Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012)

Neil Armstrong, a modern explorer and (more importantly for us at IP) the first photographer on the Moon, is dead, aged 82. 

As the primary photographer of the first successful manned lunar mission, Neil Armstrong appeared very infrequently in the photos he took on the Moon [1]. Yet, he was everywhere on the Sea of Tranquility during that short 2 hour 36 minutes sojourn; a bootprint here, a reflection there, and his larger-than-life shadow intimately looming behind the viewer in many photos.

Two men were equipped with four special Hasselblad 70mm cameras, two 16mm data acquisition cameras and one 35mm close-up stereoscopic camera. Altogether, they took 232 color and 107 black and white photographs on the surface of the moon. The cameras were left on the Moon to make room for lunar samples. The Hasselblads were fitted with a reseau plate — a piece of engraved glass between the lens and the film that add cross-hatches to the photos — in order to help NASA analyze the films later by creating a grid. In that event, many of the frames remained in NASA archives, until a project to digitize them was completed in 2004.

As for Neil Armstrong, I will send him off by paraphrasing Richard Nixon/William Safire:

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood. Neil Armstrong was one such man.

In his exploration, he stirred the people of the world to feel as one, and bound more tightly the brotherhood of man.

He will be mourned by his family and friends; he will be mourned by his nation; he will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send one of her sons into the unknown.

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[1] Hopefully, I won’t die of heart attack in next couple of days as I fume over news agencies mislabeling Buzz Aldrin as Neil Armstrong in those lunar photos. 

Buzz Adrin salutes American Flag

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Conspiracy theorists suggested that NASA asked Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001: A Space Odessey a year prior, to direct the ‘fake’ lunar landings. They have no problems with subsequent landings, but Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon walk was–and still is–a lie to them.

They say the U.S. government, desparate to beat the Russians, faked the lunar landings; Saturn V rocket with Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin was lunched but they were immediately transferred into a landing module, and they acted out their mission on a secret film set, located either in the Hollywood Hills or in Area 51. With the photos and videos of the Apollo missions only available through NASA, there’s no independent verification that the lunar landings were anything but a hoax. NASA’s losing and careless guardianship of those tapes didn’t help either.

Conspiracy aficionados pointed the above instance of Aldrin planting a waving American flag on the moon as the smoking gun. The flag’s movement, they say, clearly shows the presence of wind, which is impossible in the vacuum. NASA says that Aldrin was twisting the flag pole to get the moon soil, which caused the wire-framed flag to move. In above picture, the Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible in the soil of the moon. Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander, took this picture with a 70mm Hasselblad lunar surface camera.

Astronauts have brought back hundreds of independently verified moon rocks, but theorists claimed these rocks come from moon meteors NASA had collected in the polar regions. Theorists have even suggested that Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White, Roger B. Chaffee — three astronauts who died in a fire while testing equipment for the first moon mission — were executed by the U.S. government, which feared they were about to disclose the truth.

Far-fetched as the hoax theory may seem, a 1999 Gallup poll showed that it’s comparatively durable: 6% of Americans said they thought the lunar landings were fake and 5% said they were undecided. They inspired the 1978 conspiracy thriller, Capricorn One about faked Martian landings.

Apart from the conspiracies aside, the first flag that flew on the Moon was also drenched in history and lore. Putting a U.S flag on the Moon was sensitive because it had to sidestep a law banning appropriation of the outer space and celestial bodies.  A $5.50 flag was brought from a convenience store, and was fitted with wire frames. However, a wrong coating prevented frames from extending fully, thus creating a rippled effect. Now, six U.S. flags fly on the Moon, all with frames that didn’t extend fully because NASA liked the accidental effect.