August 30th, 2008

krazy koati

Now Andy, did you hear about this one?

Mythbusters finally aired its Apollo Hoax episode, and even better, I finally found the time to watch it. I was curious how they were going to figure out something to blow up for it (``Could Space: 1999 really happen? We sent Tori and those other two people who are always hanging around her to Tycho crater with forty barrels of nuclear waste to find out''), and, spoiling my joke, they didn't blow anything up. Ah well.

I thought the episode started strong, particularly in the debunking of claims that photographs of the lunar surface must have been done in a studio, with reflectors, since otherwise there wouldn't be non-parallel shadows and astronauts climbing out of the Lunar Module (which would be by the shaded side) would be invisible in the sunlight. It's easy to show those claims are false, but I like the claims themselves for quirky reasons. I'm amused by Definitive Declarations of How Photography Works made by people who have never taken a photograph in their lives.

It was weaker with the claim (that I'd never heard before) that Aldrin's famous boot-print photograph must be a hoax since without water to bind soil together a footprint wouldn't be nice and clear. The first experiment, dry sand versus wet sand, showed a clearer footprint in the wet sand, sure, but the dry sand showed a fairly clear footprint to me. The next experiment put simulated lunar regolith in a vacuum and used a boot to produce a new print. That would be fine if you accept, on faith, that the simulated regolith doesn't contain moisture. They should have shown there wasn't any appreciable moisture in the simulated regolith to answer that qualm.

The attempt to test whether lunar walking could be simulated by slowing down film or by using weight-reducing rigs ... I appreciated the tests, but I would like some way of declaring that the walks in simulated lunar gravity were different from actual lunar gravity more exact than ``it doesn't look right''. The closest they got was noting how Adam's (unless it was Jamie's) helmet bounced too much under Earth gravity.

Also Adam (or Jamie) had a 1/6th scale Neil Armstrong, and pointed out the red Commander's Stripes all over the spacesuit. But the stripes weren't introduced until Apollo 13. It wasn't until Apollo 12 came back with pictures of Either Pete Conrad Or Al Bean, And Who Was Holding The Camera So We Can Find Out that mission planners realized they needed easy visual distinctions between the astronauts. (On Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong held the camera almost the entire moonwalk, so any good photographs of an astronaut there are of Buzz Aldrin, and the problem was not obvious.) I'm sure he's been nagged about that enough by now.

Maybe not surprising just about this entire set of experiments was also done recently by an Unsolved History class program, although it felt worse-paced. Maybe it's the narrator making the difference. It is hard to resist the show.

Trivia: STS 41-D, the first flight of Space Shuttle Discovery, had previously been the first space shuttle launch aborted on the pad after the ignition of one of the main engines (main engine #2 had fired for two seconds when redundant control over engine #3's main fuel valve was lost). Source: Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System: The First 100 Missions, Dennis R Jenkins.

Currently Reading: Between the Strokes of Night, Charles Sheffield. OK, that's a pretty clever scheme for travelling betwixt the stars in a normal lifetime. I'm still not quite sure of the plot need to have the Earth destroyed by extra-powerful thermonuclear war, though, although there's nothing in quite so much danger as Earth when the writer likes doing Hard Science Fiction In Space.