Apollo Investigation

Apollo 11 and the Slippery Slope
Inexplicable 30% reduction in the shadows of Apollo 11 EVA

Another round of fire fighting at NASA

This is the story of how an article noting abnormalities in the photographic record of the Apollo 11 EVA, while factually correct, has not seen the light of day in an academic journal. Its genesis and the ensuing infighting between the academics involved reveals that when it comes to preserving the Apollo record, no holds are barred. Mary Bennett has derived this account from Russian reports relating to this event, and relevant references can be found in the endnotes.

In June 2020 the Russian academic and mathematician Mikhail Vyacheslavovich Korobkov,1 submitted a new article to Astronomicheskii Vestnik, the Astronomical Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences.2 With over 50 papers published in both Russian and foreign scientific journals, he was unsurprised when it was sent out for peer review to two academics prior to acceptance for publication. For the sake of clarity these reviewers are henceforth labelled A and B.

The first review by A was completed by June 2021 and it was unambiguously positive. The second review went differently: From June through to October Dr. Korobkov twice revised his article for reviewer B in order to accommodate the many observations raised concerning the text, after which B withdrew his previous objections to publication. At the same time reviewer B stated that it was his personal opinion that the phenomena identified in the article were due to inaccuracies already present in the basic data used for analysis. And with that in mind, B suggested that the article be submitted to a third party for an expert opinion.

So what was this article about? Titled On the Question of the Mathematical Analysis of the Materials of the Lunar Expeditions, Dr. Korobkov had detailed the significant (30%) inexplicable reduction in the shadow lengths he had found in photographs taken during the Apollo 11 EVA.3 However, according to B it was the photogrammetric map supplied by NASA affiliates at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal (ALSJ) that was at the root of the problem.

fig 1
Fig 1. Section of the photogrammetric map referenced by Dr. Korobkov when analysing the Apollo 11 EVA photography, enlarge.

Even though the actual content of the article had been cleared by both A & B, the opinion of this second reviewer was taken up by the editorial board of Astrovestnik (as it is colloquially known) and on October 15, 2021 they asked the author for an English translation of his article as they intended to send it to a foreign, highly qualified photogrammetry specialist. And here it should be noted that Astrovestnik is published in the US as Solar System Research.

Looking for a compromise, Korobkov suggested they ask the Estonian astrophysicist Vladislav Pustynski, associate professor of the Tallinn University of Technology.4 Not only was he a fluent Russian speaker, he fully supported the authenticity of the Apollo missions. V.P., as he was also known, could therefore be relied on to review the article assiduously. More especially since it was V.P. himself who had been involved in the compilation of the much-praised 2012 version of the Apollo 11 photogrammetric map which had served as the main source of information for the author.

fig 2

Enlarge. Fig 2. The full map by Vladislav Pustynski. The 2010 article posted on the ALSJ titled Photogrammetric Analysis Of Apollo 11 Imagery: New camera-station map with improved locations featured his map with this caption:
This 24 January 2012 revision of the Apollo 11 camera-station map is based on photogrammetric analysis done for 116 of the 123 Hasselblad images taken during the EVA. Six others were placed by alternate means. Only one photo, 5904, could not be placed. The arrows show azimuthal pointing of the images, with arrow length indicating vertical tilt. Each small dot represents a location for a camera station (blue) or a rock (red). Boulders labeled with Roman letters can be identified in LROC images.
For Pans 1, 2, 3, and 4, all of the camera locations and orientations were calculated in the overall photogrammetric analysis. The Pan 5 stations were determined in a separate analysis [discussed in section 2.1.5 of the article]. In each panorama, the central location of the stations is plotted as a violet dot. A violet circle shows the characteristic distance of the stations from the pan's central point; and the dashed circles indicate mean-square deviations. Because of the large number of camera stations near the LM ladder, Pan 1 information has been moved to an empty area northeast of the LM. See, also, an animated comparison between the original 1969 map and the [this] revision. The major differences are: 1) the locations of the LRRR and PSEP and associated camera stations, which are farther south of the LM in the new map than in the original; 2) camera station locations near the MESA (Quad IV) on the northwest side of the LM; and 3), the detailed distribution of camera stations within each panorama are now available.

But this suggestion was apparently not entirely acceptable, because further communications ensued until December 8, 2021, when the editorial board, still insisting on an English translation of his article, informed Korobkov that they were “also considering the candidacy of a well known NASA photogrammetrist as the third reviewer”.

What should be taken from all these back and forth exchanges is that V.P. would not need a translation into English in order to be able to assess Korobkov’s work. So now we either have two putative sources for that third reviewer: one Russian speaking Estonian, sourced by Korobkov and one unknown English speaker, sourced by the Astrovestnik editorial board, or another two reviewers were being aquired. Korobkov finally complied, and an English version was dispatched into the ether.

But after that nothing. For five months.

After the long silence, on May 5, 2022 the editorial board at Astrovestnik finally rejected Dr. Korobkov’s article. However, the text relating to that final decision confirmed that the article had been sent to Korobkov’s choice of reviewer, V.P. adding that since he had not got in touch with them, and “after a negative response from two reviewers…” which Korobkov had already been advised of, the decision had been made to reject the article. This news did not have any of the customary courteous sign-offs which had featured in earlier communications from Astrovestnik, while the text itself managed to infer that these negative responses were from two different people, whereas the only two negative responses were from the text sessions with reviewer B.

However unlikely, one would like to think that this was simply a typographical error between ‘reviews’ and ‘reviewer’, because A’s review had been unequivocally positive, and even B in recommending a third opinion manifestly believed that it should be considered further. Also note that there is no mention of any input from the recipient of that English translation.

Although seemingly bewildering to the general public, even if scientifically minded, Astrovestnik's ultimate refusal to publish is unsurprising, because notwithstanding the journal’s intentions or the qualities of the author (in this case, a well-known mathematician, a professor at a foreign university, a doctor of sciences of impeccable professional competence) all that counts for little when it comes to who and what gets published. The very process of peer review ensures that vested interests can be discreetly protected.

And so they were, or nearly. Because this particular saga has a very interesting postscript when, out of the blue, V.P. contacted Korobkov directly. Whether the result of simply amusing himself or a necessary adjunct to the proceedings, V.P. told a surprised Korobkov that he had not received any letters from Astrovestnik. Of particular perplexity is the fact that V.P.’s email address, which the author had supplied to the editorial board in December 2021, turned out to be absolutely correct and in working order. A fact which V.P. readily confirmed. Dr. Korobkov immediately informed Astrovestnik of this amazing news, and because he thought that V.P. showed genuine interest and had agreed to consider the article, offered to continue the review process forthwith.

Do the staff at Astrovestnik send out important emails and forget to follow them up? It’s hard to imagine, especially when the journal completely ignored the fact that V.P. had apparently never received the work, despite the editorial staff having his correct contact address. No longer trying to hide behind any scientific issues, they firmly refused the author’s offer to continue with the review process, and did so in a very brusque manner. Instead they took the trouble to inform the author of the following items, all of which related to incoming news from V.P. and none of which had been related by V.P. to Korobkov.

Firstly they informed him that the photogrammetric map developed by V.P. for Apollo 11 and which had been “resting on its laurels” on the NASA ALSJ website since January 2012, all the while receiving numerous praises for its “accuracy” no longer satisfied him, and in a posting on the Zen-Yandex.ru channel dated October 3, 2021, V.P. had asserted his intention to redo this map. This is his quote from that posting:

At some point, your guide decided, among other things, to redo his old Apollo 11 terrain model. The former was his first attempt in this field, and the lack of experience affected: the accuracy was not always under control, the coordinate system was not aligned to the cardinal points...5

Note that the date of this posting predates by two months the December date that the editorial board is reputed to have contacted him. So it must be an astonishing coincidence that the inspiration for the development of a new map, came to V.P. "at some point" during the final period of editorial consideration of the Korobkov article. Yet another fortuitous coincidence: his announcement was posted just twelve days before reviewer B had offered his opinion concerning the photogrammetry, which had triggered the board’s decision to also forward this article to a NASA expert with English as their only language.

There are other coincidences that are even more astonishing. Korobkov was then told that in the course of work on this new map, V.P. had made "amazing discoveries” relative to the terrain of the Apollo 11 landing site, which he had "not been previously suspected".

Finally Korobkov was informed that one of the most significant news items from V.P. concerned the slope of the entire Apollo 11 landing area: V.P. had discovered that "as a whole" it sloped towards the east by about 4.7º. While these three items supplied to Korobkov by Astrovestnik enabled the editorial board to further justify their decision not to publish Korobkov’s article, such a general tilt of the surface to the east would help in explaining away Korobkov’s finding of a significant reduction in shadow lengths.

Furthermore, this last item really can be called an "amazing discovery" because what is really surprising here, is that such a significant slope of the site “as a whole” was not noticed by the astronauts themselves on their alleged EVA, nor by any of the expert historians over the past half century.

As V.P had also noted in his October 3, 2021 posting:

…And although the materials of the old model [his 2012 version] were published by British scientists in [the] Journal of the British Interplanetary Society [BIS] and forgers from NASA in [the] Apollo Lunar Surface Journal , [ALSJ] the author kept wanting something better...

While seriously defending the Apollo missions, the presentation of this posting is written with tongue-in-cheek, the strikeouts also exist in the Russian version, and are not simply sloppy editing, but are meant to represent humour aimed at taunting the Apollo critics. (And with hindsight V.P.’s ‘independent’ contact with Korobkov might be seen in the same light.) The core of the BIS is totally supportive of Apollo, but the BIS membership welcomes anyone at all with an interest in space travel, and the inference here is that those who criticise Apollo do not necessarily have the scientific competence to so do. As for those "forgers from NASA", this is a heavy-handed way of alluding to themselves, Eric M. Jones and V.P., as their Apollo critics would see them.

This is an extract from the BIS article of 2014:

We used photogrammetry to study surface photographs made by the crew of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module (LM). We represent photogrammetrically determined locations of 116 from total 123 camera stations (6 additional stations were located approximately based on auxiliary data), hardware left on the surface and natural features. Our analysis improves results of earlier determinations made [by others] with rough methods. Errors of distances from the LM to the EASEP instruments have been reduced from metres in the map from the Preliminary Scientific Report to about 0.1m. Determined locations were compared to positions of artifacts in orbital photographs made by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC); an excellent agreement was established. We identified at least 58 boulders seen both in LROC images and in EVA photographs. Distance accuracies are mostly within 3 percent. A new, more exact and detailed map of Tranquility Base was composed.6 [emphasis added]

So it is even more surprising that V.P. himself had not noticed this significant slope when he and his overseas contacts had worked on the 2012 version of his wonderful map.7 In the above description there was no mention of such a general tilt to the east. On the contrary, in further official NASA descriptions of the map, it is said that both the flag and the solar wind experiment were placed on terrain having a slight slope in the opposite direction, to the west, of about two degrees, (this is equivalent to the "almost" horizontality of the landing site as a whole).

Here it’s worth noting that in order to redo his map, V.P. had stated back in October 2021 that he “will still need a couple of months of work if other things do not distract him…”. That two months timescale brought his October posting into line with the December events at Astrovestnik but V.P. must have suffered from many distractions because at the time of this writing, their website article dating from 2010, and featuring V.P’s 2012 map, has not been revised since December 16, 2013.

This whole saga makes it fairly obvious that in order to arrive at the removal of this article, back channel communications must have taken place between all the interested parties, including that very silent partner, the unidentified, linguistically-challenged, English-speaking expert.

But that was then.

In June 2022, the Estonian astrophysicist Vladislav Pustynski decided to set out his versions of events on his blogsite, where he prefers the name El Selenita.8 While unable to criticise the maths per se, he effectively asserted that Korobkov had made up the numbers to suit his conclusions. Whatever his opinion of the merits of Korbokov’s hypothesis, when it comes to recounting for his own blog readers, the review process as described by Korobkov, V.P. produces a less than accurate précis of the first two reviewers V.P. had this to say:

The first reviewer [A] struggled with Korobkov over the structure and brevity of the text until he gave up. The second [B] tried in vain to convince him that, without taking into account the errors, the conclusions are not justified; but he also gave up, recommended that the article not be published, and refused to have any further business with the doctor.

His comments concerning the third reviewer reveal that he had left out of his earlier account, the fact that it was reviewer B who had suggested that a third reviewer be asked to assess the basic photogrammetry map. He also considers himself to be the ‘foreign reviewer’ referred to, when once again, let’s remember, he did not need to have an English translation of the article in order to be able to read it. Indeed, as a nice touch, he wonders why Korobkov had not gone directly to him during the writing of his article. Despite the fact that he had said nothing about any map revisions until October 3, 2021, when he was very vague about any particular start date, at this point in this blog he states that he has now made a new model map, which he began during the summer of 2021 and finished that winter.

V.P. agrees to contact the journal Astrovestnik in order to defend Apollo, warning that although in his view there was indeed a reduction in shadow length, it was not an unknown phenomenon. He then asserts that Korobkov wished to dictate to him the tone of the message that he should write to the editorial board. V.P. had declined, writing his own message. The article was subsequently declined, as per the Korobkov version of events, and everyone retired to their respective corners.

V.P. then spent another blogsworth of effort on this subject. In part two he justified the fact that his 2012 model was simply a first attempt, writing:

The model was not bad, but due to lack of experience it contained inaccuracies. And it was not published: although an article on it appeared in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, the model itself was not made available to the public.

That’s hardly accurate, the 2014 BIS article would be available to any member of the public willing to pay for a copy of the magazine, and can be purchased even today, while the map has also been available to the public since its creation in 2012.

He goes on:

I plan to continue to write scientific articles about the Apollo 11 landing site, but I wanted to correct the errors of the old model, at the same time making the model publicly available. Therefore, it was decided to make everything clean. The new model is ripe for winter, there is still a little technical work with the map.

This part two of his 2022 blog does not chime with part one, in which we were told that “the author began work on the new model last summer [2021] and finished it by winter”. Nor does it work with the next sentence which reads: “P.S. The model, which includes all the data, accompanying material, and a fairly detailed description, is now available on Mendeley – June 22, 2022.”

But not, as it happens on the ALSJ site, which still hosts the 2012 version! This imprecise reference to the Mendeley Desktop does not indicate a desire to be totally transparent, and after this the V.P.’s blog writing also takes a slide downwards as the author lapses into ad honimen attacks on A. Popov, the host to the article recounting the Korobkov saga, considering him to be a collector of conspiracy theorists against Apollo and a purveyor of lies.

While crediting Korobkov with courtesy during their dealings over this matter, V.P. nevertheless also considers him to be a conspiracy theorist, incapable of actually paying attention to facts, of spinning events to suit his arguments and therefore (despite all the physical evidence supplied by V.P. to show Korobkov that he is wrong) totally unable to comprehend the fact that it is simply the original text that is at fault:

Korobkov was indignant: ten years ago we wrote that the SWC flag and pole were tilted to the west, but now I am showing him a picture, from which it follows that in the new model the flag is tilted to the east.9

The shadow length argument raised by Korobkov is acknowledged as valid by everyone, including V.P. who wrote, “There is no doubt that he is a good mathematician, because he established the reduction of shadows quite correctly.”

As V.P./El Selenita would have it: “on the warpath with science (and lunar expeditions are an undoubted part of world science), Korobkov, as expected, lost.” The technical discussions referring to Krobkov’s findings must be studied by those with the interest to so do, because we are here discussing the argument between these two academics. As it stands, these comments and the final summation of the matter by V.P. do not cut the mustard:

It is clear that the [ALSJ] text is simply a mistake that has arisen due to an incorrect interpretation of the angle. Unfortunately, errors can occur in such voluminous texts; but this is a mistake in words, not a model problem.

This so-called "mistake" in the written record, which V.P. also calls "obvious", has nonetheless managed to escape the eagle eyes of all those copy editors at the ALSJ and NASA, including the creators of the article and map – for over ten years. And if, as stated, it is not a model problem, then there is really no necessity to redraw the 2012 model. Redrawn, but not deemed worthy of the ALSJ, indicates that such a correction to the text and the map would be to acknowledge the problem raised by Korobkov. Finally, attacking those who disagree on an ad hominem basis would infer that the scientific facts are not stacking up sufficiently well for those attempting to wield them as the ultimate weapon.10

The many issues with the Apollo record polarises those questioning and those defending, both sides convinced of the validity of their own arguments. When examining this particular academic spat, the sequence of events and the problems noted here suggest that the mathematical analysis of the shadows in the Apollo 11 EVA photographs by Dr. Korobkov has generated yet another round of back engineering and fire fighting – both at NASA and within the halls of academe.

Aulis Online, July 2022


In August 2022 we received an objection to this report from Vladislav Pustynski for not fully presenting the scientific data. As is made very clear in the article – the key point of this report on two published versions of this academic squabble is to focus on the politics of the peer review process.


End notes

1. Mikhail Vyacheslavovich Korobkov, mathematician. Master of Science in Mathematics with honours, Novosibirsk State University, Russia, 1999. Doctor of Philosophy, Sobolev Institute of Mathematics, Novosibirsk, Russia, 2002. Senior Research Fellow Sobolev Institute of Mathematics, and Assistant Professor Novosibirsk State University, since 2002. Full professor School of Mathematical Sciences Fudan University Shanghai, China. Achievements include research in stability of Lipschitz solutions to partial differential relations and geometric description of the gradient ranges of differentiable mappings; research in Lagrange mean-value formula for vector-valued functions. Recipient A.D. Alexandrov prize, Siberian branch Russian Academy of Sciences, 2005.

2. Astronomicheskii vestnik (Astronomical Bulletin) is a scientific journal of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR; organ of the All-Union Astronomical and Geodesical Society (VAGO). It has been published since 1967 in Moscow and is issued four times a year. It is the successor to Biulleten’ VAGO, which was published from 1939 to 1941 and from 1947 to 1965. The basic subject matter of the journal is the nature of the bodies of the solar system. It publishes surveys, scientific articles, and notes on the results of astronomical observations. It is reprinted in the USA in English under the title Solar System Research.

д. ф.-м. н. Коробков Михаил Вячеславович1

The abstract to Dr.Korobkov’s article reads: The work is devoted to the mathematical analysis of photographs taken during the "Apollo 11"EVA, in the context of the new version[2012]of the photogrammetric map of extravehicular activity of astronauts and official data on the azimuth and height of the Sun above the lunar horizon during the EVA. After taking into account photo-distortions and surface irregularities, a significant(30%)reduction in the shadows’length compared to the theoretical value was revealed. This 30% reduction is constant (with an error of ±1%) across all the EVA pictures analysed, despite the fact that the analysis was done on photographs of objects of different sizes and from different angles (taken at different times). To carry out this analysis, new, exact (not approximate) mathematical formulas for calculating the distortion of angles and proportions of lengths in photographs were established [by the author]. To demonstrate the accuracy and efficiency of these formulas in practical applications. Many examples are provided, using both the Apollo lunar photographic record and "terrestrial" photographs.

4. Vladislav V. Pustynski has written a short autobiography on the ALSJ Website.

5. This statement by V.P. was published on Zen-Yandex.ru. (Russian: Я́ндекс.Дзен) created by the Russian multinational internet search engine Yandex N.V. Zen, Launcher and Browser belong to the “Discovery” technology category (these are services and apps that use artificial intelligence to adapt to a user. Also known as machine learning technology, Zen creates a feed of content that automatically adjusts to the interests of a user based on the analysis of browsing history, user-specified preferences, location, time of day and other factors. Any company, internet publication, or independent author can create their own channels in Yandex Zen. Several Western digital companies have developed their own models of this technology. Google, Apple and Facebook have all launched their own versions of a similar service and the technology that underlies Zen has been adapted by Yandex and CERN, where it is used for in-depth analysis of the results of the experiments taking place at the Large Hadron Сollider in Geneva, Switzerland.

6. This map description published on Janaury 1, 2014, in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 67, Issue 10 was part of an eight-page article (pp 390-398) by Pustynski and Jones titled Photogrammetry of Apollo 11 Surface Imagery.

7. Claryfying the sequence of photogrammetry on the ALSJ: The dating on this site is confusing: The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal published an article on photogrammetry by Vladislav Pustynski and Eric M. Jones. with a copyright 2010. The V.P. ‘new map’ is dated 2012. Which does not fit with the actual title of the article: Photogrammetric Analysis of Apollo 11 Imagery: New camera-station map with improved locations. Last revised 16 December 2013. and there is a PDF version of the January 24 2012 map seen in Fig 2 here.

8. Vladislav V. Pustynski’s rebuttal of the Korobkov account. Part 1
Mathematician Korobkov vs Science: 0 : 1. Part 2

9. The analysis by V.P. (his blog part two) is sloppy and faulty in many respects. To mention a few: when discussing the azimuth, tilt and the triangle formed by the flag pole and the lunar surface, he wittingly conflates the solar wind collector’s stem (SWC) with the flagpole. Degree signs seem not to be a necessity nor accuracy when it comes to measurement. The sketch in Fig 5, illustrating a principle, is problematic. The referenced alpha angles are found to be of different values than those cited in the caption. And in this caption he refers to ‘photographs’, but follows this with Fig 6, which features geometry inadequately drawn onto screengrabs. Verifying the annotated angles in Fig 6 reveals that again, these do not match the actual values he established through geometry. And lastly, the shadows in Fig 6 screengrabs clearly indicate that the Sun is coming from the left of frame and equally clearly the axis of the flagpole is tilted slightly off the vertical – away from the light source. Thereby contradicting the principles he set out in Fig.5.

To this day, the data in the ALSJ states:
The pole of the SWC experiment is close to vertical and we used its direction as z-axis. To estimate its deviation from the true vertical, we measured the angle at its tip between the pole and the solar rays forming the shadow of the tip. An average value of 72.9 deg was obtained (this angle is measured with error since the solar elevation angle slightly changed during EVA). If the pole had actually been vertical, the measured value would have been 90-14.7 = 75.3 deg, 14.7 deg being the mean solar elevation angle during EVA. The difference between 75.3 and 72.9 gives an estimate of a 2.4 degrees western tilt of the pole.” [emphasis added]

Flag pole east-west tilt: Using four EVA photos - 5884, 5905, 5920, and 5925, hotogrammetry [sic] gives us the positions of the top and bottom of the flag pole and of the tip of the flag shadow. Trigonometry then gives the angle at the top of the pole between the pole and the line to the tip of the shadow as 73.2 degrees. If the pole were perfectly vertical, the angle would be 90 minus the solar elevation. At the times the four photos were taken, the solar elevations were 14.661, 14.763, 14.797, and 14.822, respectively. [over a period of 19 minutes, 42 seconds note] The average is 14.76 so that, in the case of a perfectly vertical pole, the angle at the top of the pole would be 75.24. The difference between that value and the photogrammetrically-determined value of 73.2 indicates that the pole was titled [sic] about 2 degrees to the west.” [emphasis added]

The ALSJ article continues: During a post-flight press conference Neil said "We had some difficulty, at first, getting the pole of the flag to remain in the surface. In penetrating the surface, we found that most objects would go down about 5, maybe 6, inches and then it would meet with a gradual resistance. At the same time, there was not much of a support force on either side, so we had to lean the flag back slightly in order for it to maintain this position." [emphasis added]

Having earlier asserted that the flag is pointing in a south easterly direction by some 24 degrees, the ALSJ then states: “With the flag pointing in an easterly direction, they would have tilted it in a westerly direction to get the center of mass closer to being over the bottom of the pole. The photogrammetrically-determined tilt is certainly in the right direction. Any north-south tilt would be small.” [emphasis added]

10. Note: Relative to the depth of insertion of the flagpole, V.P. references vexillogist Anne Platoff specialist on the Apollo flag, (5-9 inches) while quoting Armstrong’s press conference figure of 5-6 inches. He ignores Aldrin’s insertion figure of about 2 inches and ends up plumping for an insertion of 7 inches in the lunar soil. For more on the issues of the Apollo 11 site and that flagpole see this column article by Jarrah White.

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