Edgar Mitchell at Autographica, UK 2012
Contradictory statements by Apollo astronauts on the subject of seeing stars in space
by David Orbell
'He [Neil Armstrong] didn't know what he was talking about!' – Ed Mitchell
Dr Edgar Mitchell
Edgar Mitchell, officially the sixth man to walk on the Moon on Apollo 14 (A14) gave a (paid) talk at the Hilton Metropole hotel in Birmingham, England on 13/14 October 2012, as part of the programme for Autographica, the annual autograph show. Also in professional attendance were Buzz Aldrin (A11), Charles Duke (A16) and Richard Gordon (A12).
Buzz Aldrin, the star of the show, signed autographs on a sliding scale starting at £275.00 each.
I had previously attended the 2010 and 2011 Autographica shows as part of my long term study in connection with the prevailing historical record, as asserted by NASA, with particular attention to the Apollo missions. Ed Mitchell started his speech on Sunday 14 October in a very confident and exuberant manner, with no trace of the nervous, staccato cough that frequently characterises the ending of his sentences.
Dr Mitchell expounded to the large audience about how his life had been transformed by the voyage to the Moon on Apollo 14. Edgar explained that as the vehicle revolved to allow solar cooling: he was astounded by the alternating view of the Sun, the Earth and above all the incredible 'heavenly' view of the stars.
Dr Mitchell explained that the stars were 'magnificent', and described them as being 'ten times brighter' than when observed from Earth. In fact he credited this vista with changing his life, as the euphoric effect led him to engage in the pursuit of, among other things, Eastern philosophic studies.
Edgar Mitchell also stated that he was sure that should the world's leading politicians be exposed to this therapeutic stimulus, a unification process might ensue, aiding the world peace process. Clearly Ed Mitchell had experienced an enlightenment of such magnitude that his future life would be restructured as a result of this Nirvana-like journey.
Unquestionably the astounding star field panorama was the catalyst for this revelation. As a result of its enormous influence Dr Mitchell paid homage to this cosmic phenomenon by dedicating the first and largest part of his speech to this spectacle: he then paused and invited questions from the audience.
I responded immediately, expressing how impressive his description had been of the voyage to and from the Moon and specifically the emphasis he placed on the magnificent and intense star field he so passionately portrayed. I then achieved a long-held ambition by asking the 'sixth man' to walk on the Moon why the first moonwalker, Neil Armstrong, had told Patrick Moore that the stars were unobservable whilst voyaging to and from the Moon on Apollo 11.
Dr Mitchell, seemingly surprised, immediately switched the subject of my question. Describing the view from the lunar surface, he stated that 'this required more time for the eye to adjust'. I brought him back to the question which specifically related to the view of the stars during the Earth/Moon/Earth voyage that he had so euphorically dramatised.
'Why would Neil Armstrong deny the visibility of the stars?' I asked, as to do so, obviously contradicted the focal point of Dr Mitchell's lecture. Neil Armstrong is credited as the astronaut with the greatest interest in observing the heavens. He had flown jet fighters at 40,000 feet to observe the clarity of the universe at that rarefied altitude.
On 21 February 1969 Neil Armstrong visited, for the last time, the Moorhead Planetarium where he had trained eleven times previously, for a total of twenty days. This was for the purpose of perfecting his star navigation and observation techniques. I described Armstrong as being a 'dedicated astronomer' to Dr Mitchell.
'No he wasn't!' was his abrupt and venomous reply. The sixth Moon trekker and holder of an MIT doctorate in astronautics glowered at me, and mystifyingly refuted my historically-corroborated reference. Determined not to give up, I repeated clearly, 'Mr Armstrong stated that he couldn't see stars!'.
This time Mitchell's reply stunned the large audience – many whom were filming this exchange. 'He [Neil Armstrong] didn't know what he was talking about!', Dr Mitchell exclaimed sharply. Immediately I received a number of nodded acknowledgments from fellow audience members who obviously were taken aback by this vociferously dogmatic critique of Neil Armstrong's historical testament.
Many of the audience would have been aware of Armstrong's interview with Patrick Moore on the BBC’s The Sky at Night in 1970 in which he stated: 'The sky is a deep black when viewed from the Moon as it is when viewed from Cislunar space (the space between the Earth and the Moon).
The Earth is the only visible object other than the Sun that can be seen – although there have been some reports of seeing planets. ‘I myself did not see planets from the surface, but I suspect they may be visible.' Cislunar space was described by Edgar Mitchell as the place where the stars were 'ten times brighter than if viewed from the Earth'.
Ed Mitchell resumed his discourse by returning to his Alien thesis. Riveting as this is, I would prefer to leave that story for another day.
Returning to the main exhibition hall, I set course for General Charles Duke, Lunar Module pilot on Apollo 16 and officially the tenth man to walk on the Moon in 1972. Edgar Mitchell was his counterpart on Apollo 14 in 1971.
I was sure that stellar visibility memory retention should be consistent given the enormous impact it made on Ed Mitchell, so you can guess the question I put to retired Air Force Brigadier General Charles Duke: 'No we couldn't see the stars anytime on the voyage: it was too bright!' he unequivocally stated, before returning to the business of the day, autograph signing for the appropriate fee.
Charles Duke had now categorically contradicted the plausibility of Edgar Mitchell's declaration! Intriguingly, one could reverse that hypothesis.
The mystery of the 'stars or no stars ' dichotomy continues to be one of the many anomalies to incite controversy in this most entertaining and yet puzzling saga in the Apollo record, undoubtedly mankind's greatest adventure by far.
Considering the age of the veteran astronauts, little time remains for us to achieve a consistent and definitive answer to the many contradictions that are enshrined in the testaments of the men from NASA.
Neil Armstrong carefully thanked his fellow crew members, 'those who played a role', during his surprisingly short address to Congress on 16 November 2011. With carefully chosen wording Mr Armstrong placed little emphasis on the lunar landing as the pinnacle of NASA's success, but instead chose to close the speech by summarising, with restraint, the epitaph to NASA's Apollo voyages as being 'outwards from Earth'.
Kathryn C. Thornton, Space Shuttle astronaut has orbited the Earth 256 times and travelled over six million miles. She logged a total of over 40 days in Cislunar space. In October 2011, I asked Kathryn if she could describe the stars from her four shuttle voyages. She stated that they were 'brighter than if viewed from the Earth' and, surprisingly, confirmed that she had never used a telescope or binoculars to aid her view of the stars from the shuttle windows.
Kathryn appeared subdued relating these observations. I sensed that she may have felt compromised knowing that her honest answers could prejudice historical statements as recorded by various members of the Apollo generation of voyagers.
In 1994, on the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong made a speech at the White House in which he was subsequently described as 'holding back tears'.
Undoubtedly Armstrong was in a very emotional state when he closed his speech with this enigmatic statement: ‘Today we have with us a group of students among America's best, to you we say we have only completed the beginning, we leave you much that is undone. There are great ideas undiscovered, breakthroughs available to those who can remove one of truth's protective layers!'.
Could it be that one of those 'protective layers' have inevitably led to the extraordinary contradictions currently expressed by the Apollo astronauts?
Aulis Online, November 2012
Reading David Orbell’s description of his exchange with Ed Mitchell led us to consult Neil Armstrong's authorised biography First Man by James Hansen. I had previously realised that this book has an interesting layout. Checking Orbell’s information on Armstrong’s astronomical training I found the following on page 238:
The Apollo flights with their improved computer capabilities required crew members to have a “good visual representation” to perform sextant sightings and navigational computations involving all thirty-six stars being used as the basis for NASA’s celestial navigational system.
Note that the words a good visual representation are especially written in speech quotes – which means Neil Armstrong wished the sentence to be exactly that way, although it is not particularly edifying. In the very next paragraph he tells us he is qualified to know whether stars can be seen. This point was referred to by David Orbell, but he missed out some relevant detail. Here it is:
Flying cross-country together in T-38s in preparation for their March 1966 Gemini VIII flight Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott regularly tested each other’s knowledge of the stars. “We would be flying at a high altitude of 40,000ft and we would turn the lights completely down in the cockpit,” Neil remembers. “You got a wonderful view of the sky and it was a great opportunity to practice.”
And further on down the page:
According to Dave, “We used to pick out remote [fainter] stars and test each other on the constellations. If you can find a star quickly you can align your platform much more quickly than if you have to look at a star chart. You don’t have time for that. You’ve got to know it.”
If the stars were not observable to the astronauts then it would not be necessary to practice star navigation techniques for space flights in the first place. Therefore for Neil Armstrong to state that they were not visible to him (when he had had enough experience to be able to know what he was looking for) would suggest that he is referring to the thirty-six stars referenced during the Apollo 11 flight.
A clever way of telling us perhaps, that at the very least, his trajectory was completely different to that of the Apollo 11 flight plan.
Any comments from Edgar Mitchell and Charles Duke would be gratefully received.