An investigation suggests the Apollo 11 rocket travelled many times slower than scheduled
by Alexander Popov PhD and Andrei Bulatov
On September 19, 2019 author Randy Walsh received a challenge from a Jon Blaylock – “The Challege”. The authors of the original investigation Alexander Popov PhD and Andrei Bulatov have responded to this challenge as below – "The Rebuttal”.
Liftoff in the video you link is at 12:00. 13:00 on the video is one minute after the launch, not 107 seconds.
At 12:42 on the video, the "one bravo" call is heard, indicating a change in the abort mode to be used in an emergency. Abort mode IB takes effect at 42 seconds into flight, at about 3km altitude.
At 12:55 on the video, the PAO says "altitude is 2 miles" -- a little over 3 km.
So the cloud-punching is clearly occurring at 3-4 km altitude.
If you compare the appearance of the rocket plume in the early seconds of flight to any other footage of a Saturn V launch, you'll easily see that it's in slow motion.
The first 9.5 seconds of movement might be at the right speed, giving Aulis the reference timing that they're basing their case on, but after that it's slo-mo. If you consider the next 9.5 seconds, the vehicle seems to clear about 1.5x its own distance past the tower, for a total traveled distance of 2.5x, but according to the equations of motion, if the rocket were under constant acceleration, it should clear 4x its length in 2x the time -- and rockets generally increase their acceleration over time as they eject propellant mass, not decrease it.
According to the article, Pollacia used a Canon 1218 Super 8 camera.
Aulis's next point of reference is the apparent separation of the plume, which they're claiming is the staging event. They have it at ~T+167 seconds, 55 seconds after the cloud-punching; with the 24/45 ratio I'm theorizing, it should come 30 seconds after the cloud-punching in the full speed video. That video is showing a zoomed-in view of the (distinctly unseparated) rocket at that point, but at about 13:32 it cuts to a long shot where there definitely appears to be some sort of constriction or separation in the appearance of the plume. The call here is "we're through the region of maximum dynamic pressure" also known as "max Q", which puts us at a little beyond 1:23 elapsed time. I believe the apparent plume constriction is due to atmospheric conditions, not due to separation.
The factual mistakes and incorrect assumptions made in the Challenge (not specifically related to Philip Frank Pollacia’s movie) are addressed by the authors first, followed by expert analysis regarding the actual film/video playback speed of Philip (Phil) Pollacia’s movie.
“Liftoff in the video you link is at 12:00. 13:00 on the video is one minute after the launch, not 107 seconds.”
It’s not clear which video link is referenced by Jon Blaylock. It appears to be this coverage by NBC News.
“At 12:42 on the video, the "one bravo" call is heard, indicating a change in the abort mode to be used in an emergency. Abort mode IB takes effect at 42 seconds into flight, at about 3km altitude. At 12:55 on the video, the PAO says "altitude is 2 miles" – a little over 3 km.”
This comment about the "one bravo" call is irrelevant and disregarded because we are not relying uniquely on the voiceover.
“So the cloud-punching is clearly occurring at 3-4km altitude.”
This statement is not correct. All similar videos with time code indicate that cloud punching occurred about 1 minute into the flight (63 secs to be precise). And in this video the commentator’s voiceover clearly states that at that moment Apollo 11 was 1 minute into the flight. This is the NASA’s stated time stamp. According to NASA’s data in table B-I in the Saturn V 1969 document (referenced in the article as Ref 12, (Apollo/Saturn V Postflight Trajectory) one minute into the flight the rocket reached 6.9 km altitude, hence, according to NASA, cloud punching occurred at the altitude of 6.9 km not 3-4 km as incorrectly suggested in the Challenge.
“If you compare the appearance of the rocket plume in the early seconds of flight to any other footage of a Saturn V launch, you'll easily see that it's in slow motion.”
This is a very weak argument. We do not see any plume speed change, and we are not building our case on such a weak point.
“The first 9.5 seconds of movement might be at the right speed, giving Aulis the reference timing that they're basing their case on, but after that it's slo-mo. If you consider the next 9.5 seconds, the vehicle seems to clear about 1.5x its own distance past the tower, for a total traveled distance of 2.5x, but according to the equations of motion, if the rocket were under constant acceleration, it should clear 4x its length in 2x the time – and rockets generally increase their acceleration over time as they eject propellant mass, not decrease it.”
This would be correct, and true – provided the rocket thrust was constant. But if the F1 engines were throttled down after clearing the tower it would result in an acceleration decrease, and that is what probably happened during the Apollo 11 launch. The perpetrators had to ensure that the first stage would burn for exactly 161 sec. If the thrust had been constant, the F1 engines would have prematurely used up all the fuel before the planned separation time. Such throttling back resulted in the much reduced rocket speed at the 108th second of the ascent.
“According to the article, Pollacia used a Canon 1218 Super 8 camera.”
Incorrect. The article states “Fig. 3. The Super 8 camera similar to the one used”. When Phil was telephoned to discuss this matter, he was not asked about the camera he used because we considered it as an irrelevant question. We did ask Pollacia about the all-important Super 8 film-to-video conversion process. He replied that it was a complicated, multistage process.
“Aulis's next point of reference is the apparent separation of the plume, which they're claiming is the staging event. They have it at ~T+167 seconds, 55 seconds after the cloud-punching; with the 24/45 ratio I'm theorizing, it should come 30 seconds after the cloud-punching in the full speed video. That video is showing a zoomed-in view of the (distinctly unseparated) rocket at that point, but at about 13:32 it cuts to a long shot where there definitely appears to be some sort of constriction or separation in the appearance of the plume. The call here is "we're through the region of maximum dynamic pressure" also known as "max Q", which puts us at a little beyond 1:23 elapsed time. I believe the apparent plume constriction is due to atmospheric conditions, not due to separation.”
"Aulis's next point of reference" – incorrect, the article is by Alexander Popov and Andrei Bulatov. The separation point in the Pollacia’s video is not totally clear. We calculated this event by the time after liftoff. We don’t know what really happened to the Saturn V Apollo 11 at this point. This might not have been the separation. We do know however that the separation should have occurred at this moment according to the Apollo flight plan. That’s why we referenced it as “separation”. If it didn’t happen, it adds further anomalies and problems to the actual Apollo 11 flight.
Expert opinion regarding the playback speed of Phil Pollacia’s video of the Apollo 11 launch
Associate Professor Leonid Konovalov
There follows a comprehensive statement by professional Cinematographer and Associate Professor of the All-Russian State University of Cinematography (VGIK), Moscow L. Konovalov.
I was asked the following two questions:
It is known (from the soundtrack) that Phil shot this video in 1969 with a Super 8mm movie camera loaded with Super 8 film.
Phil Pollacia’s video can be viewed here. The developed color movie was subsequently projected onto a screen with an Super 8mm film projector, and an NTSC video camera recorded it from the projected image displayed on a screen. The camcorder contained a tape cassette. The result was a copy of the original film now recorded on video tape in the form of an analog video recording.
This analog recording was converted into a digital file. To achieve this file, the video cassette was inserted into a video recorder and the VCR connected to a computer via a video capture card. At that time of digitisation the video capture would be achieved by using a software program such as Pinnacle Studio, Final Cut or Adobe Premiere. The resulting digital video file was subsequently uploaded to YouTube. (In addition to using a video recorder, it was also possible to transfer the recording from the video camera directly to the computer via a Firewire cable, 1394 bus.)
Hence the statement that “the conversion process (to digitise a Super 8mm film) was complicated and multistage” means that the Super 8 film was first transferred to magnetic tape on a video cassette, and then the video recording was digitized.
The video shows that the camcorder and the projector were not accurately centered during the video recording; the borders of the video frame did not coincide with boundaries of the image on the movie screen. The camcorder captured a larger area, with the lower right corner of the movie image visible, and there is excess dark space on the right and bottom (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Dark right side and bottom borders
During the film projection the camcorder's alignment was adjusted a few times. Initially it shifts it to the left so that a dark band disappears on the right (Figure 2, left), and then it tilts up a little to correct for the unnecessary space in the bottom of frame (Figure 2, right).
Figure 2. The camcorder frame boundaries are progressively aligned more accurately with the boundaries of the projected image
The key question regarding the resultant video is, has the speed of any moving object(s) changed or altered?
Any change of speed (movement of objects within the frame) relative to what would be considered to be normal speed could occur either 1) during the film/video conversion process or, 2) after the conversion, say at the video editing stage. For there to be any mismatch or error there are two possibilities:
How is it possible to ascertain if the speed of movement of anything in frame has been altered? To do this, one needs to compare the duration of a given episode when filming with the duration of the same episode when playing back the video. First, let us consider the video, its duration (of the digital version), and then evaluate whether it matches the filming speed and the projection speed.
The video, in digital format, as originally uploaded to YouTube, (now available here) has a duration of 6 minutes and 46 seconds. All episodes of the video, were captured onto two rolls of film. – The two rolls were joined together to make up 6 mins and 46 secs of the video recording. The transfer included the exposed tops and tails of the film.
It is important to recall that the pre-launch footage and the joined-on launch film roll was videoed continuously from its beginning to the very end by the video camera. The fact that the videoing was carried out without any breaks, that it to say non-stop, is confirmed by the continuous timecode of the video camera, There were no interruptions.
The timecode is burnt in during the recording in the lower right corner of the frame. All camcorders and video cameras generate timecode. The source of time is the camcorder’s built-in clock. The time is displayed in the camera viewfinder and, if desired, when selected by clicking on an appropriate button, the timecode is recorded (burnt in) directly onto the image. This is exactly what we observe here.
According to this burnt-in timecode, the video starts at 0:57:20 (hours:minutes:seconds) and ends at 1:04:05. The total duration of the video timecode, including the blank film screen at the start lasting for 2 seconds and 5 seconds at the end, runs for 6 minutes 45 seconds.
Therefore we see that the duration of the video clip of the original video (according to the time code of the video camera, 6m 45s) and the duration of the video uploaded on YouTube (according to the full timeline in the video editing program, 6m 46s) fully correspond. This finding confirms that after the video was digitized its duration in the video editing program was not changed in any way. Consequently we can exclude the second possibility: manipulation of the duration of the video in a video editing application.
There remains just one possibility. A potential difference between the original filming speed and subsequent projection speed. We will discuss separately what the filming speed could have been in 1969 and what the projection speed could have been in 2009 when the film was captured on video.
There were and are two standard shooting speeds for 8mm amateur cinema, 16 frames per second (fps) for 8mm films (Figure 3, right) and 18 fps for the Super 8 format (Figure 3, left).
Figure 3. Super 8 and standard 8mm film formats
Phil's movie camera used Super 8 film, it had an electric drive and therefore was powered by batteries. Electric drive allowed filming extended sequences without stopping. The movie camera had a roll of Super 8 film pre-loaded in a cartridge (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Kodak Super 8 film cartridge
The length of the film stock was 50 feet, which is 15.2 meters. At a standard speed of 18 fps, one cartridge provided for continuous shooting for up to 3 minutes 31 seconds.
The standard speed of 18 fps was likely set on the movie projector when capturing the full movie. However, as we will see later, in reality it turned out to be a slightly different. The fact is that most 8mm film projectors don’t have a set of fixed standard projection speeds, there is the potential of a smooth change of projection speed (frame rate). To do this, the motor is connected to a rheostat (Figure 5), and one can manually change the speed through a fairly wide range, for example, from 2 to 40 fps.
Figure 5. Adjustment of the film projection speed is controlled by a rheostat
The rheostat can be labeled “SPEED” (Figure 6) or “SLOW-FAST” (Figure 7).
Figure 6. Film Speed Controller, marked “SPEED”
Figure 7. Frames per second controller on an 8mm movie projector
A change of mains voltage (for example, a voltage drop during peak hours of load) could lead to the projector changing its speed. For film enthusiasts who recorded their sound on their 8mm films using a tape recorder, methods were developed to be able to control the stability of the projection speed.
A disk with white spokes running along the radius mounted on a shaft could be connected to the motor. When the projector was running, this disk was illuminated from very close range by a small neon lamp that blinked at the AC frequency. When the standard projection speed was reached, these strokes would appear static. But no such a neon lamp synchroniser was shipped with the movie projector used by Phil, as such a device isn't usually supplied with a movie projector. A piece of kit could be purchased separately for synchronisation with the projector.
Figure 8. Device for monitoring the stability of the film speed; a controller with radial spokes (top right)
Despite the fact that more than 10 years have passed since digitization of the film, it is not difficult to determine the actual speed at which the film projector operated during the video recording process. But first it should be mentioned that if this video is loaded into a video editing program, the program determines its speed as 29.97 fps. This is a standard frame rate for NTSC video.
When converting 18 film frames per second to 30 frames of video recording, 18 original and 12 duplicate frames should be observed in the video. Theoretically, 2 duplicate frames will be added to each 3 original frames. In reality among duplicates, there will be more than just copies of movie frames; partially-merged frames will be observed when two movie frames are combined into one video frame.
To understand the reason for the appearance of merging frames, we will consider how some frames advance in the movie projector on the timeline and how video frames change on the same timeline.
In all film projectors, frame changes occur at the moment when the shutter blade blocks light from the lamp. One turn of the shutter disk corresponds to one frame change. However, with 16 overlaps of light, screen flickering is noticeable; there should be at least 45 blinks per second. Therefore, two additional single blades were added to the disk shutter, and in this case the shutter turns out to be three-bladed shutter (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Three-bladed shutter in an 8mm film projector
At 16 fps the flicker rate turns out to be 48 Hz, at 18 fps respectively 54 Hz. In this case, two blades simply give a blinking light (the frame doesn’t move in the film gate), and during the light blocking by the third blade there is a quick frame advance.
Below is an animation of the process in operation (Figure 10):
Figure 10. Triple-bladed shutter in operation
Typically, an opaque shutter blade occupies 40° of the circle (Figure 11).
Figure 11. One blade occupies 40° of the circle
Figure 12. Relationship between film and video frames
The above details mean that while the shutter rotates 40° a frame advances, and for the rest of the time, for the 320°, the frame in the projector gate remains stationary. In other words, the frame change takes place during a 1/9th part of a single turn of the shutter.
Each video frame is recorded sequentially, line by line, and as soon as scanning reaches the very bottom of a frame, it immediately returns to start a new frame from the first line. There is no pause between frames.
The graphic on the left illustrates the relationship between movie film and video frames.
In the 1st video frame the 1st movie frame is visible, then in the 2nd video frame both the 1st and the 2nd movie frames are present at the same time, the frame will look as if it is a double exposure. But in the 3rd video frame only the 2nd film frame will be captured, the same phase of motion is repeated as in the second video frame.
The image seems to stop, but the double exposure disappears. In the 4th and in the 5th video frames the 3rd movie frame is recorded. It is possible that in the 4th video frame there might be a noticeable weak presence of the 2nd film frame, this depends on the brightness of an object in the frame, and the degree of shift of one frame relative to another (for example, when panning).
If there are any contrasty objects, any 'double exposure' can be detected more easily (Figure 13).
Figure 13. Three consecutive video frames, with an example of a double frame
Therefore, among five consecutive video frames, there should be at least one double or dual frame, but most likely there will be two dual frames (Figure 14).
Figure 14. During panning – double frames are easy to spot
Having taken different sections of the video, the number of original (non-repeating) frames per unit length is calculated. In one second there are 20 of them. Moreover, their number doesn’t change along the length of the clip, which indicates that the film projector was running at a constant speed at the same frame rate. Thus, it is concluded that during recording the movie in question was projected at a speed of 20 frames per second.
Another detail may indicate the fact that the duration of the continuous shot of the Saturn V rocket take off was 3 min 11 sec.
The rocket on the launch pad just before taking off appears in two shots. The first time is from the 3rd minute, but this is a fragment for 18 seconds (from 1:00.17 to 1:00.35 by the time code in the lower right corner). This is followed by an overexposed (transparent) segment of film, a few seconds of darkness, then again a segment of transparent film for 3 seconds. All this lasts 12 seconds.
After that, comes the sequence with the rocket take-off, which lasts 3 minutes 11.5 seconds (up to 1:03.59 by the time code). The full sequence ends with a few frames of clear film; this is overexposure. When an exposed cartridge is removed from the camera, a section of 5-7 frames is overexposed (Figure 15).
Figure 15. A fully-exposed cartridge at the end of the roll – an EXPOSED label appears and two perforations are missing so that the camera can no longer advance the film
When the last frame of the rocket is projected (Figure 16, left), it is followed by 5 frames of transparent film, and we can see its end; it goes diagonally across the upper part of the frame, (Figure 16, right).
Figure 16. The last frames of recording (left) and overexposed end of the film (right)
The entire exposed film roll is included in the video timeline from the initial frame to the final overexposure. The playback duration is 3 minutes 12 seconds, including the final overexposure.
A cartridge contains 50 feet of film, which is 3800 frames.
These calculations allow us to conclude that the projection was almost exactly at a speed of 20 fps.
After the final frame, a blank screen appears. The film projector is turned off after a further 3 seconds, (Figure 17, left). But the camcorder automatic exposure control tries to adjust the camera resulting in the black becoming lighter, and more gray (Figure 17, right).
Figure 17. The camcorder automatic exposure control is trying to brighten the "black”
With regard to the filming speed itself, on many 8mm movie cameras the choice is rather limited. It is either 18 or 24 fps (Figure 18), or on some cameras 12, 18 or 24 fps (Figure 19).
Figure 18. Settings for selecting filming speed on an 8mm movie camera
Figure 19. Filming speed settings – set here to 18 fps
There are some very rare models of cameras with a SLOW MOTION facility (Figure 20).
Figure 20. 8mm film camera with a selectable SLOW MOTION shooting mode
In this mode, the camera operates at a speed of 46 fps. This is 2.5 times the standard speed. If the film was shot at such a speed, then all movements of people on screen would look 2.5 times slower. This difference would be immediately detected by any viewer. But there is no apparent slowdown of the action anywhere, not at the beginning of the video, not in the middle, nor at the end.
There is another factor. The exposure time of one frame at 18 fps is approximately 1/40s (with an opening angle of the shutter of 165°). At a speed of 46 fps, the exposure time is reduced to 1/100s. Slight movement of camera with hand-held shooting results in the effect of two consecutive frames being slightly different from each other, and a slight blur occurs in the frame (exposure during camera move). At 1/100s, this blur is not noticeable. If the shooting speed had been 46 fps, and projection at a standard speed, then any hand-held camera swaying movement would have been smooth, there would have been no film blur, and consecutive frames would have been almost the same while shooting the subject.
But in this case we see a different result: both at the beginning and at the end of the video there is identical image blur, neighboring frames sometimes very noticeably differ from each other (Figure 21).
Figure 21. Adjacent frames from the first (left) and second half of the video (right)
During the rocket take-off, there are details that indicate that there was no obvious projection slowdown; for example a bird flies past at a normal speed (Figure 22).
Figure 22. A bird flies diagonally from beneath crossing the frame
If the film speed was 46 fps, the bird would fly smoothly and 2.5 times slower than usual. But its flight looks completely natural.
Therefore, the filming speed that was used on the day is limited by two values: it was either 18 fps, or 24 fps. The projection speed is calculated to have been between 19 and 20 fps. Since the value of 19-20 fps is between 18 and 24, the movement of people and other objects in the video is either slightly faster (8-10%) than the real movements (at a shooting speed of 18 fps), or a little slower (by 15%), if the shooting speed was set at 24 fps. But in general, the recording correctly reproduces the pace of movement.
To definitively determine the filming speed, a fragment with the bus passing by is examined. If the speed was 18 fps, and the projection speed was 20 fps, then to get a correct action, we need to slow its speed down a little (by about 10%). Then we get what we see in Figure 23 on the left. If the film speed was 24 fps, then projecting at a lower speed (20 fps), we would see a slight slowdown on the screen. Therefore, its movement would have to be accelerated by about 15%; this is the frame on the right in Figure 23. For ease of comparison, cover first one side, then the other.
Figure 23. Bus passing left to right through frame
These two frames differ in speed by 1.33 times (24:18). When the video is sped up by 15% (on the right), the bus starts moving in a somewhat jerky fashion. At a slower speed (as on the left), the naturalness of movement is restored. This corresponds to a shooting speed of 18 fps. Therefore, the shooting speed was definitely set at 18 fps. This speed is the standard for the Super 8 film.
The fact that the filming speed and the film projection speed vary very slightly means that some correction should be made when discussing Phil’s film. According to the video, after launch the rocket (Figure 24 a) reaches a layer of cirrus clouds (Figure 24 b) after 106 seconds.
Figure 24. Apollo 11 launch – a) the rocket's first movement on the launch pad, b) punching the layer of cirrus clouds, and c) casting a shadow on the clouds.
If the filming speed was 18 fps, and the projection speed was 20 fps, then the time to reach the cirrus cloud layer will increase slightly to 117 seconds.
The question whether the shooting speed was changed at the moment the rocket cleared the launch tower apparently arose from the fact that at this moment in the recording there is a blackout of 3 frames with some loss of color information. These artifacts appear in the camcorder (contamination of the recording tape head). Such blackouts occur from time to time throughout the entire movie.
Here, for example, is how it appears in the first half of the video (Figure 25).
Figure 25. Loss of color in three consecutive frames due to camcorder tape head contamination
But we see exactly the same color drop outs in three frames at the beginning of the take off (Figure 26) and in the middle of the flight itself (Figure 27).
Figure 26. Color loss in three frames at the moment of the rocket's first movement
Figure 27. Further color loss in three frames during the rocket flight
In this case, only the color and brightness are lost, but the movement itself in the footage was not interrupted. During the rocket flight such artifacts occurred 6 times. Most importantly, the speed of movement in each of these 6 cases does not change; no switch to any other shooting mode took place. Neither was the projection speed changed.
1) Conversion of the Super 8 movie into the corresponding digital video format took place in two stages. The movie was re-shot using an NTSC video camera, and then the video tape with this recording was digitized using a VCR connected to a computer (the analog image thereby converted to digital).
2) The rocket speed in the Phil Pollacia’s movie is very close to the actual speed of the real event. Any deviation does not exceed 10%. The film speed conversion from the moment the Saturn V rocket cleared the launch tower and subsequently throughout the entire clip has a margin of error of no more than 10%.
Therefore, on the basis of these findings, the Challenge is invalid.
Alexander Popov, Andrei Bulatov and Leonid Konovalov
English translation from the Russian by BigPhil
For further verification of Leonid Konovalov’s professional opinion there is an additional route to confirm the video transfer matches the film speed of 18 fps – within a narrow margin of error of one frame per second.
The total running time of the video is 6 mins 46 secs but the launch coverage itself only starts at timecode 1:00:44, as the launch film roll was spliced onto the preliminary scenes prior to the transfer of the film to video.
The time code at the end of the launch film roll is 1:03.59 (and 7 frames). Therefore the duration of the footage itself is 03 mins 15 secs and 7 frames. As the running time of a roll of Super 8 film is 3 mins 31 secs, this is a difference of just 15 seconds.