WALKING ON THE MOON
'We choose to go to the moon.'
President John F
September 12th, 1962
After the end of the Second World War,
rocket scientists from Germany were 'liberated' by both the United
States and the Soviet Union, and by the beginning of the 1950s these
experts were put to work on creating weapons of various sorts that
would fuel the Cold War between the Eastern communists and the
On the American side the most famous of
the German experts was
Werner Von Braun who had created the
V1 and V2 rockets for Nazi Germany and who eventually went on to
design the Saturn V rocket that would take people to the Moon.
At the outset the USA focused its attentions on developing new types
of small but immensely powerful hydrogen bombs based on nuclear
fusion whilst the USSR continued to refine the older and much
heavier fission bomb. The Soviets therefore had to develop more
powerful rockets and the R-7 missile, capable of carrying a five-tonne
warhead, was the result.
Their Chief Designer, Sergei Korolyov,
realized that these rockets would also be capable of putting a
one-and-a-half tonne satellite into Earth's orbit and he put forward
his plan for such a mission.
Korolyov's project was well under way when news came that the US was
developing its own satellite launch, known as Project Vanguard. This
new challenge set up a 'race to space' and Korolyov's main satellite
project was temporarily suspended as all efforts became focused on
the early launch of a smaller artificial satellite that could be
built far more quickly. Sputnik lifted into the skies on October 4th
This first spacecraft was a forty- pound sphere that carried a
simple transmitter so that it could make meaningless, but technical
sounding, bleeping sounds at which the world could marvel.
The acclaim and sheer excitement caused
by Sputnik's success led the Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, to
demand more high-profile stunts rather than a return to serious
science. The team responded immediately by screwing together the
original Sputnik's backup spares to create a second Sputnik.
They had only a few weeks as they were
instructed that the next launch must happen before November 7th -
the fortieth anniversary of the Great October Revolution.
Sputnik 2 was something of a botched job but it captured the
imagination of the planet because it took off four days ahead of the
anniversary and, amazingly, it was carrying a passenger: a dog
Unfortunately for this canine hero, her
ticket was strictly one way because this hastily assembled craft had
no m echanism for a controlled return to Earth - so the animal was
destined to die in orbit from the outset. It is thought that she
lived for four days in space before suffering a painful death as the
cabin overheated. The fatality was part of the plan and the mission
was considered a success as it proved that a living creature could
survive the journey into orbit.
So despite the fact that Sputnik 2 was
initiated as a publicity stunt it was an important prelude to a
human being making the trip.
The first two Sputniks were therefore politically inspired projects
carried out by Sergei Korolyov under orders from the Kremlin and it
was not until May 15th 1958 that his original spacecraft was
launched - now designated Sputnik 3.
This was a serious piece of equipment
that was an automated scientific laboratory. It carried twelve
instruments providing data on pressure and composition of the upper
atmosphere; concentration of charged particles; photons in cosmic
rays; heavy nuclei in cosmic rays; magnetic and electrostatic
fields; and meteoric particles. And it was Sputnik 3 that first
detected the presence of the outer radiation belts that surround the
The United States was highly embarrassed by the Soviet achievements,
and particularly so because it was having little success with its
own rocket launchers.
So many of them blew up on the launch
pad or during takeoff that the world's press variously dubbed the
American space mission 'Kaputnik, Flopnik, and Stayputnik'.
In the summer of 1958 the Western world was rocking and rolling to
Elvis Presley's 'Hound Dog', 'Heartbreak Hotel' and 'Jailhouse Rock'
whilst the politicians of the ex-Russian territory of Alaska were
lobbying to be accepted as the 49th State of the Union. In
Washington, however, the US government's main focus was on something
much more important - a new idea that was going to be a grand
solution to a double-edged problem .
Their first concern was Sputnik. These high-profile launches had
very effectively announced to the world that Soviet scientists were
smarter than American ones and it was also implicit that the 'bad
guys' had the technology to deliver heavy nuclear weapons around the
America had fallen well behind in the
race for definitive military advantage and the idea of a 'first
strike' by the Soviets suddenly seemed possible and, for some, even
probable given the USA's current inability to respond in kind.
The second problem was one of internal power blocks. The US Army and
Navy were politically untouchable and each had separate rocketry
programs causing duplication of effort that was dramatically slowing
down the rate of overall progress. In the light of all this,
Congress decided to side step military fiefdoms and set up a new
organization to oversee and coordinate American space research.
Accordingly the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
was formed on October 1st 1958 and the idea of
putting a man into space was immediately outlined, and given the
title 'Project Mercury'.
But it was a race they were destined to
lose because on April 12th 1961 cosmonaut Yuri
Gagarin became the first human to travel into space.
Gagarin's 108-minute voyage took him once around the planet,
although he was not allowed to operate the controls because the
effects of weightlessness had only been tested on dogs, and
scientists were concerned that he may not be able to function
properly. Consequently, ground crews controlled the mission with an
override key provided just in case of an emergency.
NASA responded quickly by sending the astronaut Alan Shepherd
on a ballistic trajectory sub-orbital flight to an altitude of 116
miles, returning to Earth at a landing point just 302 miles down the
Atlantic Missile Range. America's first manned space flight was a
fifteen minute sky rocket event that was nowhere near the same
league as Yuri Gagarin's 25,000 mile, high-speed voyage into Earth's
The race to get a man into space had been won by the USSR but there
was a second, more ambitious competition running in parallel.
Reaching for the Moon!
At first these were half-hearted attempts to get some metal, any bit
of metal, onto the Moon. It had started with the first Pioneer
rocket launched in 1958 by the United States - which lasted a full
seventy-seven seconds before disintegrating into a giant fireball. A
few months later the USSR launched Luna I, which performed
beautifully but unfortunately missed the Moon and headed into solar
In September 1959 the USSR managed to
hit the bull's-eye when Luna 2 became the first craft to land on
another celestial body, slamming into the Moon's surface just east
of the Sea of Serenity. Before the impact Luna 2 was able to report
back that there was something very odd about the Moon - it did not
seem to have a magnetic field.
The next Soviet craft, Luna 3, made a great stride forward by
swinging around the Moon, taking photographs of the 'dark' side
before heading back to Earth in April 1960. The Americans meanwhile
had failure after failure.
Nikita Khrushchev was pleased with the way that his nation was
winning the space race and when Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth
his propaganda machine went into overdrive to ensure that the world
knew how superior his space engineers were.
America's newly elected President was no
slouch when it came to inspiring the public and John F. Kennedy
decided to take control of the situation by announcing that the real
battle was to put men on the Moon. Despite a history of
underperformance in space technology, he rather bravely publicly
pledged to land a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960s.
Many American Ranger and Soviet Luna spacecraft headed for the Moon
during the decade but a large number missed and others crashed onto
the lunar surface either by accident or sometimes by design.
But it was the USSR, once again, that
made the next breakthrough when Luna 9 became the first spacecraft
to make a controlled landing onto the surface of another celestial
body on February 3rd 1966.
A significant part of the problem was the weird nature of the Moon's
m ass that was not at all what was expected. Instead of a generally
constant gravitational field such as the Earth exhibits across its
surface, the Moon is an inconsistent, lumpy ball that has huge
variations in gravity from region to region.
As we have discussed, a pendulum swings with fairly regular
precision on the Earth, with only quite small variations in swing
rate because of the bulging of the planet at the equator. This is
due to the fact that a person standing at sea level at the equator
is a little further away from Earth's dense core than someone closer
to one of the poles.
Using a pendulum on the Moon would not
produce any meaningful result because of what are known as 'mascons'.
mascon is an abbreviation for 'mass concentration' -
regions of the Moon that have hugely dense material below the
surface, rather than in the core as everyone would naturally expect.
These mascons made it very difficult for
spacecraft to orbit close to the Moon without continual adjustments
to compensate for the variations in gravity. Some observers believe
that it was this gravitational minefield that caused all of the
problem s for the early probes that were directed on the basis of a
The existence of mascons was discovered after Lunar Orbiter 1 went
into orbit around the Moon on August 14th 1966 and
sent back high-quality images of over two million square miles of
lunar surface, including the first detailed images of potential
landing sites for the planned Apollo missions.
This new discovery of gravitational 'hotspots' on the Moon had an
impact on a man who is arguably the greatest science fiction writer
of all time and an acknowledged inspiration to NASA.
Arthur C. Clarke combined forces
with film director Stanley Kubrick to write and shoot the most
realistic space adventure ever. When their film
2001 - A Space Odyssey premiered in
April 1968, it stunned audiences across the world with its
beautifully produced vision of the future.
The plot of the film starts millions of years ago when our ancestors
were still apelike creatures without speech or tools. There is a
visitation from some undisclosed power in the form of a jet- black
and perfectly finished rectangular monolith that stands upright.
When touched by the probing fingers of
the gang of primates at dawn the monolith somehow remaps their
brains to begin a process that will take these proto-humans on the
evolutionary road to intellectual development.
As the camera pans up the length of the
monolith the Sun and the Moon appear directly overhead as though an
eclipse is about to occur. The scene then leaps forward to the
beginning of the twenty-first century when a powerful magnetic
anomaly is discovered just below the surface of the Moon in the
Tycho crater and excavations are carried out to discover what is
causing the effect.
black monolith, some four meters
tall is uncovered and a team of experts sets out from Earth to
investigate the clearly artificial phenomenon.
The team travel to the Tycho crater as the Sun rises and wearing
spacesuits they walk down a ramp into the pit where the monolith
stands just a few meters below the surface. Like the man- apes
millions of years earlier the team leader, Dr Floyd, is mesmerized
by this alien structure and he touches it with his gloved hand.
A moment later a ray of sunlight comes
over the edge of the pit and strikes the monolith, signaling the end
of the dark lunar night that lasts for two Earth weeks.
This time, as we look up the monolith we
see the Sun and Earth hovering directly above and almost touching.
Then suddenly, the object transmits a signal in the direction of one
of the moons of Jupiter (in Clarke's novel version this was changed
to Iapetus, one of Saturn's moons).
The ingenious idea that Clarke put forward here was astonishingly
close to the real-world discovery of the lunar mascons that had been
made around the time he was writing. The similarity between Clarke's
magnetic anomaly and the gravitational anomalies are obvious.
We wonder whether Clarke was aware of
the newly discovered mascons and whether that gave him the idea of a
kind of trip switch placed on the Moon in the extreme past by some
alien intelligence to trigger a signal that told them that creatures
from the Earth had become smart enough to reach the Moon and spot a
What a brilliant concept!
If an alien intelligence had indeed been responsible for the
evolution of humans from ape to technologist, then what better way
would there be of setting up an alarm system to confirm our
At the time that Clarke and Kubrick's film was first capturing the
imagination of a generation, no human had yet reached the Moon.
But the following year, with less than
six months to go to the late President Kennedy's deadline, Commander
Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the Moon on
July 20th 1969 with his famous but slightly
'That's one small step for man, one
giant leap for mankind.'
At this point we must mention that there
are some people who seriously believe that NASA faked the Moon
landings on a film set just like the one used by Stanley Kubrick.
The evidence they produce looks
reasonable at a casual glance; assuming you know nothing at all
about photography or the facts relating to lunar conditions.
These ideas suddenly leaped into the
public imagination on February 15th 2001 when Fox
television in the USA broadcast a program called Conspiracy
Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?
The thrust of the show was that NASA
technology in the 1960s was simply too primitive to have taken men
to the Moon, and because they were so close to President Kennedy's
politically important deadline they fabricated the entire mission in
a movie studio.
To them the fraud was obvious. They point out that shots of the
astronauts on the lunar surface show a completely black sky without
any stars. Had this proved too difficult for the set constructors to
fake they ask? The answer is actually very simple. As any proficient
photographer knows, it is difficult to capture something extremely
bright and something else extremely dim in the same shot.
This means that for the stars to be
visible, the lunar surface and the astronauts would have been burned
out into a white blaze; the emulsion on a piece of film does not
have enough dynamic range to capture both ends of the brightness
Amongst the other pieces of 'evidence' was the issue of the flapping
flag. The NASA set designers were apparently so dumb that they
allowed a stiff breeze to waft through the studio causing the flag
that the astronauts planted to wave about. As the Moon has no
atmosphere this is said to prove that it was filmed on Earth.
The fact is, the flag waved about so much precisely because there
was no atmosphere.
When astronauts planted the flagpole
they rotated it back and forth to ensure that it penetrated the
lunar surface causing the flag to wobble from side to side on its
On Earth the presence of an atmosphere
quickly dampens this motion as the surrounding air absorbs the
energy from the moving flag, whereas in an airless environment the
flag has nothing to dampen its motion. It could therefore keep going
for many hours before the energy finally dissipated.
So anyone who has seriously looked into the case for and against the
actuality of the Moon landings cannot fail to reject every one of
the strands of evidence put forward by the conspiracy theorists. We
do believe that conspiracies happen, because people will conspire
together for all kinds of reasons - but
the Apollo 11 mission was certainly
not one of them.
We can be certain that twelve astronauts walked on the Moon between
1969 and 1972 and that they brought back 842 pounds of the Moon in
the form of rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and fine dust from
six different exploration sites.
The last hum an being to walk on the Moon was Eugene Cernan
in December 1972 and the information gathered over those three
years, and later by Russian unmanned craft, has greatly increased
our knowledge of the Moon. But it has also posed as many questions
as it has answered.
It was expected that the samples of Moon rock would prove one of the
existing theories about the Earth-Moon system . If the rock from the
samples had been substantially different from rocks on Earth, then
it was likely that the Moon had originated in some other part of the
solar system and had been captured by the young Earth.
If the Moon was identical in every way
to the Earth, then it was likely they had both come into existence
together and at the same time. However, it soon became apparent that
both theories had to be wrong and no logical explanation for the
Moon, being what it is and where it is, exists even now.
The convoluted 'Left hand/right hand double big whack' theory tends
to crudely fill the void, to prevent us worrying too much about this
hole in our knowledge of our planet and its neighbor.
Whilst most people believe this rather
unlikely hypothesis to be true, the people involved with developing
it acknowledge that it is improbable.
All existing theories of the Moon's
origin have problems and the University of Wisconsin has pointed out
that those for
the Big Whack include:
It requires that the entire Moon
be initially molten and accreted from devolatilized material
i.e. it does not account for the Moon's lower mantle's
apparently largely undifferentiated composition.
It requires that the impactor be
accreted from the same oxygen reservoir as the Earth (a
previous moon of Earth?).
It does not account for a
necessary density reversal below the upper mantle.
It requires that differentiation
of the Earth and the impactor, and their impact, occur
within the 5HF/W 55- million-year model age for the lunar
It does not account for the
cumulative effect of many large impactors on the Moon's non-
parallel rotational axis.
It does not account for the
necessary chronology of tidal separation of the Earth and
moon origin of the Moon.
There is also another major problem with
this scenario revealed by the issue of the ongoing slowing down of
Very precise astronomical measurements, some of them dating back to
the observation of eclipses 2,500 years ago, indicate that the day
is increasing in length by about one or two thousandths of a second
per day per century. It has been thought that this tiny lengthening
of the day was entirely due to the friction of the tides caused by
the Sun and the Moon.
But when attempts were made to predict
changes in the apparent position of the Moon on the basis of this
effect alone, it was found that the calculations did not agree with
the observations at all. Another factor must be at work as well.
That factor was that iron is sinking to the core of the Earth,
changing the moment of inertia
and thereby the length of the day. When this was taken into
consideration and calculations were made on the basis of both the
tides and the changing moment of inertia due to sinking iron, the
sum s did agree with the observations. But in order to make the
calculations agree, it was necessary to postulate a flow of 50,000
tonnes of iron from the mantle to the core of the earth every
Staggering though this volume of flow is, it would still take 500
million years to form the metallic core of the Earth and some
calculations indicate that it may have taken as long as two billion
years. If this reasoning is correct, which it appears to be, the
Earth was made initially with large amounts of iron in its exterior
As the Moon was formed at a very early
stage in the Earth's existence (and possibly before), any material
knocked off the surface by a major impact would contain large
amounts of iron - which it does not.
The Big Whack theories are simply the best of all the impossible
explanations for the existence of the Moon.
It is widely accepted that despite the intense investigation that
has gone into understanding the Moon, and for all we know about its
surface and the composition of its rocks, we are as much in the dark
concerning its origins as we were before the first projectile left
the Earth's atmosphere.
As we have discussed, the oxygen isotope investigation proved that
both Moon rocks and Earth rocks must have developed at exactly the
same distance from the Sun, so the Moon definitely wasn't a captured
The Moon has its fair share of the
elements found on Earth but not in the same proportion. The Moon is
substantially lacking in heavy metals when compared with the Earth,
which accounts for its large size but small mass.
But it was the Apollo missions that identified something else that
was weird about the Moon.
Houston, we've got a problem'
The first two Apollo crews had landed out on the smooth lunar mare,
the lava seas that are relatively young by lunar standards, and now
NASA wanted to visit a site where they could study the older parts
of the Moon, which meant the rugged highlands.
Although NASA was not ready to commit a
Lunar Module (LM) to a landing in highly rocky terrain, the site
selection committee was very interested in a place called
the Fra Mauro Hills in the middle
of the Ocean of Storm s, which seemed like a fairly smooth section
of the highlands.
The Lunar Module (LEM),
the first manned
vehicle to land on the Moon.
Commander Jim Lovell along with Jack Swigert and
Fred Haise were chosen for the Fra Mauro mission as the crew of
Apollo 13. The launch, on April 11th 1970, went well, allaying the
worst fears of those who were concerned about a mission with the
unlucky number thirteen.
Then, fifty-five hours and fifty-five minutes into the mission (and
on the thirteenth day of the month) all three astronauts heard and
felt what they described as a 'pretty large bang' on board the
spacecraft. The crew and the ground controllers made a rapid
assessment of the health of the spacecraft and it was obvious that
two of the three fuel cells in the service module were dead.
No one knew exactly what had gone wrong
but there was no doubt that the crew were in serious danger.
To survive they needed enough power, oxygen, and water for a
four-day trip around the Moon and back to Earth, and it now looked
as if these commodities were going to be in very short supply.
Oxygen and hydrogen were normally combined in the fuel cells to
produce electricity and water and both oxygen tanks were rapidly
losing pressure so even the remaining fuel cell wouldn't last long.
In addition to short supplies of these
basic commodities, without power in the command module, they would
have to rely on the LM environmental control system to remove excess
carbon dioxide from the cabin. And to add to their many woes, the
main engine now had no power supply.
However, the flight crew and ground personnel all realized just how
lucky they had been. As desperate as the situation was, the accident
had come early in the mission and they still had their fully stocked
lunar module as a resource. The LM had an engine that could be used
to put the crew back on a homeward path, and it carried just enough
water, oxygen, and power for the four days they need to fly around
the Moon and head home.
As the stricken spacecraft swung behind the Moon, 164 miles above
the surface, contact with the Earth was lost until it emerged on the
other side and was again picked up by tracking stations.
The following words were heard:
'The view out there is fantastic...
You can see where we're zooming off.'
At 8:09 pm EST on April 14th, Apollo 13
turned for home and the third stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle,
weighing fifteen tonnes, was sent crashing into the Moon.
As planned it struck the Moon with a
force equivalent to 11½ tonnes of TNT. The impact point was
eighty-five miles west-northwest of the site where the Apollo 12
astronauts had set up a seismometer.
NASA reports demonstrate the reaction of scientists on Earth as the
Saturn V hit the lunar surface:
'The Moon rang like a bell.'
In November 1969 the Apollo 12 crew had
sent their lunar module crashing into the Moon following their
return to the command craft after their lunar landing mission.
That lunar module had struck with a
force of one tonne of TNT causing the shock waves to build up to a
peak in eight minutes and then continue for nearly an hour. The
seismic signals produced by the impact from Apollo 13 were twenty to
thirty times greater and lasted four times longer than those
resulting from the earlier LM crash.
This time, peak intensity occurred after
seven minutes and the reverberations lasted for three hours and
twenty minutes, travelling to a depth of twenty-five miles, leading
to the conclusion that the Moon has an unusually light core or
possibly no core at all.
At the time Houston remarked to the Apollo 13 crew:
'By the way, Aquarius, we see the
results now from 12's seismometer. Looks like your booster just
hit the Moon, and it's rocking a little bit.'
NASA reports how the information from
these two artificial moonquakes led to a reconsideration of theories
proposed about the lunar interior.
Among the puzzling features, they say,
are the rapid build-up to the peak and the prolonged reverberations,
because nothing comparable happens when objects strike Earth.
When Chris was in Seattle a few years ago he had a meeting with Ken
Johnston who had worked for Brown- Root and Northrop, which was a
consortium between the Brown-Root Corporation and the Northrop
Corporation at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. The company was one
of the prime contractors for NASA at the time of the Apollo missions
and Ken was supervisor of the data and photo control department.
Ken told Chris that at the time of the
impact created by the Apollo 13 launch vehicle the scientists were
not only saying that 'the Moon rang like a bell', they also
described how the whole structure of the Moon 'wobbled' in a precise
'almost as though it had gigantic
hydraulic damper struts inside it.'
This ringing effect caused many people
to pick up on speculation that had been going on for years that the
Earth's Moon could be hollow.
Back in 1962 Dr Gordon McDonald,
a leading scientist at NASA, published a report in the Astronautics
Magazine where he stated that analysis of the Moon's motion
indicated that the
Moon is hollow.
Dr Sean C. Solomon, who was Professor of Geophysics at MIT
and is the Director of the Terrestrial Magnetism Department,
Carnegie Institution of Washington as well as the Principal
Investigator for Carnegie's research as part of the NASA
Astrobiology Institute, has said:
'The lunar orbiter experiments
vastly improved our knowledge of the moon's gravitational
field... indicating the frightening possibility that the moon
may be hollow.'
Why should this be frightening?
Carl Sagan, Professor of
Astronomy and Space Sciences and director of the Laboratory for
Planetary Studies at Cornell University hinted at the answer when he
said, whilst discussing the moons of Mars, that,
'It is well understood that a
natural satellite cannot be a hollow object.' 14
The problem therefore is simple - if the
Moon is hollow, someone or something manufactured it.
But the debate continues. A team from the University of Arizona in
Tucson has detailed the results of their interpretation of data from
the Lunar Prospector magnetometer where they estimate that the moon
does have a tiny metal core that is roughly 420 miles (680km)
across, plus or minus 112 miles (180km).
Their team leader, was Lon Hood.
'We knew that the Moon's core was
small, but we didn't know it was this small,' Hood said. 'This
really does add weight to the idea that the Moon's origin is
unique, unlike any other terrestrial body - Earth, Venus, Mars
or Mercury.' 15
So, it is possible that the Moon is
hollow at its centre or has a very small core.
There is also the possibility that it
has voids in its make-up just as it has the super-dense zones we
call mascons. But it seems that the structure is unusual whatever
the case turns out to be.
The main argument against the idea of a hollow Moon that we found
repeated time and again, was that there was no theory of the Moon's
origin that could explain such a circumstance.
The argument goes:
'Because we can't explain how a
natural satellite can form with a hollow centre - it cannot have
This standpoint is fair enough - if you
accept its founding premise, that the Moon is natural.
And who would not make such an
assumption? But as we put aside all of our preconceptions about what
can and cannot be, we have to accept that solid objects do not ring
like a bell - but hollow ones do.
Hollow or not, we decided to look more closely at the mechanics of
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