Apollo Investigation

Earth Photos from the Moon: Anomalies 2

by Phil Kouts PhD

AFTERWORD to Part One, November 2014

Since first publication of the original Earth-Moon article six years ago, the author has reviewed its content. This review has become necessary as a result of regular amendments to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal as well as to the Apollo Image Library. There follows a concise update of the key topics of the article.


There have been few breakthroughs regarding authorship of the two pictures, AS11-40-5923 and AS11-40-5924, the LM with the Earth – allegedly taken from the lunar surface. Amazingly though, this document is continually being re-written. The Image Library introduction (last revised 22 August 2014; retrieved September 2014) regarding magazine 40/S, now states that ‘[a]fter getting the camera from either the MESA or Neil, Buzz took the next sequence of photos: 5904 to 5926.’

But closer to the time of these Earth pictures the document states: ‘Buzz takes twelve more LM inspection photos: 5917 to 5926’ (emphasis added). So these would-be-unique-and-famous photographs of Earth from the Moon just become part of a LM inspection story.

Further, the comment accompanying AS11-40-5923 still states simply that ‘there is some uncertainty about who took these pictures of Earth’, so the author remains unknown. Neil Armstrong passed away in 2012 so now any direct response can only come from Buzz Aldrin. By all appearances, it seems that NASA prefers to keep well away from this issue, which indicates that the agency considers the account is better mothballed from now on.

The NASA document mentioned in the article (Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal “Mobility and Photography”: Corrected Transcript and Commentary, 1995), (last revised on 14 February 2014, retrieved in October 2014) has received yet further updates, but still leaves the key issue of ‘the minor mystery’ totally unresolved.

Buzz Aldrin’s ‘disappointment’ photos

The enigmatic photographs mentioned by Buzz Aldrin in his 1973 book regarding his unsuccessful attempt to take a picture of LM with Earth still remain unrecognised. It would be reasonable to ask him where the photos are to which he was referring, but NASA has failed to do so. If Buzz Aldrin’s statement is true, either the various photo libraries (including the Image Library) have missing imagery, or some pictures have been omitted – indicating that the issue is not as trivial as it may seem.

To sum up, the authorship issue, unresolved in NASA commentaries, combined with the enigmatic 'disappointment' photos, indicate that both astronauts have been reluctant to accept authorship. Which leads inevitably to the conclusion that this is most likely, because neither of them actually took these two historic pictures from the lunar surface.

The glow behind the LM

This astounding feature is still visible in the enhanced colour images AS11-40-5923 and 5924. So it seems that NASA isn’t yet sufficiently concerned to react to this slip-up – as the agency did when it covered up the blunder with the scandalous picture of ‘Apollo 17 Harrison Schmitt, the flag and Earth’, by replacing it with a tidied-up version.

However, another twist in the story comes from the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s website. These two infamous photos are now available in high resolution: AS11-40-5923 (5.4 MB) and AS11-40-5924 (4.5 MB) compared with the 510 kb resolution versions hitherto available in the Image Library. When the colour setting is increased (Figure 1A), a wide band of colour appears in the central area of each picture resulting in the glow becoming less recognisable. Obviously, this is an attempt to cover up the suspicious glow discussed in the article.

Apollo 11 colour banding
Figure 1A. Two images from the Lunar Surface Atlas of the Lunar and Planetary Institute.
Colour enhanced to the same degree. Note the colour band in the central area.

Series of photos from orbit

For many years photos AS11-44-6547 - AS11-44-6564 in the Image Library were vaguely attributed to ‘Rev 12 or 13’ (Figure A2). It was demonstrated in the article that these 18 photos could only have been taken at around Rev 6.

EMoon Earth Anomalies

Figure A2. Extract from the Apollo 11 Image Library (retrieved April 2008)

Since the original article’s circulation in the public domain, the description of this series of photos has changed. In the Image Library version updated in March 2012, the accompanying comment to AS11-44-6549 no longer references Rev 12 or 13. However, one commentator suggested that the series of pictures was taken ‘most likely at Rev 6’. No explanation was given as to why these frames had been attributed to Rev 12 or 13 for so long, nor was there any clarification regarding authorship or any special circumstances relating to the origination of these photos.

Why not? Most likely, NASA specialists directly responsible for interpretations realised that before separation of the Lunar Module (LM) from the Command Module (CM), the LM could possibly have blocked the field of view of the camera directed through the window for photographing an Earthrise. So for many years it was easier to vaguely attribute these photos to a moment after separation of the modules, rather than analyse the actual circumstances as to how these pictures might have been taken.

There is still no information in the image library as to who the photographer was, and under what circumstances these 18 pictures were taken. If these multiple frames were photographed through the CM window, some elements of the module should (at least in part) be seen in the frames more obviously than in AS-11-44-6635 or AS-11-44-6636. These pictures are virtually perfect – as if there was no window there at all. Where was the camera? It could not have been outside the craft – could it?

The pictures in question are attributed to an AOS time which is now listed in the Image Library as being taken at 86 hr 29 min Ground Elapsed Time (GET). In the 2008 article, this AOS was estimated to occur by approx. 86 hr 40 min GET, while the best match of Australia’s position on AS11-44-6547 to 6564 was initially related to approx. 86 hr 00 min GET. With high resolution versions from Apollo magazine 44 available from the Lunar and Planetary Institute, one may reasonably conclude that the best match would be around 86 hr 30 min.

From the onboard transcripts (Apollo 11 Onboard Voice Transcription (U), August 1969. Day 4, p.139), it is reasonable to conclude that it was Buzz Aldrin who retained the camera. However at 86 hr 30 min, he says strangely: “…this field of view, it’s mostly just blues – I keep getting mostly black and blue.” These words are the most relevant to the moment of taking this series of pictures – the phrase itself is the most complete compared to the others. There is not a single description of what they could actually see, no impression of the observed Earthrise, nor any discussion of visible continents. So what was Buzz talking about?

It is important to note that nobody responded to Buzz, while Neil simply changed the subject. And nobody has returned to the issue of the ‘black and blue’ field of view.

New research: photographs taken before docking

There is a further series of pictures, AS11-44-6632 to 6643, taken, obviously, by Mike Collins after the LM's ascent module allegedly took off from the lunar surface, before its docking with the orbiting Command and Service Module (CSM). In these frames, the Earth is visible in the background when the LM is approaching the CSM. These pictures should have been the definitive evidence of the event. However, analysis of the timing shows that these pictures do not quite correspond to the expected rotation of Earth. The continents should clearly include South America, but they do not.

AS11-44-6642 allegedly taken from the CM

Figure A3. AS11-44-6642 allegedly taken from the CM at approx. 128 hr 00 min GET


Figure A4. AS11-44-6642 (cropped) with Earth over the horizon

Currently, in the Image Library the timing of this series of pictures is stated as commencing at 127 hr 54 min – i.e. very close to 128 hr 00 min (provided the docking occurred at 128 hr 03 min). Therefore, according to the timing, South America and part of North America should be visible (approx. as shown in Figure 5 in the main article at approx. 101 hr of the mission, but rotated further to the right – downward).

However, the exact image should be as depicted in Figure A5. Note that the white dots are stars which undoubtedly would have been seen by the crew in the Moon’s ‘sky’ – whether they were standing on the lunar surface or flying onboard the CM.

It is worth recollecting that at their first press conference the Apollo 11 crew admitted that they have not seen stars when they were on the lunar surface.

Neil Armstrong:
"We were never able to see stars from the lunar surface or on the daylight side of the Moon by eye without looking through the optics.”

Excerpt from Apollo Zero documentary by researcher Jarrah White (episode of astronauts interview at 3 min 50 sec).

On the whole, a discussion as to whether or not astronauts could see stars has become boringly commonplace. However, even this ‘boring’ aspect of the Apollo chronicle returned recently as a subject of self-ridicule by the astronauts, thanks to Buzz Aldrin. The fact that they should have seen stars is perhaps confirmed by an article accompanying the auction of Apollo memorabilia in 2009:

One immediate task Armstrong and Aldrin faced after touching down for the first time was working out where they were. For this, they were issued with a star chart the size of a small plate. The chart, which is still tinted with moon dust, was considered crucial equipment by the Apollo astronauts and is expected to fetch over $70,000. "This star chart was the single most critical navigational device we used while on the moon" – an accompanying letter from Buzz Aldrin.

As Buzz Aldrin qualifies the chart as the ‘most critical navigational device’ used on the lunar surface then again, what about the Earth as the most easily noticeable celestial object on the lunar sky which is conveniently fixed in one point for navigational purposes? Common sense dictates that they didn’t need any other ‘navigational’ tool when they had such a reliable gauge in the lunar reference frame. Especially as astronauts have claimed that they couldn’t see any stars.

In Figures A3 & A4 above, no continent is visible, only ocean, supposedly the Pacific. One can only guess why this is the case when the time of taking this series of pictures is so precisely defined. So where then is South America?

Another important observation is that during the docking process from approx. 127 hr 40 min GET to the actual moment of docking, Mike Collins was extremely busy communicating, and most likely technically assisting during this process. The above mentioned Onboard Voice Transcription document, Day 6, pp. 203 to 207, clearly shows how busy the astronauts were on both the LM and the CM when approaching each other. A truly critical moment obviously requiring high concentration.

So what about the moment to which the Image Library allocates the start of the series of pictures? The onboard voice transcript states that Mike was really busy:

127hr 54 min 59 sec Mike Collins (to LM crew): Need a little bit more. That’s the way; keep it going. Need a little more… That’s the way; keep going – go a little bit more – go ahead – go ahead – okay, stop. Okay I got it now.

It's hard to accept that Mike Collins, while being involved in such a high precision operation at the CM control panels was at the same time taking pictures through the window. If justified by the fact that Collins was recording the approach of the LM for posterity and that imaging the Earth was incidental to that event, then it is even more astonishing that the crucial period from 127 hr 59 min 40 sec to 129 hr 04 min 08 sec, which includes the actual docking event, is simply missing from this transcript.

Another document, the Technical Air-To-Ground Voice Transcription, p.481, covers the docking episode but is appallingly patchy at this crucial moment. The full record of the docking event is as follows:

127hr 57min 40sec Mike: Okay.
128hr 00min 50sec Neil: You…
128hr 00min 56sec Mike: Okay.
128hr 03min 12sec Neil: Okay. We are all yours. Roger.

Obviously, there is nothing at all related to any Earth photography in these fragments. It is worthwhile to note that the crew's exchanges in the communications around the docking event don't always coincide in the two records.

Earth from the Moon

Figure A5. View of Earth from the Moon at the time of LM docking with the CM 21 July 1969 21h 32m 128hr 00min GET

It is also interesting to note that Mike Collins, spending more than 24 hours alone onboard the CM, (while his colleagues were allegedly on the lunar surface) had not taken any additional pictures of Earth from lunar orbit. Yet the conditions were much better than at Rev 6: there were no LM elements obstructing his view and he wasn’t necessarily as busy as his colleagues.
He hadn’t used the camera with the 250 mm lens and therefore missed up to 12 other unique Earthrises. Furthermore, the astronauts never discussed the movement of the continents – neither onboard the CM, nor on the lunar surface itself – and they never commented on their actual views of Earth.

New finding: photos after trans-Earth injection

The author has found new pictures in the August 2014 version of the Apollo Image Library which were absent in 2008 although, to be fair, their thumbnail images were included in the total magazine 44/V. One more series of pictures was taken from orbit, namely AS11-44-6647 to AS11-44-6652 – Figure A6 below, is a typical example.

The timing of this series is not stated in the record. However, a detailed analysis shows that only perhaps Australia can again be identified as the continent visible on the left. Accordingly, the shots should be allocated to approx. 135 hr 35 min GET. It would be interesting to consider the fact that 12 minutes earlier, at 135 hr 23 min, the CSM combo went into trans-Earth insertion, a most important manoeuvre. Yet somewhat surprisingly, while the crew was preoccupied with technical issues to report back to Houston – Neil is asking about burn status after the burn phase is over (it lasted only 2 min 30 sec). It was Buzz who reminded them about AOS and taking pictures of Earth. In fact, the Onboard Voice Transcript, Day 6, p.247, has the astronauts relaxed and confident as ever, in particular, Buzz who is reminding them about ‘getting a picture of earth coming up’. Most likely they are talking about taking this series of Earthrise images.

It was a textbook procedure – but was it a real experience? With regard to the actual photography of the Earth, the Onboard Voice Transcript document abruptly ends at 135 hr 34 min 57 sec – although there is no mention of the tape ending. Another document, Technical Air-To-Ground Transcript, p.505, at this point has a break in the record since it's a time just before AOS. However, when it resumes just 17 sec later, at 135hr 35min 14 sec, there is no indication that any pictures of the Earth were taken.

So, again, neither the timing of any actual photography, nor the author of this series of Earthrise pictures is readily identifiable. This is typical for all the pictures featuring the Earth allegedly taken by the Apollo 11 crew – either onboard the spacecraft or while on the lunar surface.

Earth over Moon

Figure A6. Earth over the Moon, after docking

Figure A7 below depicts a series of cropped photos of Earth from the Apollo Image Library compared with computer-generated versions as seen in photos a) from orbit at Rev 6, b) from the surface of the Moon, and c) after trans-Earth injection.

Moon Earth

Rev 6: AS11-44-6553 86hr 30min ...- From surface: 40-5923 110hr 50min ..- After docking 44-6651 135hr 35min
Image Library – all timings are GET

The three illustrations below are computer-generated (CGI) using StarryNight software by Imaginova. The cloud formations are artist’s impressions. Note the movement of the stars against the background sky.

Earth Moon

–– Rev 6: AS11-44-6553 CGI ..................--- - Surface AS11-40-5923 –––............. - - After docking AS11-44-6651

Needless to say that again, there is no authorship attribution, and no comment whatsoever regarding any of the circumstances relating to this series of frames in the Apollo Image Library.

Afterword conclusions

The elements of unique data that make up the Apollo 11 photography should go together like pieces of a puzzle. And the more that one looks into this mission, the more these details should fit each other leaving no room for doubt. However, the situation regarding the Apollo record is exactly the opposite: the more one looks into these details the more they conflict with each other – in every case failing to slot into the overall picture.

It's as if some puzzle pieces appear to be from different boxes. An example is the Earth at the time of the LM docking with the CSM. The focus of the original article in 2008 was on the pictures of Earth from the Moon’s surface. A number of additional images (allegedly taken by the Apollo 11 crew from lunar orbit) are contributing to the overall unsolvable puzzle. The Earth’s rotation in front of the astronauts’ cameras has supplied an indisputable time reference framework.

It would appear that NASA must have a very limited series of Earth views attributed to a lunar vantage point – as illustrated in Figure A7. Despite the fact that the crew experienced several Earthrise phases, only one turn of the planet is depicted in each of the series. All of them possibly taken from geostationary orbit at a point over the mid-Pacific Ocean, approx. at a zenith vertical over the equator, Longitude West 165 deg. some 2000 km south of Hawaii. Only views from this direction cover all of the Apollo 11 mission Earth images. No other perspective is available. This unsatisfactory aspect will be considered again with further examples in a third part to this investigation. So while the appearance of clouds might be correct, options regarding positioning of the continents are surprisingly limited.

The foregoing is undoubtedly the reason why NASA’s specialists are so reluctant to commit to details regarding any specific situation but leave such details to casual ‘contributors’. NASA randomly accepts an outsider’s opinion but doesn't update its own information. These various casual ‘contributors’ bring arbitrary pieces into the picture. But while some of these pieces may temporarily fit together, other important details remain stuck in an ever revolving conundrum.

Phil Kouts

Aulis Online, November 2014

About the Author

Phil Kouts lives and works in New Zealand.

Phil Kouts has a PhD in applied physics and gained considerable experience in applied research, working as research fellow in various universities in the UK as well as an R&D manager in private companies. 

He writes under a pseudonym to differentiate his professional occupation from his interests, and can be contacted by email at philkuts@gmail.com

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