Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Film expert: Why Moon landing hoax would’ve been impossible

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There’s nothing like a good debunking to start off your day (or evening, as it were). Here’s filmmaker S.G. Collins explaining exactly how and why it would’ve been impossible – or just ludicrously implausible, to be precise – for NASA to fake the 1969 Moon landing with the technology of the day:

Transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

S.G. COLLINS: This is why the moon hoax would’ve been impossible. Take one.


S.G. COLLINS: Did people go to the Moon in 1969? I’m not totally sure. I wasn’t on the Moon then.

Did they fake going to the Moon? No, I’m pretty sure they didn’t, because they couldn’t.

Some people say that in 1969, people were incapable of sending a man to the Moon, but that they were capable of staging the whole thing in a TV studio. In fact, the opposite is true. By the late 1960s, they did have the technical ability – not to mention the requisite madness – to send three guys to the Moon and back. But they did not have the technology to fake it on video.

Now, please understand: I’m not saying this to defend the honor of the United States. The U.S. Government lies all the time about all kinds of things, and if they haven’t lied to you today, maybe they haven’t had coffee yet.

So, it’s easy to believe the Apollo program was a lie, too, especially if you weren’t alive then and if you don’t know much about the technology profiles of the day. You see, the later you were born, the more “all-powerful” movie magic seems. Nowadays, it would be very easy to fake a Moon landing and we seem to have forgotten how to do it for real. Back then, it was the other way around. Really.

CAPTION: The apparent omnipotence of special visual effects increases linearly with your date of birth.

S.G. COLLINS: Ever since the 1920s, engineers were trying to improve liquid-fueled rockets and their guidance systems. They wanted to go to outer space; the people who were paying for it wanted better bombs. By 1943, Wernher von Braun’s people already had a fully functional rocket called the [?], later known as the V-2. After the war, the German rocket scientists went to work for two rival superpowers, who then went to insane lengths to outdo each other on the world stage. It was a global dick-wagging contest on a scale never before seen in human history. It’s fair to say that technology growth in the Cold War was mostly a competition in aerospace, rocketry and weapons science. That was the kind of engineering that people strove to excel in. And by the mid-’60s, limited space travel was a possibility, I think.

Meanwhile, film technology had gotten wider and television was still busy trying to be in color.

Now, here’s where the stories diverge. In one version, the Americans waste $20 billion to send three guys to the Moon, plant the plaque that says, “WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND,” and then go home to bomb Cambodia. In the more tantalizing version, NASA at some point realizes they just can’t. So, to avoid humiliation, they hire Stanley Kubrick to produce and direct a Moon landing telecast. You know, he did such a great job with 2001 (A Space Odyssey).

Years later, once the Apollo astronauts are starting to collect Medicare, some people get a lot of attention by pointing out flaws in the photographic evidence for Apollo. When you listen to them, they seem not to know very much about photography, or video, or lighting, or even perspective, and I think they’re hoping you don’t, either.

So, we should’ve seen stars in the sky? No, we shouldn’t. The camera was set to expose for broad daylight. If they were exposing for stars, then this picture would’ve looked more like this: [intensely overexposed Moon landing photo with visible stars in sky]

Hmm. Flag’s waving in the breeze? No, it isn’t. It’s wriggling in the vacuum after they let it go.

The shadows diverge unrealistically across the landscape? No, they don’t. Go outside sometime and see how shadows work.

They obviously used multiple light sources in this picture, right? No, they obviously didn’t. I’ve been shooting in a studio for about 30 years now. I know what to look for. When you shine two lights at something, you get two shadows. So this [photo of astronaut on the Moon with one shadow] would’ve looked more like this: [same photo altered with faint second shadow] But it doesn’t, ’cause this stuff was shot with a single light source. And if that light was anywhere near the action, you would’ve seen a fall-off in brightness across the terrain. You don’t, because the light source was 150 million kilometers away, too far away for the inverse square law to make a difference. Get it?

Etc., etc., blah blah blah.

The thing is, all these discussions are ignoring one simple point: In 1969, it was not yet possible technically to fake what we saw on TV. Why are people missing this? I think maybe they forget how primitive video was in 1969. I mean, it was an amazing achievement in electronics, but there was a lot they couldn’t do. Let me try to explain that.


S.G. COLLINS: The pivotal claim for the Apollo hoax theory, without which it all falls apart, is that what we saw on TV was slow-motion footage of astronauts running around in a film studio. ’Cause if it wasn’t slow motion, it couldn’t have happened on Earth, right?

Let’s talk about how slow motion works in film and video. There are two ways to make motion slow. One is you shoot it at normal speed and play it back slow, and the other is you shoot it fast and play it back normal. The second way is called overcranking. It looks smoother and more realistic because we’re sampling natural motion at a higher framerate.

But that means we would’ve had to shoot it on film using high-speed film cameras, right? Why? Because in 1969, there were no high-speed video cameras yet. The electronics just weren’t there.

Some people did have magnetic disc recorders that could capture normal-speed video and play it back slow. [Caption: Ampex HS-100 magnetic disc recorder] They used it for sports replays and could record up to 30 seconds. Play back at 10 FPS and you got a whopping 90 seconds of slow-mo.

I’m sticking with 10 frames per second because that was the video framerate for Apollo 11. They had a non-interlaced slow-scan TV camera specially made for them by Westinghouse. All the later missions were using regular NTSC cameras running at 29.97 FPS. That would be three times harder to fake. I’m trying to make this easy.

Keep in mind that when people today watch documentaries about the Apollo missions, they’re looking at the highlights. They’re looking at short clips cut together. And short clips are much easier to fake. But in July 1969, 600 million people, including me, were all staring at a continuous lunar telecast that went on for a long time. It was actually pretty boring sometimes. At 16 minutes into the EVA, they turned on the video camera. Four minutes later, you get your “one small step” frame, then Aldrin climbs out and they move the camera onto a tripod and proceed to do all their Moon-walking, flag-planting, photo-snapping and rock-picking. Then, Armstrong climbs back up into the lander and it’s over, by which time the video camera has been running for 143 minutes.

So, if we’re faking this with electronic slow-mo at 1/3 speed, we only need to record about 47 minutes of continuous live action video. Well, that’s a lot more than that Ampex disc recorder could hold. But NASA is special. Maybe they have a big disc recorder, right, in 1969. Okay, how much bigger? 95 times bigger? I don’t know, man. I mean, government agencies are powerful, but they’re not God.

Then again, they are NASA. Maybe they did have some special way to overcrank video in 1969 for an hour and a half. Maybe they had some top-secret high-speed electronics that the rest of the world never knew about. [Caption: Are they omnipotent or aren't they?]

Oh, wait a minute. No, you guys said that the navigation computers were too slow. I guess we can’t have it both ways. I mean, you can’t be fast and slow at the same time, right?

Wouldn’t it be easier to shoot this on film? I mean, in 1969, we already knew how to overcrank film. For Apollo 11, we only need to shoot 30 FPS and play it back at 10. Okay, let’s try that. I’d recommend you shoot on 35 mm to minimize the film grain. That’s what Kubrick would’ve done. Now, let’s see. Normal 35 mm runs at 90 feet per minute, but since we’re shooting at 30 FPS, it’ll be 112,5 feet per minute. We need 47 minutes of original film, so that’s about 5,300 feet. And of course, there’s no such thing as a film magazine that big. (Volkswagen?) But, if you shoot thousand-foot loads (it’s about that big), then you can do it in five mags.

Um … oh, wait, I can do this. You don’t want to see the splice marks where you put the reels together, ’cause then everybody would know it was a fake. And remember, we’re shooting for TV, so it’s 1:33 aspect ratio and not 1:85. So, that means you have to do A & B rolls. You have to cut the negative into A & B rolls and print them onto a 5,300-foot fine-grained interpositive, then cut an “answer print” in the film lab. And when you’re done, make sure everybody that works in the film lab dies mysteriously in a car crash.

Now, you just need to find a custom-designed telecine that can transfer your 5,300-foot “answer print” to video at 10 frames per second, pin-registered, of course. How hard can that be?

Of course, you need to be absolutely certain that in all that splicing and printing and transferring, none of the most common film artifacts have gotten onto your giant print: No base scratches, no emulsion flakes, no gate weave, no grain, and not one single fleck of dust, ’cause any one of those things will instantly betray that this is a hoax.

Okay, so you do that, and then you do it again for five more lunar missions. Only, those later missions, you have to play back at 30 FPS, meaning you have to shoot at, like, 60 FPS. Twice the torque, twice as many splices to keep clean, twice as much of a chance that the film’s gonna break in the camera.

You think maybe it would be easier to just go to the Moon?

Hmm. I don’t really know if that’s possible. Like I said, I wasn’t on the Moon in 1969 and neither were you. I can tell you that in 1969, it was not possible technically to fake what we saw on TV. Sorry. Kubrick or no Kubrick.

Why does any of this matter? Well, my concern is with the fate of knowing. Seeing the difference between what we can know and what you wish for. Because that’s what puts the sapiens in Homo sapiens. Without that, you’re just another Homo. [Note: Collins meant this strictly in the “non-sapient hominid” sense, and later apologized for any unintended offense caused in “some parts of the world” where people still think being gay is a bad thing. — JM]

The urge to believe drives people to trade in part of their soul in exchange for the comfort of being a rebel. Okay … but that step from knowing that you’ve been lied to to believing that everything else is a lie is a big step. Once you’re forced to hypothesize whole new technologies to keep your conspiracy possible, then you’ve stepped over into the realm of magic. It demands a deep and abiding faith in things you can never know. It’s like you need to cling to your belief system with all your might against the overwhelming evidence of your own rational mind, and some people do.

What’s dangerous about that is that it blinds you to the real conspiracies that authorities are perpetuating on you right now. As we speak. Things that are a lot more important than whether some guys went to the Moon. I’m not America, but if I were, I would much rather have you be questioning Apollo 11 and not questioning the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War, the financial industry bailouts, and the right to indefinite military detention without charge. Those things are real.

Thank you for watching. Excellent, my cheque came from NASA …

I would also refer viewers to the excellent MythBusters Moon landing special, which further confirms Collins’ arguments and also addresses claims about supposedly impossible luminosity and the shape of the astronauts’ footprints in lunar soil.

And for those who question why it was possible to land on the Moon but not fake the video in 1969, consider that today, film technology has advanced to the point where we can present entire photo-realistic virtual worlds on the silver screen, yet our best answer to the common cold is to lay in bed and wait it out. Different scientific arenas simply don’t progress at the same rate, and it’s foolish to argue that our ability to accomplish one supposedly simple task but not another implies some hidden skullduggery. Then again, people who buy into such silly conspiracy theories generally aren’t the most rational sort to begin with.

(via The Daily Grail)