Putting “Far Side of the Moon” In Context



Having just watched “Far Side of the Moon,” the episode of Hangar 1 dealing with an alleged alien presence on the moon, I felt it important to add counterpoints to various assertions put forth by some who appeared on the show. I recognize that Hangar 1 is intended more as a source of entertainment rather than a documentary program, but such context remains valuable. Also, it is important to remember that MUFON is a very large and diverse organization. There is room and tolerance for many voices.

I won’t address everything, but I will look into the allegations that the crew of Apollo 11 observed alien spacecraft and reported back to NASA in a broadcast censored by the government. I will also discuss the associated claim that the Apollo 11 spacecraft was shadowed by a UFO.

Alec Merta and Space Shuttle Discovery

Alec and Shuttle Discovery

By way of background, I am a die-hard space aficionado. I have studied the space program in general and the Apollo program in particular for nearly twenty years. I have been to the Kennedy Space Center several times, and I have even camped out there in order to record launches.

So I was intrigued to hear the contributors to Hangar 1 saying that Neil Armstrong had allegedly observed UFOs on the moon. I was even more surprised by the assertion that two minutes of audio broadcast from the moon was ‘lost’ and perhaps censored in order to cover-up this startling development.

Cards on the table: I don’t believe a word of it.

Point of Context 1: Eavesdropping on the Moon

The first assertion I take issue with was that ham radio operators on Earth picked up the unedited broadcast which included the alleged alien-related communication from the crew back to Houston. Here is, more or less, what internet pundits claim Armstrong said:

These babies are huge, sir … enormous….Oh, God, you wouldn’t believe it! I’m telling you there are other space craft out there… lined up on the far side of the crater edge… they’re on the moon watching us.

Before examining the technical side of this, I point out the use of the word ‘sir’ does not feel right. During the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs (and beyond, as it happens), the crews on every mission communicated to Houston through a single person back on Earth. This person held the position of Capsule Communicator, lovingly known as CAPCOM.

CAPCOM duty was shared by a number of people throughout missions. These sometimes changed along with the flight controller shifts (white team, gold team, etc.), but not always. What was always so was that the person in the role of CAPCOM was another astronaut. Why? Because NASA felt an astronaut was best qualified to understand what he was hearing and communicate (or translate if need be) that information to the engineers manning the flight control stations.

During the relevant portions of Apollo 11, there were four official CAPCOMs. These were:

  • Charlie Duke (Landing CAPCOM)
  • Owen K. Garriott (Post-Landing and Goodnight CAPCOM)
  • Bruce McCandless (EVA CAPCOM)
  • Ron Evans (LM Launch CAPCOM)

Every one of these individuals was an astronaut. Some sources indicate that other unofficial CAPCOMs filled the role for brief period, but as far as I can see all of these were also astronauts. (For the record, these names include Don Lind, Ken Mattingly, Harrison Schmitt, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders, and Fred Haise.)

Being military and ex-military, Apollo astronauts did not use the word ‘sir’ lightly. They would have applied it to those who deserved it, and they would have done so reflexively. They would likely not have referred to fellow astronauts as ‘sir.’

A small point? Perhaps. Conclusive? Hardly. I only say that, as a person who regularly drives around listening to recordings of Apollo air-to-ground communications, I can tell you it does not feel right.

Update: A kind and studious reader pointed out some examples of the Apollo 11 astronauts using the word ‘sir’ in communications with CAPCOM. After reviewing the Apollo air-to-ground transcripts, I did note some instances where the astronauts used the word ‘sir’ when speaking to CAPCOM. However, as far as I can see, these examples were limited to (possibly reflexive) phrases like “yes, sir,” “no, sir,” and “thank you, sir.” These are worth pointing out, but I remain convinced that the use of the word ‘sir’ as alleged in the above quote still does not feel right. I want to stress that this is a feeling, not a concrete fact.

As for actually listening to the feeds from the moon, I turn to an article written by Professor Chris M. Graney of Jefferson Community & Technical College, which operates the Otter Creek/South Harrison observatories. The article can be found here.

Graney writes about a man from Louisville, Kentucky, named Larry Baysinger. Baysinger, according to Graney, “[A]ccomplished an amazing feat. He independently detected signals from the Apollo 11 astronauts on the lunar surface.”

Baysinger was a technician for a local Louisville radio station. As he related to Graney, the idea an Apollo lunar eavesdropping project arose “because in the late 1960’s he was an amateur radio astronomer with an interest in NASA, in astronomy, in UFOs, and in other such things that were hot topics at a time when America was on the verge of landing its first men on the moon.” Baysinger experimented with satellite tracking and capturing pictures of Earth transmitted from weather satellites, and he evidently had some success in these matters. To wit, he was able to print out crude images from weather satellites using an impact printer that printed using carbon paper.

Importantly, Baysinger wanted to eavesdrop on the Apollo mission so that he “might independently verify the information that NASA had been providing about the Apollo program.” In other words, he wanted to get “unedited, unfiltered information about the Apollo 11 landing by eavesdropping on the radio signals transmitted from the lunar surface[.]”

He wanted to find out things that NASA did not want the public to know about.

Let’s return to one of the Hangar 1 assertions. In the episode, it is asserted that ham radio operators all over the world picked up on the un-edited Apollo transmission. Sounds easy, right? Just set up your ham rig and aim for the man in the moon.

And yet, when Baysinger began his project, any potential success he might have was considered to be “a great technical accomplishment.” Indeed, “Various local experts said that it could not be done.”

Here is a full quote from the article:

On the night of the Apollo 11 eavesdropping effort, Baysinger said he and [Glenn] Rutherford had to essentially ‘bore-sight’ the antenna on the moon – aim it by getting behind it and sighting it like a gun. This was difficult since the weather was cloudy and the moon not easily visible. The antenna, which was originally built as a radio telescope to look at naturally occurring radio sources in space, had a motorized steering mechanism but it had to be manually guided. Its ‘beam’ or ‘field of view’ was such that, once pointed at the moon, it could be let go for a little while, but pretty soon it would have to be re-aimed because the Earth’s rotation caused the moon to drift out of the field and the signal to be lost. In fact, this was one piece of evidence that, once the receiver started picking up Apollo 11 signals, the signals were indeed from the moon – if the antenna was not kept aimed at the moon, the signal disappeared.

The last line is of particular note to those who cling to absurd hoaxed moon landing theories, but I digress.

During the landing, Baysinger and his associate listened on Baysinger’s rig while his wife and daughter watched the landing on television. Clearly they wanted to hear Walter Cronkite and see the unprecedented video broadcast.

So was there a two-minute delay as asserted in Hangar 1?

The signal on the home-built equipment came through approximately 5-10 seconds earlier than the signal on TV. Baysinger figures NASA or the TV network [I assume it was probably CBS] put in a delay in case they needed to edit out anything embarrassing.

Emphasis added.

This alone debunks the entire allegation that a two-minute communication gap could be manufactured on the fly with none of the people on Earth being any the wiser. It could not have happened.

For more on the Apollo Ground Support Control infrastructure and process, check out this article.

So did Baysinger hear anything we did not?

[Prof. Graney] asked Baysinger whether he found anything that NASA edited out – comments about things going wrong, the astronauts being loose with their language, or exclamations about meeting aliens! He said no – absolutely everything was transmitted to the public on TV. In fact he said, ‘that was kind of disappointing.’ Part of the idea of this project was to hear the unedited ‘real story,’ and it turned out there was nothing edited out.

What about people other than Baysinger and Rutherford?

Various Google/EBSCO/JSTOR searches have convinced me that there certainly were not a lot of amateur radio astronomers eavesdropping on Apollo transmissions. An enquiry I made via the HASTRO-L history of astronomy e-mail listserver did turn up the web page of Sven Grahn. Grahn and Dick Flagg apparently received some signals from Apollo 17 command module in orbit around the moon, although the voice signals they received were limited to two small sentence fragments and they were using a large dish to receive the signals.

A German radio observatory also recorded signals from the Moon, and their recording shares a number of things in common with Baysinger’s…. I made inquiries with a number of people in the radio community, none of whom knew of anything comparable to Baysinger’s work. These include Zack Lau, Senior Lab Engineer for the ARRL (the national association for amateur radio) and their QST magazine, who responded to an e-mail I sent to QST to say that they have no record of anyone picking up signals from Apollo 11; Rachel Baughn, editor of Monitoring Times magazine, who responded to an e-mail I sent to Monitoring Times that had no information on this sort of thing; and Jim Sky of Radio-Sky Journal who responded to an e-mail Henry Sipes sent to him – again, no additional information.

Phil Plait featured Baysinger’s work on his Bad Astronomy blog. His readers posted many comments, but no definite information. In general, people seem to be aware that amateur radio enthusiasts and radio astronomers listened in on Apollo missions. But what was heard, whether the signals were received from the Moon or just from the Apollo spacecraft when they were in Earth orbit, and so forth is an open question. What truly makes Baysinger’s work unique is that it was recorded in print at the time, and that he not only received but recorded extensive audio, much of which has survived to this day. If someone else did succeed in eavesdropping on NASA, but no record was ever made, and that someone is no longer around, we will not know about it.

Point of Context 2: Tailgating the Apollo Spacecraft

A lot has been made about astronaut reports of seeing UFOs whilst in space. I will limit this discussion to the assertion that the Apollo 11 crew observed and reported a UFO during their long coast to the moon.

Here’s the nub of the argument (from an article on the website OpenMinds):

In an interview on the Science Channel in 2005, Apollo astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin said that the crew of the famous Apollo 11 mission had seen a UFO on their way to the moon. However, later Aldrin would say that his words were taken out of context, even though his story was supported on the program by senior Apollo 11 scientist, Dr. David Baker. Aldrin has also made other strange statements that some believe allude to Aldrin knowing more about an extraterrestrial presence in space than he would like to share.

Here is what Aldrin said on a Reddit AMA:

On Apollo 11 in route to the Moon, I observed a light out the window that appeared to be moving alongside us. There were many explanations of what that could be, other than another spacecraft from another country or another world – it was either the rocket we had separated from, or the 4 panels that moved away when we extracted the lander from the rocket and we were nose to nose with the two spacecraft. So in the close vicinity, moving away, were 4 panels. And [I] feel absolutely convinced that we were looking at the sun reflected off of one of these panels. Which one? I don’t know. So technically, the definition could be ‘unidentified.’

We well understood exactly what that was. And when we returned, we debriefed and explained exactly what we had observed. And I felt that this had been distributed to the outside world, the outside audience, and apparently it wasn’t, and so many years later, I had the time in an interview to disclose these observations, on another country’s television network. And the UFO people in the United States were very[,] very angry with me, that [I] had not given them the information. It was not an alien. Extraordinary observations require extraordinary evidence. That’s what Carl Sagan said. There may be aliens in our Milky Way galaxy, and there are billions of other galaxies. The probability is almost CERTAIN that there is life somewhere in space. It was not that remarkable, that special, that unusual, that life here on earth evolved gradually, slowly, to where we are today.

And here is a video of Aldrin discussing the whole affair with Larry King.

 Point of Context 3: Lack of Qualified Sources

While not directly discussed on the episode, much of the “evidence” for the aliens-on-the-moon conspiracy theory comes from a small number of sources. Without going into too much detail, I will provide a quick run-down. Much of this information comes from this page.

Dr. Vladimir Azhazha is an alleged physicist and professor of mathematics at Moscow University who ‘confirmed’ that NASA censored a broadcast by Neil Armstrong reporting aliens on the moon.

Here is how one researcher analyzed this claim:

Assuming that ‘Moscow University’ is actually ‘Moscow State University’ (aka ‘Lomonosov Moscow State University’), I was unable to find any contact information for ‘Valdimir Azhazha’ on either the physics or math departments’ websites. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that he used to serve there and no longer does, but the only references to him I could find anywhere involve this and other UFO claims. Like so many other ‘famous’ scientists linked to UFOs, I suspect he never existed, or at least doesn’t have the positions that are claimed for him.

Here’s another claim:

Maurice Chatelain is an alleged former chief of NASA Communications Systems who ‘confirmed’ that Armstrong had indeed reported seeing two UFOs on the rim of a crater.

And the response:

This is similar to the [first] claim, except even easier to address. There is no such thing as ‘NASA Communications Systems,’ but Apollo did have a ‘Chief of Communications and Frequency Management.’ Unfortunately for this claim, that position was held by Paul A. Price…for Apollo 11.

As for whether Maurice worked for NASA at all – all I can find are counter-claims that he worked for a NASA sub-contractor and had been fired before Apollo 11 happened. Since I can’t find any definitive source either for or against, I have to leave that aspect of this open. However, it is certain he didn’t have the claimed position during Apollo 11.

Finally there is Otto Binder. Binder was a science-fiction writer who claimed that some ham radio operators had received the message from NASA in which Armstrong said he had seen other spacecraft. For a response to this, please see the above-presented discussion on Baysinger’s work.


Where does this leave us? Sadly, where things like this usually lead: a thrilling story with no evidence to back it up. Admittedly, proving a negative is no easy task. I do not claim to have done so here, but I do believe the alleged evidence for an alleged NASA cover-up of an alleged sighting of alleged alien spacecraft on the moon is utterly unpersuasive.

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One Comment

  1. 36SSB

    May 15, 2015

    Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t much of the communications done overseas in other counties? Australia etc
    This being the case how did these receivers relay their messages back to NASA? Could it be possible that the terrestrial relay communications were being intercepted by numerous receivers here on earth? In those days communications would have been analogue and in fairly basic modes. Also I seem to remember that NASA used to rebroadcast a lot of events live on different HF bands.
    Just a thought of mine, I try to keep an open mind on these matters.
    Oh, and to see how difficult it was to communicate in those days have a look at the movie “The Dish”.

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