"I’d go to the moon in a nanosecond. The problem is that we don't have the technology to do that anymore. We used to, but we destroyed that technology and it's a painful process to build it back again."
– Donald Pettit, May 11, 2017
The above statement by Don Pettit will certainly go down in history; the sad history of the US space agency’s deception in relation to the alleged landing of men on the Moon in July 1969. This statement is not very different from the nonsense concerning the loss of the original videotapes of the first men walking on the surface of our only natural satellite. However, my research interest is restricted only to the question of the alleged landing of men on the Moon.
When I came across the lies and distortions of the flat earth movement in its attempt to deceive its readers regarding Don Pettit's statement, I thought it worth answering – and here it is extremely important to emphasize that under no circumstances can any discussion of the above quote be construed as validating of the so-called flat earth movement. Nor is one tarred with the same brush by addressing issues raised on such sites. In short, irrespective of the primary theme of the site where any such manipulation occurs, it is this distortion of facts that needs to be addressed.
The Aulis editors' view about the flat earth movement is publicly known.1 However, others, while arguing against the flat earth movement very effectively when it comes to the science, create another problem when it adopts some extremely fallacious arguments in order to defend the official mantra about the man having landed on the Moon. The website flatearth.ws2 is a case in point: their interpretation of Don Pettit’s words requires contesting because justifying or minimising facts by the manipulation of words, besides being intentionally duplicitous, is a grotesque and cynical attempt at maintaining the validity of the Apollo missions, come what may.
The explanation in the above image contradicts the reality of the situation, flatearth.ws.
Analysing the Facts
It was not just the flat earthers who have realised how problematic Don Pettit's statement is. Serious Apollo investigators have also noticed this and some have asserted that Pettit was only making his statement because the factories and tools of the time of the Apollo project are no longer available, therefore it is the ‘destruction of the technology' that would make it impossible for men to return to the Moon. Although over time factories will modernize, that alone is not an impediment to making parts or equipment developed in the past.
By way of an example, take the DeLorean car which was made famous in the film Back to the Future. Although the company that originally developed the DeLorean went bankrupt, the blueprints that would enable it to be manufactured at any time in the future had been preserved. Indeed, the DeLorean was subsequently re-engineered and manufactured.3 As was the Volkswagen Beetle manufactured again years after its ‘demise’.4, 5
If, however, the blueprints had been lost, then such a re-engineering would certainly be a painful and extremely complex process with the resultant need for reverse engineering based on surviving preserved models.
Another fact: modern manufacturing technology can be adapted for the production of old parts and equipment, and in general, even more efficiently than at the time when such equipment was originally manufactured. In other cases, however, industrial processes can be more complex, requiring expensive adaptations or even a totally new design. In such cases, the actual manufacture of the item would then depend on a decision based on economic criteria – not because it was an absolute technical impossibility.
Take for example the case of a tractor, originally manufactured in the 1930s, where all the designs, calculations, manuals of operational procedures and tests were preserved and available, as well as the original blueprints. Then, if for some reason it became necessary for this vehicle be manufactured again, there would be no impediment to manufacturing it, as long as all the original designs existed in their complete form. Adaptations of industrial processes would certainly have to be made, but one cannot speak of an absolute technical impossibility for the re-manufacture of the vehicle. Moreover, the fact that the original industrial site no longer exists is certainly not in any way an impediment to the manufacturing of an old vehicle design.
But here is the big problem! When Don Pettit said 'we don't have the technology' he was referring to the fact that NASA has lost many blueprints and details of the rocket's original components, as well as the manufacturing tools and equipment that had been lost/destroyed years before. When it comes to the matter of blueprints, they cover the complete picture of the project. And it is the data and information within those missing blueprints that held all the knowledge necessary for the replication of a technology from that earlier time.
Many supporters of the Apollo project claim that the blueprints are preserved in their entirety, and that there must be many cubic meters of stored documentation, and maybe a few blueprints do still exist. But NASA itself contradicts these optimistic supporters, for if the blueprints actually do exist, then why in 2013, was it announced that NASA had hired a company that specialises in extremely high-precision 3D scans to generate new 3D CAD files from an existing F-1 engine? Why do that, if all the required details and measurements are accurately specified in the blueprints? Wouldn't it be far better to make these 3D models directly from these blueprints? This is the usual procedure for any mechanical engineering firm that has blueprints from which 3D CAD files have to be generated.
Attempts to justify the loss of technology
I've read many absurd attempts to justify the loss of this technology by supporters of the Apollo project. In the article titled How NASA brought the monstrous F-1 "moon rocket" engine back to life6 there is an attempt to address this difficulty, but in a rather pathetic way to the point where the article totally contradicts itself, finally suggesting that certain processes were in fact never documented at all:
“Why was NASA working with ancient engines instead of building a new F-1 or a full Saturn V? One urban legend holds that key 'plans' or ‘ blueprints' were disposed of long ago through carelessness or bureaucratic oversight. Nothing could be further from the truth; every scrap of documentation produced during Project Apollo, including the design documents for the Saturn V and the F-1 engines, remains on file. If re-creating the F-1 engines were simply a matter of cribbing from some 1960s blueprints, NASA would have already done so.”
Resorting to that old chestnut ‘the urban legend’ is facile, but if it were truly so that all the blueprints existed there would be no need to reverse engineer but read on, because here comes a contradiction:
“A typical design document for something like the F-1, though, was produced under intense deadline pressure and lacked even the barest forms of computerized design aids. Such a document simply cannot tell the entire story of the hardware. Each F-1 engine was uniquely built by hand, and each has its own undocumented quirks. In addition, the design process used in the 1960s was necessarily iterative: engineers would design a component, fabricate it, test it, and see how it performed. Then they would modify the design, build the new version, and test it again. This would continue until the design was "good enough”. [emphasis added]
Without getting into the fine details of both individual component testing and all-up testing, this statement leaves a lot to be desired. True: there was intense pressure to get the job done within the time frame stipulated by JFK. False: undocumented quirks. All the quirks of any particular engine would have been documented in reports on the testing. That these quirks were insoluble or that the reports have gone missing or been massaged in any way, is another discussion. Misleading: iterative design processes merely result in cumulative design adjustments. The “good enough” version would be the blueprint retained for the archives.
Any engineering project must be fully specified and thoroughly documented in the most objective, rigorous and complete manner possible. This should be done in such a way that it can be reproduced at any time by anyone qualified – reproducibility is the key to all engineering projects. If the construction of the Saturn V rocket depended on the personal skills and undocumented judgement of employees who have now died or retired, then we could say in addition to being incompetent in engineering projects, NASA was also conducting its projects in an unscientific manner.
In summary, it is unthinkable that with all the specifications in the blueprints it is necessary to disassemble a rocket engine and scan it in 3D to know its exact measurements and dimensions. Any novice engineer knows what an exploded view is, what the dimensions are, and especially what blueprints are. There is something very wrong here! The flat earth website (flatearth.ws) is misleading when it states that NASA still has the knowledge necessary to return to the Moon.
In fact, without the essential blueprints required for the reconstruction of the components, the rockets and modules, etc., it would have to be either reverse engineered or it would be necessary to try to rebuild everything again from the ground up. In both cases it is an extremely painful process. The actions undertaken by NASA indicate that the agency decided on the first of these two painful options.
At the time of writing this, which was not long after Don Pettit's 2017 statement, I considered that we still don't have the required ‘complete knowledge’ for travelling to the Moon. As for any knowledge that existed at the time of the Apollo project, and which contributed to the Space Launch system, I found it interesting that NASA had undertaken the reverse engineering of the old liquid-fuel F-1 rocket engine with a view to using this technology in the build of the agency’s new heavy-duty Space Launch System (SLS). And more specifically: with a view to using the F-1 engine in tandem with the two liquid fuel boosters, which have to fire for two minutes.
However, this experiment was apparently deemed impractical, since the SLS design has reverted to using the four segment solid fuel booster hardware used on the Shuttle, but upgraded – which in this instance simply means adding an extra segment (thereby increasing both the weight of the whole launch system but also its ability to lift off the ground).
Remarkably, for an engine that was rated for access to the Moon in the 1960s, no iteration of the F-1 engine qualified for use on the SLS system. Although it might be that this back engineering of the F-1 and its subsequent abandonment informed these engineers of inadequacies that would also have been extant at the time of Apollo. As it stands, the four engines of the SLS core stage are the RS25, a different model of liquid fuel engine that was also used on the Shuttle.7
The eighth test in the Green Run of the SLS engine test firings, January 16, 2021 resulting in a main component failure, NASA.
Just prior to publication of this article, these four RS25 core stage engines were given their final testing on January 16, 2021 by firing them continuously for the requisite eight-minute simulation of a launch to LEO. After only 45 seconds one of the engines suffered a main component failure (MCF) and all four engines were shut down, a process which was fully achieved at 65 seconds. Although it requires at least 250 seconds to get a decent amount of data from any test firing, and the cause of the problem was not immediately apparent, John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager at Marshall Space Flight Center, noted that there was also “a little bit of a flash about 60 seconds into the test around a thermal protection blanket on engine number four, the same engine where the MCF was reported."
It would seem that today’s engineers are discovering that no amount of word manipulation can get around the fact that sophisticated back engineering techniques and manufacturing processes have not expunged the basic issues inherent with getting human beings off the ground and beyond low-Earth orbit using liquid-fueled rocketry.
C.D.F, an independent Brazilian researcher into the Apollo Project
Aulis Online, January 2021
This article is licensed under
a Creative Commons License