Apollo Investigation

NVIDIA: Mission Failure

NVIDIA's attempt to justify additional lighting used during creation of the Apollo 11 imagery
by Marcus Allen


NVIDIA's attempt to answer the Apollo critics has failed – even after deploying the company's new VXGI GPU technology – See October 2018 UPDATE at end

For background please see The Fox and the Hen House

The Set up

Since the mid 1990s, when David Percy first suggested the presence of extra lighting in the 'descending the ladder' series of Apollo 11 images – a finding later confirmed by Dr. David Groves – various entities have come to the defence of NASA. These have included the US MythBusters show, ZigZag Productions, Sir Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night, and now NVIDIA.

Descending the ladder series
Aldrin descending ladder

It is rather obvious to professional cinematographers that movie-style lighting was used here, as this side of the LM is in shadow. Without lighting these images they would look extremely dim, as does the footage from the transmitted TV recordings which didn't benefit from any additional illumination. NVIDIA has attempted to prove that this is a genuine lunar surface picture – but has failed to do so on several counts.

Aldrin on ladder AS11-40- 5868

Early in September 2014, when Marcus Allen was informed by NVIDIA that the company was ‘slowly getting into a time crunch’ for producing some sort of Apollo video – it was not kidding. On September 18, 2014 NVIDIA launched it’s new Maxwell VXGI GPU, just 14 days after the last communication with Marcus Allen. As it turns out, those ‘how can we help you to be more comfortable with this project?’ questions were not totally sincere, for NVIDIA’s new VXGI technology was presented with the banner headline: How Our Maxwell GPUs Debunked the Apollo 11 Conspiracy Theory.

It should be remembered that the anomalies and inconsistencies within the Apollo photographic and TV record are present across all missions. And labelling anyone who questions the official record of Apollo (or any important historical event) a ‘conspiracy theorist’ is an intellectual dead end, reducing the potential for discussion to a childish game of ‘Yes we did, no we didn’t – go to the Moon’.

Unlike the defenders of Apollo, most serious critics do not automatically conclude that the discussion is so limited. Critics also ask why the answers to their questions from NASA’s many representatives and supporters (including the NASA/Eric Jones’ Apollo Lunar Surface Journal) are not internally consistent – see the Open Letter to Professor Brian Cox.

Apollo critics also note that it is par for the course that scientific content is either replaced or accompanied by personal comments about the questioners. Such comments generally follow three main trends: Political – he would say that, he’s Russian, and we beat the Russians to the Moon. Cultural – the questioner has neither the intellect nor the qualifications to even ask the question! And Emotional – people died to get us to the Moon, so any criticism is abhorrent.

Interestingly, during its debunking claim NVIDIA factors in the ‘emotional’ comment paraphrased above against the Apollo critics. Which implies its ultimately lacklustre simulation/explanation required an extra boost. This need to inject emotional content, infers a lack of adequate basic data. It also indicates that the defender is vulnerable to the effects of questioning the ‘Apollonian status quo’, and is attempting to sidestep the wider issues which inevitably emerge from a dispassionate but detailed examination of the Apollo record.

As NVIDIA acknowledged to Marcus Allen, "NVIDIA’s technology doesn’t truly have the right to ‘resolve’ any of those ‘large scale’ issues." but NVIDIA did have smaller fish to fry, and being a chip maker par excellence to the world of virtual reality gaming (as well as to the space industry) the company chose to both maximise its products and come to the rescue of NASA through its product campaigns – the merchants entered the temple of Apollo.

The story goes like this ...


NVIDIA commenced work on its product launch package with a completely different presentation: a video stroll through a renaissance–style hallway, full of columns and arches. But CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was not impressed "Come on, we can do better" he said. The transition from renaissance atrium into Apollo lunar imagery is a coincidence of poetic dimensions. Back in the 1960s, when asked if they could make a lunar EVA camera to match a prototype NASA gave them, Hasselblad’s Jan Lundberg informed us that their reply was "Yes we can, and we can do it better."1

In the company’s final product launch video, NVIDIA set off ‘to do better’ with a selection of vox pops to set the tone, supposedly from so-called members of the public who hopefully have no connection to NIVIDA, given that none of them expressed a personal opinion but were obviously responding to ‘what do conspiracy theorists say about the Apollo lunar landings?’ Notwithstanding the title of the video, this first segment alone was evidence enough that this was never going to be the impartial investigation of Apollo as promised by NVIDIA to Marcus Allen. Neither did they need him after all, as two outtakes were culled from earlier documentaries featuring two dissidents – Marcus Allen and the late Bill Kaysing, covering two ‘problems’ that were going to be elucidated once and for all by NVIDIA.

For this task they allied their new GPU technology with two items cherry-picked from the Apollo photographic record. The first was the question of the additional lighting (Marcus Allen) manifest in Apollo 11 EVA images – the real issue – and the second (Bill Kaysing) ‘the lack of lunar starfield and why’ – a total non-issue – albeit one which has been completely misconstrued then much quoted by defenders of NASA. It was as if in dealing with such a simplistic issue, all the other quibbles put forward by Apollo critics would be seen to be equally simple to explain.

Bill Kaysing is no longer alive to defend himself, and given such a heavily biased production, telling Marcus Allen he had to sign an NDA in order to know what he would be involved in, strongly implies an attempt to stop him defending himself – as a photographer – from publicly debunking this NVIDIA debunk in the years to come.

In the video, it was NVIDIA’s senior content director Mark Daly who was particularly outraged that Apollo was questioned at all – by anyone. Although it is possible that his emotional outrage was engendered by the fact that acknowledging the wider issues raised by the Apollo critics would mean digging deeper than NASA, and now NIVIDA wished to do – or even could do.

Mission Failure – the Details

As it turned out, even ‘with the best technology in the world’, recreating image AS-11-5868 Aldrin descending the ladder, NVIDIA couldn’t do it. By its own admission, the company has made a less than perfect simulation. And this render, along with a bit of nonsense about stars and exposure times, was intended to silence all Apollo critics. But then, at the end of the production Mark Daly says, with no pun intended, "it is hard to prove a negative with a negative." Significantly, Daly states that he can’t prove that the Apollo pictures were indeed taken on the lunar surface – rather ruining the blog 'conspiracy theorist' headline.

Daly says that he can show, thanks to their new VXGI technology, that in 2014 it is now possible to simulate these original photos. Unless one remembers the need to promote future space endeavours one would be tempted to say ‘so what?’ Digitally massaging a scene to demonstrate what you would like to be the case, does not actually make it the case. Especially when the effectiveness of the final result appears highly debatable, even for Daly.

Speaking to Wired magazine Mark Daly says their result is pretty good but not perfect. "In the perfect world, if we could have modeled multiple bounces of light," he says, "I think it would have been even closer to the photo that Neil Armstrong took." But this is not what Daly says in the product launch video: "In 2014 … I could make a game of walking around on the Moon and it would look as real as it did in any of the photos that you saw from the Moon landing. [singular] ... in 1969’s technology, no way." Perhaps he was just trying to establish that the original NASA images could not have been properly computer simulated and therefore it follows that the Apollo images are ‘real’. Or perhaps in the world of gaming ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ have slightly different connotations, as does the interpretation of ‘real scientific facts’.

Analysis of the Results

NVIDIA selected this image of Aldrin descending the ladder from the LM because Apollo critics claim that it would have required extra lighting to achieve the result as published by NASA. So in setting out to reproduce it NVIDIA first collected all the data available in the public domain relative to the reflectivity of the lunar surface, the spacesuits and the LM. NVIDIA then found that:

Even after adding in all the calculations and the Voxel based Global illumination technology, [VXGI] the image still did not look right. We got all of that in place and properly modelled we thought - but the image still didn’t look quite right. There was some additional light source that was just missing." [emphasis added] "Turns out we found a clip of video tape that was shot from the other side of the ladder, there is a huge, glowing, bright white light.

TV coverage of Apollo ladderFrame of TV coverage of the scene

What they had ‘found’ was footage from the TV camera which was located to the side of the ladder, and due to the way it was packed, the camera was transmitting at an angle of some 11 degrees off horizontal.

NVIDIA’s graphics man Lucas Magder states that they used a figure of around 12% for the lunar surface albedo and having earlier stated the suits were ‘made of PTFE’ now adds "because they’re like a Teflon-coated material, they’re around 80-90%, and so they’re very reflective, almost like a mirror. Except you can’t see something in the reflection, they just reflect the light.”

So not like a mirror then.

In the video Mark Daly also says that having factored in this extra data of 80-90% "..for a second astronaut essentially Neil Armstrong was a light source in that scene. The bounce light was correct and Buzz Aldrin looked ‘lit properly’ as he did in that very famous photo taken in 1969”.

Hurray! – Really?

TV camera
The TV camera

Mark Daly’s Wired interview has him saying that Armstrong’s suit was valued much lower than Magder’s estimate:

"The sun and the light coming off of the moon’s surface are doing the majority of the work, but there’s probably a 10ish-percentage of additional light coming off of Neil Armstrong’s space suit."

NVIDIA has seemingly considered that simulating the lunar photos with enough panache would be enough to prove authenticity. The company might have achieved its aims to its own satisfaction, but its data show discrepancies, as is the case with NVIDIA’s own comments.

The Wrong Data

Remember that Magder stated that they had already collected all the data on suits and surface reflectance before they started their simulation. And they still couldn't match the NASA original. However, as it turns out, when it comes to the material used for the Apollo spacesuit’s outer layer it seems that neither Daly and/or Magder are singing from the same song sheet as NASA – nor indeed the manufacturers of Beta cloth.

Beta cloth
Apollo Beta cloth

Lucas Magder does not describe the spacesuit accurately when he states that they are made of PTFE (Teflon). The outer layer of the Apollo spacesuit is a combination of ultrafine glass filaments woven into a fabric and allied with Teflon. Teflon alone does indeed have a reflectance of some 88%. However, when combined with the other elements making up this material, the resulting Beta cloth only has a reflectance of 70-74%. The light reflectance of the material is not ‘mirror-like’ at all, since the material diffuses the incoming light. Nor is it brilliantly white at its creation. Over time, it becomes bleached by the sun and does not significantly increase its albedo.

While Beta cloth is sometimes assessed in the space industry by its mean Thermo-Optic Properties, when it comes to crediting this material as a light source, it is only the reflectance ability of the material which is relevant. Indeed some space materials experts consider that it loses its ability to reflect light (down by 10%) towards the end of its life in space. Given that NASA chose to represent the Apollo astronauts as acquiring dirt as soon as they stepped onto the ‘Moon’, in the two hours allotted to the Apollo 11 EVA, Armstrong’s suit was never going to become the brilliant white light NVIDIA would like it to be.

To do the job properly perhaps NVIDIA should have calculated the actual useable effective surface area of the space suit to contribute to the scene, relative to distance the reflected light had to travel, and the area it had to cover.

However, Beta cloth’s thermal emittance of 82-88% does fit the parameters of Magder’s estimate, as does his use of the word ‘emittance’ in the video. Whether by way of error or intention, the use of Teflon datum alone, and/or the interchanging of effective reflectivity with thermal capability to substantiate their debunking claim, is more akin to back-engineering than it is to good science. It does not inspire much confidence for the rest of the NVIDIA exposé, especially since it appears that there was a misapplication of scientific data by NVIDA to the lunar regolith and its reflective qualities.

The Answer Lies In the Soil

The 12% albedo quoted by Lucas Magder has been traditionally (by which we mean historically) ascribed to the highland terrae of the Moon much further north, and is certainly not typical of the Sea of Tranquillity. The albedo of the Moon actually varies from location to location, and within each location there are varying Albedo levels.

Lunar Albedo
Lunar albedo variance

At the designated landing site of Apollo 11 the regolith has an albedo between 8.2-8.4% But that is in sunlight. It is even less in the shade, going down to zero in the deepest black shadows.

Fellow Apollo critic Jarrah White thinks that NVIDIA actually set their simulated regolith reflectance to around 40% and has asked NIVIDA to supply the data on this matter. Interestingly, the albedo contrast between this mare and its surrounding terra is 40% [see Kharkov University Observatory paper] Perhaps NVIDIA has confused (intentionally or otherwise) this mare-terra percentage with the actual albedo at the designated landing site.

What is certain is that the albedo percentages used by NVIDIA are not supported by the scientific data.

This boosting of the albedo data is not the end of the matter when it comes to the lunar regolith. Colour images returned by the Chinese probe Chang’e 3 Yutu (Jade Rabbit) show a surface that is predominately brownish and not grey. Leonid Konavov, a highly qualified Russian cinematographer (that’s two of the personal attack boxes ticked by the Internet trolls) carried out some detailed research as to why the colour of the lunar soil might be so different from NASA's in the Apollo EVA images (see What Colour is the Moon?) and it turns out that this misrepresentation was due to the filters used on lunar probes originally sent to the Moon.

This single fact suggests that there is a serious additional problem with the Apollo 11 lunar surface photos. For even if NASA thought that the 'soil' was grey thanks to its pre-Apollo probe imaging, probe images taken by the Soviet Zond 7 probe (see below) and others since would have dictated otherwise.

Zond 7 and Apollo

Zond 7 orbital image (left) and Apollo orbital image (right)

All the Apollo 11 lunar surface imagery indicates that interior studio sets were built for the Apollo project and based on probe photos of the lunar surface taken much earlier in the program. Excuses might be proffered that the lunar surface colour varies according to location and that the 'Jade Rabbit' location varies from that of the Mare at the Sea of Tranquillity. This is not supported by Konavov’s soil analysis, nor by the Kharkov albedo research.

Chang’e Yutu (Jade Rabbit)

Reflectance spectra plot of the lunar maria (left) and lunar surface Image returned by China's Chang’e 3 Yutu (Jade Rabbit)

So far it is not looking good for NVIDIA, however, previous attempts to justify these Apollo 11 EVA images did not fare any better.

American Absolutes

Mythbusters attempt

In 2008, long before NVIDIA's attempt, the 104th episode of MythBusters addressed this matter of additional lighting on the Apollo 11 EVA. MythBusters chose AS-11-5869, Aldrin at the bottom of the ladder. While stating that they worked with 8% regolith albedo, as pointed out by Jarrah White, they were actually using Portland cement with an albedo of 35%.

They only managed to match NASA's version by resorting to ‘bare arms man’ and ‘white shirt man’ (standing slightly back and to the right of the camera position). It was confidently asserted that there was enough light to match the NASA picture. However, despite pushing their albedo, the resultant simulation was still not as brightly lit as the NASA original.

MythBusters episode 104, 2008

'White shirt man', illuminated arms and Portland cement in MythBusters episode 104, 2008

Russian Resolution

In July 2012, two professional, highly qualified cinematographers, Yuri Elkhov and Leonid Konavov decided to see if they could reproduce the MythBuster’s attempt – and found that the MythBusters could not have produced their final result without ‘white shirt man’. The Russians concluded that having produced a naturally dark image first time around, the MythBusters were then obliged to find a way of increasing the lighting without being seen to have added anything to their scene. 'Solved' by adopting the white shirt and bare arms tactic. Interestingly these two MythBusters never made a point of saying that 'white shirt man’ (nor indeed the photographer’s arms) were affecting the scene in any way whatsoever.

Yuri Elkhov and Leonid Konavov demoYuri Elkhov and Leonid Konavov demonstration – large reflector effect (right image)

Most significantly they never mentioned Armstrong’s suit as being a possible additional light source. They triumphantly declared that the myth that Apollo had extra lighting was busted. Hurray! – Really?

In their replication of the MythBusters experiment Yuri Elkhov and Leonid Konavov had not only correctly used 8% albedo but had also wore dark clothes and covered up their cameraman’s arms completely. ‘White shirt man’ became ‘White Jacket Man’ and it was demonstrated how the resultant image was affected by either its presence or absence (see demo left and below).

From this demonstration it was possible to calculate that this series of NASA images would require a large fill light at least 1.5 times the height of the LM. Note that Armstrong stands only 6ft+ in his spacesuit with PLSS, and not only diffuses any incoming light, he also forms a relatively narrow effective area.

Jacket Reflector

Very large area of white jacket acting as reflector deployed in Elkhov/ Konavov's demonstration
Flash Gun

A reflector would have to be relatively close to the subject to produce any noticeable effect. The role ascribed to Armstrong as sole supplier of a strong bounce light is not in any way sustainable. Especially since there is a hotspot on the heel of Aldrin’s boot. Diffuse light cannot produce such an obvious hotspot – diffused light scatters in all directions and produces a softer light compared with a more focussed hard light. There must have been a narrower, directional source of light present.

This significant hotspot could be from a lighting unit or even from a flash gun, as in one of the images of Aldrin on the ladder, Aldrin appears to be in mid-air – with no feet on the ladder at all. Perhaps Aldrin was suspended from a 'Peter Pan'-type rig, or maybe he is in motion – about to locate the rung – and the short duration of the flash has frozen him in that position. For without a fast shutter speed this image would more than likely have some motion blur.

Apollo AS-11-40-5866 + CU

AS-11-40-5866 (left) and close up hotspot on heel protector (right)


AS-11-40-5862 (left) and close up hatch (right)

In the above photo of Aldrin about to exit, which is illuminated to the same degree as the other images in the series, there was little or no benefit from any boost in brightness from the lunar surface. It appears that in the case of this image the additional light was placed relatively high up – note the tell-tale shadow (red arrow).

Some of our illumination is missing

Never mind all of those previous efforts, come 2014 and NVIDIA is determined that this time, someone will succeed in getting around the problem of this extra lighting. But the team only succeed in joining the MythBusters in their erroneous conclusions. The NVIDIA simulation confirms that in order to almost reproduce the original NASA image, an additional light source amounting to an intensity some 80-90% was required. It is this additional lighting element that provides the extra contrast, thereby brightening up the resultant set of images and making them ideal for publication in the media.

Note that additional lighting was only ever used to improve the look of astronauts along with Apollo equipment, but not rocks or boulders as in the example below:

Apollo faked photo

AS17-145-22163+65 – astronaut filled-in with additional light – shadow side of rocks unaffected

NIVDIA is correct on one point only regarding this set of images: without an additional source, 80-90% of the light is missing. However, in the TV coverage of the scene (the reverse view – see above TV coverage of the scene) having eliminated Armstrong’s suit, there is no such large diffuse reflector in the background.

The unanswered issue is: What was actually responsible for that additional source of light?

Enter David Groves, stage right

Both NVIDIA and the MythBusters are apparently not aware of Dr. David Groves 1998 technical analysis of the AS-11-40-5866 image (see Dark Moon Appendix). In the late 1990s, Dr. David Groves (now Professor) was asked by David Percy (Aulis publisher and co-author of Dark Moon) to examine the Apollo 11 EVA ‘descending the ladder’ series of images, along with AS-11-40-5903, Aldrin standing alone.

Ray path projected onto the 'horizontal' plane
Ray path projected onto the 'horizontal' plane

David Groves was at that time as persuaded as NVIDIA and the MythBusters that Apollo critics, including David Percy, did not know what they were talking about, and that he could show them the error of their ways. He was certainly qualified to so do.2

David Groves was not, however, prepared to massage or back engineer the data to fit his assumptions or expectations and was very surprised when his analysis led him to the conclusion that these ladder images were indeed taken with an additional light source placed some 26-34cms to the right of the camera.

This is in the same geometric relationship as that of ‘white shirt man’ to the MythBuster’s set up and it must be of the same intensity as that missing illumination that NIVIDIA had to find to make their own re-creation come right.

Further, this light source has to be an effective directional light, due to that hotspot on Aldrin’s boot protector. The hotspot in question cannot be produced just by reflection from the relatively small area that is Armstrong standing 24.65ft distant from the ladder.

To repeat: Armstrong’s suit would have contributed too little effective surface area relative to the amount of extra light needed to boost the illumination of the entire scene by some 80-90%. Armstrong might well be standing next to a light source, but his suit cannot be THE light source.

Inverse Square Law of Light

Inverse Square Law

The relatively small effective area of Armstrong's suit would have been a totally ineffectual reflector at a distance of over 24 ft. The inverse square law of light states that an intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source. NVIDIA probably forgot this basic rule. For example, an object twice the distance from a light source will receive just a quarter of the amount of illumination.

NVIDIA view of Armstrong

NVIDIA view of 'Armstrong' viewed from the shadow side (left) – but both astronauts should be darker on the shadow side (right, red arrows) Note missing area of shadow under the LM! (green arrow)

A close look at the simulation screens on Magder’s desk show that from one viewpoint it appears that Armstrong has been lit misleadingly: the scene is illuminated by the ‘sun’ from around 3 o'clock, but Armstrong’s body is fully lit on what should be his shadow side – surely this is not correct. And it would be interesting to know what the global illumination setting was for the scene.

Further, the relatively flat location has been modelled into such deep craters and gullies it resembles Grimes Graves Neolithic flint mines in Norfolk, UK.

Grimes Graves UK

Grimes Grave flint mines in Norfolk, Ron Strutt CC BY-SA2.0

TV recording fall-off on left
Fall-off on the left (red arrow) and the brighter mare right (white arrow)

Mark Daly cites the TV coverage taken during the ladder descent as responsible for alerting him to the reflectance of Armstrong’s suit, but the analysis above demonstrates the fallacy of such an argument.

A careful look at this restored TV footage reveals even more anomalies than those discussed here, not least the clear difference between the lighting on the mare which is darker on the left of screen (fall-off) and considerably brighter on the right.

Perhaps it might have been better not to have cleaned up the Apollo TV images quite so well. As it is now necessary to justify a hitherto relatively unremarked item – a ‘huge, glowing, bright white light’. So far no-one has managed it.

image backlit producing rimlight
Example of a backlit image resulting in visible rim lighting

Daly’s team considered that "inside a shot cited by Apollo 11 skeptics, [the team] had uncovered hidden evidence that the mission was real". But the problem with this 'huge, glowing, bright white light' is that there is no indication regarding its obvious backlighting effect on the subject. (See the rim-lit effect with backlighting in the example on left.)

In fact NVIDIA has ended up making the case for NASA Apollo authenticity worse, not better.


NVIDIA then attempted to address a complete non-issue – the matter of the ‘missing stars’ in the Apollo images. In the video NVIDIA says that there is a star field around the Moon. Yes, but of course everyone knows that, including Bill Kaysing. Then on the NVIDIA blog Mark Daly states "The reason the stars aren’t visible is the [sic] exposures in the camera are set to capture the scene on the Moon’s surface…" So far so good. However, when Daly adds "…but they’re there, and our demo team was able to find them by digitally changing the exposure on the shots to reveal them" we are transported into the world of illusion once again.

AS11-40-5868'Cranked-up exposure' (increased brightness) of the black 'sky' in AS11-40-5868

The words ‘on the shots’ actually refer to their own digital frames, but in the context of this statement it infers that the Apollo images contain within them those pesky star fields. As does the strapline to this section of the blog article:

"And that [the ‘Armstrong suit’ exercise] wasn’t the only proof they found for the landing hidden in NASA’s photos." [emphasis added] NVIDIAn statements quickly become a contradiction in terms – and entirely misleading.

Even if this particular Apollo debunking fiasco is categorized under ‘gaming’ on NVIDIA's blog: attempting to justify the ‘reality’ of Apollo by creating highly exaggerated computerised simulations of the lunar environment; digitally ‘cranking up the exposure’ to ‘reveal’ star fields (which by definition would not be registered) and then juggling the accompanying narrative to fit an unsupportable hypothesis, is faking it – on all counts.

AS17-134-20384'Cranked-up exposure' (increased brightness /colour) of black 'sky' in AS17-134-20384
revealing strange blocking around an image

In fact it does not require ‘the most advanced CUDA GPU ever made’ to find out what is in the background of the Apollo images. Apart from Aulis, various other critics, including the late Jack White, Jarrah White and Richard Hoagland have been able to increase the brightness and contrast of the Apollo lunar surface images and examine such shots. Stars? No, of course not.

All that one sees is ‘noise’, ‘blocking’ around subjects, and undesired (hidden) artefacts in what should be, even by NIVIDIA’s standards, a totally homogenous black ‘lunar sky’.

At the post Apollo 11 press conference, Neil Armstrong was asked by Patrick Moore if he could see stars from the lunar surface. Pointing at his eye, Armstrong said that they could not see stars from the lunar surface without the use of optics.

The look on the faces of both Aldrin and Collins at this news was interesting to say the least. No one looked comfortable, and of course had they been on the lunar surface they would have definitely seen stars. However, it is also true that with their helmets on, they did not have the ability to look through a viewfinder, and then again, their Hasselblad didn’t even have a viewfinder! NVIDIA cut this extract as tight as they could, but if their team had listened properly perhaps they wouldn’t have included this extract in their video.


During research for its Constellation Program NASA established that getting human beings out beyond LEO (whether to the Moon or to Mars) and back home safely, raises real issues which are currently unresolvable [Kouts 2014]. These same issues were extant forty-five years ago, when technology was less advanced than it is today. If we still cannot manage what we were supposed to have achieved in 1969, then it is entirely reasonable to enquire as to whether the reality of the Apollo missions and the Apollo public record are describing the exact same set of circumstances.

Considering the very real difficulties in getting out into space, the necessity of maintaining the space exploration program in the public consciousness and increasing computational power at our fingertips, it is understandable that virtual reality is edging into the scene. In fact the manned space program is in some danger of shifting completely into the arena of virtual reality, leaving actual space exploration to robots and probes.

NVIDIA’s digital gaming world looks to be the inheritor of that first promoter of space travel to the general public - Walt Disney and his Mickey Mouse world, while the public look set to forget where reality ends and illusion begins. This melting of the boundaries between reality and illusion now exemplified by NIVIDIA’s use of re-creation/simulation to explain away issues raised by critics’ analysis of the original photos and TV record of the Apollo 11 EVA – which are themselves simulations of the event in question.

Despite a triumphant headline and selecting its own subjects from the Apollo record NVIDIA

  • Has totally failed in its chosen task of demonstrating that the Sun was uniquely responsible
    for lighting Buzz Aldrin.
  • Has totally failed in the task of taking on the Apollo critics.
  • Has achieved the complete opposite. Firmly demonstrating that the Apollo lunar images were
    indeed taken with additional lighting not available on the Moon.

If factoring in ‘cranked up’ data values has still not succeeded in producing the exact result NVIDIA were looking for, then with lower but more accurate values, the increased percentage of brightness required to justify the ‘huge, glowing, bright white light’ is going to be even more than that 80-90% of reflectivity that the team originally found lacking.

The Restoration

The purpose of pointing out the inherent errors within the record, both by the whistle-blowers of the 1960s and the researchers of today, is to advance our thinking about how we do things. It is a disservice to humanity to produce videos with boosted and incorrect data, such as this effort from NVIDIA. As is the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal’s continual massaging of the original record. Over time, ‘restoration’ and translation into digital formats will consign into techno oblivion’s 'Room 101' all criticisms of Apollo images published by NASA. And humankind's abilities to travel beyond LEO will be no more advanced.

Conventional rocket-powered craft are not the answer to travelling beyond LEO, specifically sending human beings to Mars safely. We need to formulate a completely different way of travelling in space and it should be possible to develop a better technology without resorting to blood and thunder methods or the use of drugs to ward off the dangers of radiation. We need Total Conceptual Renewal.

NVIDIA’s new Maxwell VXGI technology might well be brilliant for gaming purposes, and it also might be good enough to create a virtual reality game of ‘walking on the Moon’ as Mark Daly asserts – but in the real world of computing, garbage in = garbage out.

As we have shown, NVIDIA used the wrong figures for the regolith, they used debatable values for the Beta cloth, they used the wrong size for the ’Armstrong reflector’, and failed to address the actual nature of the source of that additional light.

However many errors there are in the Apollo record, and for whatever reasons, spending the next decade playing the 1969 game of ‘Yes, we did, no we didn't’ is not going to bring human space travel any further forward. As Marcus Allen told NVIDIA in his ‘Mission Statement’ email, If NIVIDIA truly cared about the space program and about helping NASA they would be promoting their own products with virtual reality films that enable everyone to understand the difficulties and the rewards of cracking human space travel, rather than propping up an old warhorse that lost its legs 45 years ago.

Aulis Online, October 2014

For background see The Fox and the Hen House

Update October 2018

Nvidia hasn’t given up on defending the indefensible

The company has a new product RTX Real-Time Ray Tracing – watch here – which was also featured at NVIDIA GTC Europe 2018 by Jensen Huang in his Keynote presentation starting at 23:00 minutes.

Jensen Huang concluded: “I don’t know that we proved that the Apollo 11 crew went to the Moon…"
"...but that the Moon does emit light/reflects light so well, that it should light the scene.”

Unfortunately Jensen Huang doesn’t explain why the Moon illuminates astronauts but not rocks.


1. DARK MOON: Apollo and the Whistle-Blowers, Aulis Publishers, 1999, p57

2. Professor David Groves has a degree in Physics and a PhD in Bioengineering and is a member of the Institute of Physics and a Chartered Physicist. Following employment as a medical physicist in nuclear medicine, lecturer and senior lecturer in physics, computing and mathematics at a number of UK universities and as a senior scientist in the UK nuclear industry, David established a commercial medical technology company which he directed for 15 years. The company developed innovative 3D scanner technologies and commercial computer systems.

Jarrah White: Debunking their Nonsense
I'm crying foul on this one. The image at 5:36, which they claim was illuminated purely by reflected light, is way too bright. Myself and a couple of cinematographers in Russia have recreated this scene independently. The resulting image is much darker:

Looks to me like the people at NVIDIA either carelessly or deceptively set the albedo of their CGI lunar surface much higher than 12% (FYI, the actual surface is about 7%). In fact, judging by how illuminated the astronaut seems at 5:36 relative to the Elkhov and Konovalov image, I'd say that NVIDIA probably used an albedo of around 40%. The reflection from the Armstrong spacesuit, seen at 5:38, is only marginally brighter than the image at 5:36.

The only real change I can see is a faint partial illumination of the lower panels of the descent stage. This indicates to me that the reflection caused by a second astronaut standing away from the LM would offer minimal reflected light at best. In this simulation it seems the bulk the illumination is coming from the ground - which should not be the case if the soil is only reflecting 7% or 12% of the light, it should look like the Elkhov and Konovalov image linked above. This further indicates to me that NVIDIA have increased the reflectivity of their cgi soil to something around 40%.

I challenge the NVIDIA team to show us what settings they used. I also challenge them to recreate this exact experiment in real life, using asphalt so no one can cry foul on their albedo. Put up, or shut up?

Beta cloth The outer covering of the multi-layered Apollo EVA suits was made of ultrafine glass filaments woven into a fabric, then coated with a substance called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, more commonly known as Teflon). The year after the Apollo missions ended, this material had been adapted for terrestrial purposes. Walter Bird, aeronautical engineer and founder of Birdair Inc. used a strengthened version of NASA’s original Beta cloth to cover the 1973 multipurpose hall at the University of La Verne Campus, 25 miles east of Los Angeles, California. In its architectural role it is called Sheerfill Architectural Membrane.

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