Apollo Investigation

Smoke & Mirrors, Icebergs and Gas Giants

by Jarrah White
 



Read Crossing the line Part One

Crossing the line between editorial responsibility
and viewer discernment – Part Two

During the writing of the Surveyor article (Crossing the line Part One), I combed through over one hundred years of historical cases where the line between viewer discernment and editorial responsibility was crossed. I felt some of these examples to be of interest, while the 1995 documentary On Jupiter warranted its own in-depth discussion.

When the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912, the news outlets covering the story of the year were suddenly faced with a dilemma. Although there were many still photographs of the supposedly unsinkable ship, they had no motion picture film to use in their newsreels.

Fig. 1

Fig 1. A frame from the only genuine movie film of the RMS Titanic known to exist. The title card in the Gaumont newsreel incorrectly reads 'The Titanic Leaving Belfast Lough for Southampton April 2nd, 1912'. It was actually shot on February 3, 1912. Back then, she was still an incomplete ship: note her funnels and sections of the bridge are not yet painted. Also note the portable toilet chute descending over her starboard edge – suggesting the builders hadn't even finished her plumbing when this film was recorded! [British Pathé]

All that was available was a brief film reel of Titanic still under construction in the Belfast drydock. So as a visual aid, the news agencies of the day used stock footage of the Titanic’s older sister ship Olympic and passed it off as her ill-fated sister leaving Southampton. Aside from a few aesthetic differences in architecture, the two ships looked virtually identical [Fig 2].

Fig. 2

Fig 2. Newsreels covering the sinking passed off this film of RMS Olympic as her ill-fated sister. You can tell it is the Olympic by the open windows on the A-deck (the Promenade deck below the lifeboats).

Fig. 2

On Titanic, the forward half of the windows were enclosed as a last-minute design change, as these comparison pictures illustrate. [J.A. Milford]

Shades of the later Surveyor 1 and 3 imagery discussed in Part One. For the Titanic tragedy, the media even went to all the trouble of crudely etching out the name plates on all the tugboats escorting the Olympic out of port [Fig 3], because as photo analysis of these newsreels proves, the footage was actually recorded in New York, the destination Titanic would never reach.1,2,3 Editors acting irresponsibly!

Fig. 3

Fig 3. So desperate were the media to pass Olympic off as Titanic, they erased the name plates and port numbers on the tugboats, which would identify this footage as being shot in New York.

Ironically, this dishonest use of stock footage may have contributed to the demonstrably false myth that the White Star Line switched the Titanic with Olympic as part of some insurance fraud scheme.4,5,6 But that’s another story.

Some fifty years after that unfortunate shipping incident, when it came to space travel, the mainstream media would be more forthright in their use of visual aids in the absence of real footage of the events. Until October 1968 none of NASA’s crewed missions to low-Earth orbit (LEO) carried television cameras,7 only film cameras. For obvious reasons film needs to be developed before viewing, therfore any film recorded by astronauts could not be viewed until well after splashdown. Which meant that during the scheduled time for these early NASA missions, the TV network’s ‘live’ coverage would have nothing to show. So the media would instead broadcast animations or simulations of NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and early Apollo spaceflights.8 These simulations were typically shot in studio environments with accurate sets and props, and with actors in spacesuits [Figs 5-6].

Fig. 4

Fig 4. Simulation of the rendezvous between Gemini 6A and 7. [CBS]

Fig. 5

Fig 5. Simulation of Neil Armstrong descending the ladder on Apollo 11 lunar module. During Apollo, the networks would initially show simulations like these, then switch over to the official television transmissions whenever they became available. [CBS]

Fig. 6

Fig 6. Simulation of Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean inspecting a Surveyor probe. During their Apollo 12 coverage, the news networks became heavily reliant on visual aids after the TV camera supposedly malfunctioned. [CBS/AFVN]

Often the live audio transmissions from the actual astronauts would be dubbed over these prepared on-screen visuals, but there would always with a nice little disclaimer at the bottom of the screen stating that the footage was simulated.9,10,11,12 Editors acting responsibly!

Many promotional videos released by NASA also made a heavy use of animations and simulations. Similarly, many of their quarterly report videos and yearly highlight videos often interspersed actual flight footage with animations and simulations, usually with the narrator or onscreen text specifying whether what we saw was genuine or a mere visual aid.13,14

By 1979, NASA would start to get more creative with their visual aids, by incorporating actual mission data. For example, James Blinn,15 of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) took photographic data of Jupiter and the Galilean moons from Voyager 2 and mapped this data over computer graphic spheres, creating a near photorealistic 3D animation of Voyager 2 journeying through the Jovian system [Fig 7].16

Fig. 7

Fig 7. James Blinn’s near photorealistic animation of Voyager 2 flying past Jupiter, created using actual photographic data.

Blinn repeated this method to make the near photorealistic sequences of Voyager 2’s flyby of Saturn17 [Fig 8] and Uranus,18 while colleagues Sylvie Rueff and Don David used his methods to animate one of Voyager 2’s Neptune flyby.19

Fig. 8

Fig 8. James Blinn’s near photorealistic animation of Voyager 2 flying past Saturn, created using actual photographic data.

Blinn’s animations opened with title cards clearly stating that they were just that. And the audio commentary further emphasized that what we were seeing were animations, not flight footage.20,21,22 Derived from flight footage, yes, but these full animations have an obvious giveaway: the camera. It periodically zooms across one part of the Jovian/Saturnian system to another in a matter of seconds – impossible for a conventional spacecraft. But the shots in between these zooms, such as Voyager drifting past these gas giants and their moons (if presented in isolation) could easily be mistaken for flight footage. Especially for those of my generation who have grown up with films of the Apollo spacecraft docking with the LM and Skylab, videos of the Shuttle recorded by the satellites it deployed, and later of the Space Shuttle and Soyuz docking with Mir.

Blinn’s work was in essence, something of a precursor to the Robert Simmon’s 2002 Blue Marble composite image of the Earth. That iconic image was derived from image strips taken by the Earth Observing System constellation of satellites, which were then mapped over a computer graphic sphere in a similar fashion [Fig 9]. On every NASA website where you’ll find it, Simmon’s 2002 Blue Marble is clearly captioned as an EOS-derived composite picture, not a photograph of the full Earth.23,24 Again, editors acting responsibly!

Fig. 9

Fig 9. Robert Simmon’s 2002 Blue Marble, a mosaic created using month's worth of image strips recorded by the EOS satellites.

The Other Side of the Coin

In recent years however, we’ve seen what happens when editors act irresponsibly, if not dishonestly. Documentaries can get hijacked by those wishing to edit the original footage for their own ends. Take the case of the crewed Gemini 9A mission of 1966. Since Gemini only carried film cameras, on reporting the event the American media channel CBS, made a contemporaneous newscast using a great many simulations, and, as editors acting responsibly, these were labelled as such [Fig 10].

Fig. 10

Fig 10. Simulation of Eugene Cernan’s Gemini 9A spacewalk, with on-screen disclaimer clearing identifying it as a newscast visual aid. [CBS]

Fig. 11

Fig 11. Scene of a craft clearly marked as animation.

Around 2023, Flat Earth disinformation agents found this archived CBS newscast of Gemini 9A and uploaded it to social media with the onscreen disclaimers cropped out. This deceptive out-of-context video went viral, and now, fifty-seven years after the event, millions of people have been steered into thinking that (however obvious to some) this simulation is genuine NASA Gemini 9A flight footage.25

Similarly, many of those same disinformation agents have quoted out of context a statement that Buzz Aldrin made during an interview he gave to Conan O’Brian on May 17, 2000:

O'BRIAN: Let’s talk about this because this is fascinating. I remember very clearly; I think anybody who was alive at the time does. I remember my parents waking me up and we went down, and we watched you guys land on the moon.

ALDRIN: No, you didn’t. Because there wasn’t any television, there wasn’t anybody taking the picture. You watched animation so you associated what you saw with [what] you heard me talking about...26

Flat Earth disinformation agents cite this as a ‘confession’ by Aldrin that the Apollo 11 was faked (which it was!) but his statements actually refer to the fact that the alleged landing phase of the mission was recorded on film, and so in the absence of TV coverage the media broadcast animations which were clearly captioned as such [Fig 11]. And as I explained in an earlier Aulis paper, such Flat Earthers and space travel deniers have also overreacted to statements by Robert Simmon explaining how his 2002 Blue Marble was created, twisting his words out of context into a ‘confession’ that there are no real photos of the full Earth.27

Advances in graphic image generation

By the 1960s the news agencies were no longer going to dictate the proceedings, as had happened with the Titanic event. From the 1960s onwards the development of space technology ran in parallel both with advances in the graphics and film industries and NASA’s desires to get crewed spacecraft to the Moon, plus unmanned spacecraft to other planets. So much so that, whether the result of carelessness, sensationalism or intentional duplicity, over time NASA and its mainstream affiliates became less inclined to put disclaimers onto their footage, thereby blurring the line between viewers’ discernment and editorial responsibility.

Indeed, Blinn’s animations of the Voyagers’ flybys through the Jovian and Saturnian systems have appeared countless times in practically almost every educational video that NASA and their affiliates produced in the 1980s and '90s, including the 1987 documentary discussed in Part One. The lack of those original onscreen disclaimers, combined with the near photorealism of Blinn’s animations, made it easy to incorrectly assume one of the Voyager probes had recorded footage of its sister ship.

Unless one knew the mission details: Voyager 1’s flyby of Jupiter spanned January 6 to April 13, 1979, while Voyager 2’s flyby observation of Jupiter only began on April 25 of that year. Clearly the Voyagers couldn’t have taken pictures of each other during their respective Jovian flybys. As for the Saturn flyby: Voyager 2 reached Saturnian system first, its flyby spanning from August 22, to September 25, 1980. Having been placed on a trajectory optimized to take pictures of the moon Titan, Voyager 1 only reached the Saturnian system some three months later, on November 14, 1980. For their flybys of Uranus and Neptune, disclaimers are less essential: only Voyager 2 flew a close approach to Uranus (January 24, 1986) and Neptune, (August 2, 1989) so any video of a Voyager flying past these ice giants must be an animation!

And so we come to On Jupiter, made by Pioneer Productions with the Discovery Channel, it featured the Galileo spacecraft’s deployment of its entry probe into the Jovian atmosphere; the tidal fragmentation of the 1994 Comet Shoemaker-Levy No.9 and its subsequent impact with Jupiter; and the past exploration of the Jovian system by the Voyager probes in 1979.28

As with RSVP’s Conquest series,29 this is yet another educational documentary using James Blinn’s photorealistic Voyager animation – without telling the viewer what they are seeing is a mere simulation. But that is truly the least of your worries.

Overall, this is a very engaging, entertaining, and well-produced documentary. But as much as I enjoyed On Jupiter when it first aired in Australia (circa 1996), for those without any knowledge of the US space program, or more specifically knowledge of the space program’s visual and photographic record, it is another textbook example of crossing the line between viewer discernment and editorial responsibility.

The video opens with interviews of astronomers and NASA engineers, such as Andy Ingersoll of JPL and Caltech, discussing the characteristics of Jupiter’s atmosphere and the violence of its storms. These comments are intercut with video clips of very dense and turbulent clouds moving against a bluish sky [Fig. 12].

Fig. 12

Fig 12. Opening scene of the documentary On Jupiter. Obviously, it was shot on Earth and used as an analogue for the Jovian atmosphere. [Pioneer Productions]

Is this Jupiter? Something that the Galileo entry probe recorded? That certainly seems to be implied by the statements of the interviewees. Such as the following from Ingersoll: “The most amazing thing about Jupiter for us Earthlings is that there is no place to stand. We see clouds, we see nothing but clouds. We don’t see the ground because there is no ground.”

Later, when the interviewees discuss the probe’s atmospheric entry, we see what appears to be a video feed from atop this spacecraft as its parachute deploys [Fig 13]. Next, the editor cuts to a view of the spacecraft descending, and then we see more live action footage of clouds, matching the commentary given by the interviewees describing what they expect the Jovian atmosphere to look like.

Fig. 13

Fig 13. Parachute deployment used in On Jupiter as an analogue for the Galileo atmospheric probe’s chute deployment. [Pioneer Productions]

With no disclaimers present, the script and interviewees’ statements coupled with these visuals made it easy to believe that this was the reality. That is, of course, unless one checked the date on which this program originally aired. According to the Discovery Channel’s web listing of this program, it first aired on December 3, 1995 – four days before the Galileo entry probe plunged into Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The Galileo atmospheric entry probe carried no cameras, only scientific experiments, so even if this program had been released after the event, there would not have been any available visuals during the descent. It should also be noted that during the probe's atmospheric descent, it transmitted its data to the Galileo orbiter for storage and later retransmission to Earth. Only the orbiter had a camera, but it was over 209,000km away from Jupiter at the time, and still two hours and twenty minutes from entering Jovian orbit. So, where did this live action footage of clouds come from? With no flight footage to visually showcase the Galileo atmospheric probe’s plunge through Jupiter’s atmosphere, Pioneer Productions had obviously used aerial footage of Earth’s clouds in its place.

Curiously, however, although On Jupiter aired just days before the probe actually entered the Jovian atmosphere, when discussing this phase of the mission, the narrator’s script, read by the actor John Hurt, mixes its tenses, starting in the future and then retreating to the past:

Next stop for the probe: the atmosphere on December 7, 1995. When the probe streaked into Jupiter’s atmosphere, it went where no spacecraft had gone before. [emphasis added]

Why is he talking in past tense? This entire sequence continues in this manner. The interviewees are talking about what they expect to see in Jupiter’s atmosphere and what they expect will eventually happen to the probe. But the narrator speaks as if it already happened. Take for example the concluding comments of this segment with:

NARRATOR: Some seventy-five minutes after it entered the atmosphere, the probe’s mission was over, having reached a depth of more than one hundred miles.

RICH YOUNG: The probe will go well down beyond that. Exactly how far, we don’t know before its destroyed, but it will be destroyed by the high temperatures and pressures eventually. Probably it will vaporize before it's crushed. And it will just, poof! All of a sudden vaporize and become part of Jupiter.
[emphasis added]

Just what take-home message are viewers supposed to walk away with? For viewers who saw this program when it first aired on December 3rd, their knowledge that the probe’s entry date was still four days away would have been enough reassurance that the cloud videos they were seeing were not Galileo flight footage. But for viewers who saw a repeat of this documentary at some later date after the atmospheric entry, unless they checked the credits at the end of this video, which clearly had a credit for ‘timelapse photography’ (an irony in itself, given this script muddle between the future and the past) they would likely come away with the idea that despite the structural differences between the make-up of these two planets, Jupiter’s atmosphere was a lot like ours.

Earlier, when referring to the Voyager 1 and 2 flybys of Jupiter, the narrator (John Hurt) tells us:

NASA has assaulted the Jupiter system before. Back in 1979, two unmanned Voyager spacecraft made the long haul to Jupiter and its sixteen moons. As they passed through this Jovian Kingdom, they encountered a realm of alien worlds the like of which we had never expected.

Again, this appeared to be footage of real time events – probably because the editor shows us Blinn’s photorealistic animation of one of the Voyagers swooping through the Jovian system. While real unaltered photos and film sequences recorded by these probes were also used in this 1995 On Jupiter documentary, this particular sequence of Voyager was only a simulation cooked up by James Blinn and as stated above, this was done by wrapping actual photographic data of Jupiter and its moons around 3D spheres in a computer program.

Once again, the line between viewer discretion and editor responsibility had been seriously blurred, if not exactly crossed, since anyone who cared to could look at the credits. While no specific credit for ‘animation’ is listed, as was the case with Conquest, ‘thanks’ are given to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – presumably for the stock footage that would have consisted of both photos taken by Voyager and Galileo, and Blinn’s Voyager-derived animation. Going back to Discovery Channel’s online listing, we find the following description:

Computer animations and information are provided to give the viewer a solid background on the significance of Galileo’s encounter with Jupiter.’ [emphasis added]

Again, thanks to YouTube, it has become relatively easy to find the various NASA and JPL animations that Pioneer Productions used as visual aids. As to whether or not the Voyager probes were ever close enough to take pictures of each other, should it be down to the viewer to have a background in space history prior to learning about NASA’s exploits? Must they check all the credits for such designations as ‘animation’ or ‘timelapse photography’ in order to evaluate the accuracy of the content released by NASA and its production companies? If the viewer is to be blamed for any misunderstanding, it was still quite the oversight on the filmmaker's part to intercut footage of Earth’s clouds with the interviewees’ discussions of the probe’s atmospheric entry and what they expected Jupiter’s atmosphere would look like as it descended, and then to script the narration as though the probe had already entered the atmosphere whilst showing said footage.

There are two other particularly egregious moments in this On Jupiter documentary. The first is at about 6 minutes into the video, and the second occurs at about 30 minutes and 39 seconds. The narrator John Hurt and interviewee John Spencer of Lowell Observatory are discussing the appearances of the four Galilean moons, their commentary on Io is accompanied by an angled view of a forbidding field of active volcanoes, which could only have been recorded by a camera elevated above these volcanoes [Fig 14].

Fig. 14

Fig 14. Despite the narrator’s colourful description of 'Io, a festering boil of sulphur and rock…’ this video is obviously shot on Earth overlooking a field of volcanoes.

As a visual aid for Europa, the editor produces a flyover of a cracked sea ice field (probably recorded by an aircraft or helicopter flying over the Arctic) [Fig 15].

Fig. 15

Fig 15. ‘…Europa, with a silver surface of pure ice…’, says the narrator.

For Ganymede we are shown views of some barren frozen wasteland with distinctly jagged glaciers, these images are taken too low to the surface to have been photographed by an orbiting spacecraft [Fig 16].

Fig. 16

Fig 16. ‘…Ganymede, a world of grooves and frozen slush…’, needless to say, neither Voyager nor Galileo ever got this close to Ganymede’s surface to take such a picture.

Finally, one would have to be an avid historian of space history, like myself, to realise that Pioneer Production’s view of the ‘heavily cratered Callisto’, was actually (or rather supposedly) a view of our own Moon! Having watched various documentaries on the Apollo missions, which used the 16mm footage from the alleged lunar orbit phases of the voyages, I recognised the exact same shots were now being used as a visual aid for Callisto in this On Jupiter production [Fig 17].

Fig. 17

Fig 17. ‘…and Callisto with its catalogue of craters’, wrong moon, dude!

In summary

Whether intentionally misleading, a careless editing oversight or just overtly sensationalised, Pioneer Productions apparently allowed its editor to take a rain check when it came to citing the source footage at their disposal! Or more accurately, on-screen disclaimers were clearly no longer an essential item when it came to promoting NASA missions and programs.

These are samples of what was wrong with the agency’s presentation of its exploits around Jupiter back in 1995. Now to Pioneer Productions’ credit, the later 2006 DVD release of the On Jupiter documentary30 was re-edited to include actual photos of these four moons taken by the Galileo spacecraft – captioned accordingly and overlaid above their analogue visual aids [Figs 18-20].

Fig. 18a

Fig. 18b

Fig 18.

9aFig. 1

Fig. 19b

Fig 19.

.Fig. 20a

Fig. 20b

Figs 18-20. Comparison of how Pioneer Productions presented its analogue visual aids to represent the Galilean moons. As is, in the 1995 TV version (upper images); and juxtaposed against real Galileo flight photos in the 2006 DVD release (lower images).

This 2006 DVD release came about long after it was established that Jupiter’s atmosphere only had one distinct layer and not three as originally thought. Interestingly, the segment on the probe's atmospheric entry was accordingly re-dubbed with new commentary, providing corrected information and somewhat different animations. But the videos of clouds and that parachute deployment were retained from the earlier version. The new animation is still very obviously just that. It’s not photorealistic and capturing pictures of the entry probe from the angles implied would have necessitated a second spacecraft on station to record such imagery. As explained already, this was an impossibility, since the Galileo Orbiter only arrived at Jupiter a few hours after the atmospheric probe had already achieved its mission.

Buying the Dream

To this day, NASA still features misleading artist’s composites of the Galileo mission on its various web pages. On its NASA Science homepage,31 we see the Atmospheric Probe with an already open parachute plunging through the Jovian atmosphere. Aside from the fact that the orbiter is supposed to be over 200,000km away at the time, here we see it directly overhead peeking through the clouds! [Fig 21] We also see its large high gain antenna (HGA) fully deployed.

Fig. 21

Fig 21. One of NASA’s official promotional image for its Galileo mission.

This same anomaly appears in another artistic endeavour found in the JPL’s image gallery – published online in January 1996! Here we can see, equally-sized and close together, Io and Jupiter looming prominently; in the foreground we see the Orbiter, again with its large HGA completely unfurled.32 [Fig 22]

Fig. 22

Fig 22. Artist's rendering of the Galileo spacecraft flying past Jupiter's moon Io.

In reality, the HGA only partially deployed, was unusable and stated as such in the technical illustrations recording this mission [Fig 23]. As a workaround, Galileo needed to transmit the flight data to Earth using its Low Gain Antenna (LGA), which resulted in much slower transfer speeds than what could have been achieved with the HGA.

Fig 23

Fig 23. The Galileo spacecraft > click for full image

Conclusion

Probably intended as a poetic summation of a mission, these artistic impressions more accurately illustrate the aspirations of space exploration, at the expense of a harsher reality. And for NASA, vis-à-vis the general public – perhaps that’s the point.

Jarrah White

Aulis Online, June 2024


Jarrah WhiteAbout the Author

Jarrah White is an Australian filmmaker, astrophysicist and geologist. He has Certificate III & IV qualifications with distinctions in Screen and Media at the Sydney Institute of TAFE NSW, Australia; and a BSc with a Major in Geology and a Minor in Astrophysics completed in November 2017 and July 2019 respectively at Macquarie University.

 


References

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  2. Titanic Films And TV (2014) “Post (Titanic) Disaster 1912 Newsreel”, YouTube
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  6. M Brady (2024) “Titanic Conspiracy: The Full Truth | Part Two”, Oceanliner Designs, YouTube
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    Peter Hyams on making Capricorn One “’…I’d been germinating this idea for some time. Whenever there was something on the news about a space shuttle, they would cut to a studio in St. Louis where there was a simulation of what was going on. I grew up in the generation where my parents basically believed if it was in the newspaper it was true. That turned out to be bullshit. My generation was brought up to believe television was true, and that was bullshit too. So I was watching these simulations and I wondered what would happen if someone faked a whole story. I wrote the script and took it around. The reaction wasn’t, 'Gee, this is really interesting, just change the ending,' or anything like that. The reaction was, 'Get your car out of the parking lot!' It kind of baffled me and I put it aside for a few years. Then somebody asked whatever happened to it, and I made it…!” (released US: 1978 UK: 1979).
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  24. E.M. Jarrell (2002) “Robert Simmon – AKA Mr. Blue Marble”, NASA GSFC
  25. Reuters Fact Check (2023) “Gemini 9 space mission simulation taken as genuine”, Reuters
  26. Reuters Fact Check (2022) “Buzz Aldrin interview about moon landing is not proof that it was faked”, Reuters – the quote is at the 1.29 mark.
  27. J. White (2020) “Why Flat Earthers are incorrect about the Apollo missions”, Aulis Online,
  28. “On Jupiter” (1995) Pioneer Productions, YouTube
  29. "Conquest A History of Space Achievements From the V1 to the Shuttle", (1987) RSVP Productions
    Conquest 1: Tranquility Base Conquest II: No FrontierConquest III: The Phoenix Will Rise
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  32. NASA “Galileo Jupiter Atmospheric Probe”, NASA Science, Past Missions

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