Buzz Aldrin. But how many people know the reason why Armstrong was first? In one version of events, Armstrong was selected as the first man to set foot on the moon so that NASA could symbolically convey the message that civilians would be leading the charge with space exploration rather than the military. Aldrin had a long career with the Air Force prior to becoming an astronaut. This account, however, is a myth. For his part, Armstrong had spent time in the military before joining the public sector as a civilian. So why was he chosen first? The answer is much less complicated: It was his turn to be commander after rotating through as backup commander during Apollo 8.
Americans these days look back on the legacy of the space program with pride and admiration. This singular technological achievement is unrivaled to the day. Although Americans may look back fondly at that glorious era, their 1960s counterparts weren't quite as supportive. The Apollo program is widely believed to have been popular during its time, but polling data taken from the era suggest that simply wasn't the case. Throughout the entire era, surveys consisted showed that less than 50 percent of the American public favored the program. Even after Armstrong took his first steps on the moon in 1969, only 53 percent of American surveyed said the accomplishment was worth the cost, according to a report by Space.com.
Could the real reason astronauts haven't returned to the moon be because NASA has simply forgotten how? According to this rumor, propagated by writers including Terry Bisson and astronomer John Lewis in his book "Mining the Sky" in 1996, NASA simply lost its blueprints to the Saturn V rockets. NASA was quick to point out that microfilm of the blueprints is still in storage at Marshall Space Center. So why can't NASA rebuild the Saturn rockets? As explained in 2009 by NASA Lunar Science Institute director David Morrison, many of the companies that manufacture the parts that made up the Saturn V have since gone out of business and the parts are no longer available. Besides, rocket technology has advanced somewhat since the Apollo era.
Credit: U.S. Department of State
As much as we'd all like to believe it's true, NASA did not invent Tang during the Apollo missions. In fact, the instant drink mix had been invented during the 1950s by General Foods Corporation. When NASA adopted it during John Glenn's initial venture into space and for subsequent journeys, the missions popularized the product. Given the kinds of innovations NASA dreamed up during the Apollo years, these misconceptions have become common. Other developments around the same era, such as Teflon and Velcro, are also falsely attributed to the space agency.
Space Pen Savior?
Would you believe the space pen was responsible for preventing Aldrin and Armstrong from being stranded on the moon? The Fisher Space Pen folks would like you to think that's the case, but that's not exactly how it happened. When Armstrong and Aldrin returned to the lunar lander after their historic space walks, the astronauts discovered the "the ascent engine's arming circuit breaker was broken off on the panel," according to Aldrin. In other words, a circuit needed to power the engines to get the Apollo 11 astronauts off the moon simply wasn't working. To complete the circuit, the astronauts didn't use a space pen but rather an ordinary felt-tip marker.
China is making major headway in its mission to land a rover on the moon -- a big step forward in the nation's ambitious lunar exploration plans.
At China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center, the moon-bound Chang'e 3 spacecraft is undergoing its final tests ahead of a planned launch in early December. Meanwhile, a Long March 3B carrier rocket, reportedly modified with new technologies and improved reliability, is set to reach the launch center via train from Beijing on Friday (Nov. 1).
The touchdown target for the Chang'e 3 mission -- a lander and a lunar rover -- is thought to be Sinus Iridum, known as the Bay of Rainbows, a plain of basaltic lava on the moon, according to reports by China media outlets. An earlier Chinese lunar orbiter, Chang'e 2, eyed the moon-landing zone in 2010, showing the site's flat topography and other interesting features. (Moon Photos by China's Chang'e 2 Lunar Orbiter (Gallery))
As for the rover's name, that is to be decided next month, based on nearly 190,000 entries on two China-based websites. According to the Beijing Times, "Yutu" ("jade hare" in Chinese) leads the list, while "Tansuo" ("explore") and "Lanyue" ("catch moon"), are the second and third choices, respectively.
China space watcher Bob Christy of the informative website Zarya.info told SPACE.com that his best estimate for a China lunar launch is Dec. 1. "It could be a day or so later, but is unlikely to be earlier," he said.
Christy has taken a look at the launch windows.
"For Dec. 1, the optimum launch time is around 14:00 to 15:00 UTC (9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. EST)," he said. "It allows Chang'e to approach the moon from the north to give a better view of the transfer orbit from China than would the alternative -- around 22:00 UTC (5:00 p.m. EST) for an approach from the south."
Sunrise over Sinus Iridum commences Dec. 14, Christy added, so landing will probably be a day or so later to ensure enough light.
"I have a Chinese document that says Chang'e will spend about 10 days in orbit before landing. Transit time is likely to be 4.6 days … so it points to Dec. 1 for launch," he said.
Bay of Rainbows
As for why China chose Sinus Iridum for the landing site, David Kring, senior staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, has some ideas.
In an informal briefing document provided to SPACE.com, Kring showed the scientific advantages of selecting that region. But he also said that other factors may also have affected the landing site choice.
For example, China might be factoring in thoughts of returning lunar samples back to China in the future. Relatively little oomph is needed to rocket samples back to Earth from the Sinus Iridum region, Kring told SPACE.com
Sinus Iridum is an impact crater, measuring roughly 146 miles (235 kilometers) across, that was later flooded by basaltic lavas. It is located along the northwestern edge of the Imbrium basin.
In 1970, the then-Soviet Union's Luna 17 spacecraft landed nearby, dispatching the Lunokhod 1 moon rover, Kring said.
According to Kring's informal report, which draws from various Chinese sources, the solar-powered Chang'e 3 rover carries nearly 45 lbs. (20 kilograms) of payload and has a 6-mile (10 km) range after departing the lander. (20 Most Marvelous Moon Missions)
The six-wheeled robot sports navigation and panoramic cameras. The lower front portion of the rover carries hazard-avoidance cameras. The rover will hibernate at night and might survive three lunar nights (three Earth months).
The rover totes a robotic arm with an Alpha-Proton X-ray Spectrometer, or APXS.
That APXS tool could, among other duties, study recent impact crater material that’s been tossed out and about, revealing the material below the moon’s surface; look at ejected debris in crater rays and/or in secondary craters; and help researchers develop a better model for impact cratering processes, Kring said.
Advancing future exploration
The Chinese rover also appears to be outfitted with a ground-penetrating radar instrument. If so, that device can test models for regolith thickness, including rock abundances inferred from orbiting radar experiments, like the Diviner lunar radiometer experiment on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Also, China's rover could demonstrate the utility of ground-penetrating radar to advance future exploration of the moon, Kring said.
In Kring's review, the Sinus Iridum mare basalt has modest titanium-ore content, except near its southeastern margin, where it has very high titanium-ore content.
One interesting side story involves NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), which recently entered orbit around the moon.
Whether the LADEE spacecraft could detect certain activities of China's Chang'e 3 mission is worth contemplating, according to SPACE.com contacts familiar with LADEE operations.
Also in a wait-and-see mode regarding how China's lander/rover operations will perform is Arizona State University's Mark Robinson, the principal investigator for LRO's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC.
"If Chang'e 3 is successful, everyone is pointing to a north Sinus Iridum landing spot," Robinson told SPACE.com. "I keep seeing east central Sinus Iridium near Laplace A as the target -- nothing official."
Because that rumor has been floating about for more than a year, the LROC imaging team has made sure the camera has gotten the best possible coverage of the prospective landing locale, Robinson said. Before-and-after imaging is possible, he added, "and it will be fun to watch the rover move away from the lander, perhaps heading to Laplace A, which is a very spectacular crater."
Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and is co-author of Buzz Aldrin's new book, "Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration," published by National Geographic.
This article originally appeared on Space.com. More from Space.com:
The Moon: 10 Surprising Lunar Facts
Photos: China's First Space Station
Chinese Lift-Off! Crew of 3 to Visit Space Lab | Video
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