Neil Armstrong (1930-2012): A Child of Apollo Salutes His First Hero

This footprint in the sand will stand the test of time and elements….

In her debut novel The Moon in the Water (2009), Lankan author Ameena Hussein uses a memorable line to describe her protagonist’s many dilemmas: “Her generation had the burden of being the link between the old world and the new. Between pre-man in the moon and post. Between letters and email.”

I’m as much a part of that in-between generation as her character Khadeeja. Rather than being a burden, however, I find it an extremely privileged vantage point to have been. There will never be another generation like ours that straddled two worlds…

For many of us who experienced it, the Apollo 11 ‘Moon shot’ will be among our most indelible memories. Among the various labels I can choose from those tumultuous times, I consider myself a Child of Apollo.

And the boyish, blue-eyed Neil Armstrong (already 39 when he went to the Moon) was my first hero.

These are excerpts from my personalised tribute to Armstrong, who signed off for good on 25 August 2012. In it, I reflect on how the first Moon Landing influenced me personally at the tender age of 3, and recall the very different times in which we lived our lives on the other side of the planet from where Apollo missions were taking off.

It’s a light-hearted, nostalgic and essentially personal tribute, not at all an academic or polemical discussion of the Cold War politics that inspired the Great Space Race. But I do touch on what it meant to be part of history’s first Big Media Moment that was shared in real time by 600 million TV viewers and another few dozen million radio listeners worldwide.

If Neil was originally a hero to me for riding atop the world’s greatest fireworks machine and taking that Giant Leap for Mankind, he is a hero for me now for what he chose to do with his life upon his return.

Read full essay: A Child of Apollo Salutes His First Hero: Remembering Neil Armstrong

O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.”
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.

– T. S. Eliot

Neil Armstrong – Driven by a sense of wonder, did his job quietly and well

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සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #57: ශ්‍රී ලංකාවට හඳ අහිමි වූ සැටි

This is the Sinhala text of my Ravaya newspaper column published on 11 March 2012. Today I write about How Sri Lanka Missed the Moon. I wrote an English article in July 2009 covering the same ground, but this is NOT a translation. I don’t do translations.

‘විශ්වයේ අන්තිම සිංහල වචනය’ මැයෙන් මා පසුගිය සතියේ ලියූ කොලමට ප‍්‍රතිචාර කිහිපයක් ලැබුණා. අමෙරිකානු වොයෙජර් අභ්‍යවකාශ යානා ලෝකයේ භාෂා 55කින් විශ්වයට යැවෙන කෙටි පණිවුඩ ඇතුළත් රන් ආලේපිත තඹ තැටියක් රැගෙන උඩුගුවන්ගත කොට වසර 35ක් ගත වී තිබෙනවා. පිටසක්වල ජීවීන්ට යොමු කෙරුණු ඒ සන්නිවේදනයේ සිංහලෙන් ‘ආයුබෝවන්’ කීමට අහම්බෙන් තෝරා ගත් ලාංකිකයා ගැන ඇතැම් අයට ප‍්‍රශ්න මතු වී තිබෙනවා.

සිංහල කථා කරන සැම වෙනුවෙන් විශ්වය ඇමතීමේ වරප‍්‍රසාදය ලැබුණේ කාටද – ඒ තීරණය නිල නොවන මට්ටමින් අමෙරිකානු සරසවියක් ගත්තේ කෙලෙසද – එය අමෙරිකානු අධිපතිවාදයේ ම තවත් උදාහරණයක් ද – ආදී වශයෙන් ඇතැම් පාඨකයන් මා සමග තර්ක කළා.

නාසා (NASA) මූලාශ‍්‍රවලින් තොරතුරු උකහාගෙන වාර්තා කිරීම හැරෙන්නට ඒ ගැන විනිශ්චයක් දීමට මා උත්සාහ කළේ නැහැ. නමුත් එයට අට වසරකට පෙර සඳ තරණය සම්බන්ධයෙන් නිල වශයෙන් ම ලංකා නියෝජනයක් ලබා ගන්නට අමෙරිකානු රජය ගත් උත්සාහයක් ගැන තවත් කථාවක් අද මගේ තේමාවයි.

අවධාරණය කළ යුතු එක් කරුණක් නම් නාසා යනු ලෝක අභ්‍යවකාශ එජන්සියක් නොව අමෙරිකාවේ ජාතික ගගන හා අභ්‍යවකාශ අධිකාරිය බවයි. අමෙරිකානු ජනයාගේ බදු මුදලින් පවත්වා ගෙන යන ඒ රාජ්‍ය ආයතනය වග කියන්නේ එරට රජයට හා ජනතාවටයි. හැකි අවස්ථාවල මානව වර්ගයා ම උදෙසා අභ්‍යවකාශ ගවේෂණ කටයුතුවල යෙදීමට උත්සාහ කළත් එසේ කිරීමට නාසා ආයතනයට නීතිමය බැදීමක් නැහැ. නමුත් අභ්‍යවකාශ ගවේෂණයේ යෙදෙන අනෙකුත් රටවල් (රුසියාව, ජපානය, යුරෝපා රටවල්, ඉන්දියාව හා චීනය) සමග නාසා සහයෝගයෙන් ක‍්‍රියා කරනවා.

1969 ජුලි 20 වනදා ඇපලෝ 11 යානයෙන් ගිය අමෙරිකානු අජටාකාශගාමීන් (නීල් ආම්ස්ට්‍රෝං සහ එඞ්වින් ඔල්ඞ්රින්) මුල් වරට සද මතු පිට පා තැබූ ඓතිහාසික අවස්ථාවේ එය අමෙරිකාවේ පමණක් නොව මුළු මානව වර්ගයාගේ ම ජයග‍්‍රහණයක් ලෙස හුවා දැක්වීමට නාසා ආයතනය කටයුතු කළා. ඒ දෙදෙනා සඳ මතුපිට තැන්පත් කළ ඵලකයේ (ඉංග‍්‍රීසියෙන්) මෙසේ සඳහන් වුණා. “1969 ජුලි මාසයේ පෘථිවියේ සිට පැමිණි මානවයෝ මුල් වරට සඳට පා තැබුවෝය. මුළු මිනිස් සංහතියට සාමය පතා ගෙන මෙහි ආවෙමු.” එහි අත්සන් හතරක් තිබුණා: ඇපලෝ 11 අජටාකාශගාමීන් තිදෙනා සහ එවකට අමෙරිකානු ජනාධිපති රිචඞ් නික්සන්ගේ.

මාධ්‍ය හරහා විශාල ප‍්‍රසිද්ධියක් ලද මේ ඵලකයට අමතරව ඇපලෝ 11 ගොඩ බැසි හඳ නිසල මුහුදේ තැන්පත් කළ තවත් සිහිවටනයක් තිබුණා. එය අමෙරිකානු සත 50ක කාසියක් (අපේ සත 50 ට සමාන) තරම් වූ සිලිකන් තැටියක්. එහි ඉතා කුඩා ප‍්‍රමාණයට (miniaturized) සටහන් කර තිබුණේ මේ මුල් ම සඳ ගමනට ලෝකයේ එවකට සිටි නායකයන් 73 දෙනකුගෙන් ලද සුභාශිංසන පණිවුඩයි.

මිනිසුන් සඳ ට යවා නිරුපද්‍රිතව ආපසු ගෙන්වා ගැනීමේ දැවැන්ත ඇපලෝ වැඩපිළිවෙල 1961 සිට ක‍්‍රියාත්මක වූවා. රුසියාව (එවකට සෝවියට් දේශය) සමග මහා අභ්‍යවකාශ තරගයක නියැලී සිටි අමෙරිකාව ඒ සඳහා ඉතිහාසයේ විශාලතම තාක්‍ෂණික ප‍්‍රයත්නය හා මුදල් ආයෝජනය කළා. එහි මල්ඵල ගැන්වෙන 1969 ජුලි මාසයට සති කිහිපයකට පෙර එවකට නාසා අධිපති වූ තොමස් පෙන්ට ලෝක නායකයන්ගේ පණිවුඩ ලබා ගැනීමේ අදහසක් ආවා.

එරට විදේශ අමාත්‍යාංශය වන රාජ්‍ය දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ අනුමැතිය එයට ලැබුණේ 1969 ජුනි මුලදී. ඇපලෝ 11 උඩුගුවන්ගත වීම නියමිතව තිබුණේ ජුලි 16දා. මේ නිසා සති කිහිපයක් තුළ හැකි තාක් රටවලින් පණිවුඩ ලබා ගන්නට නාසා ආයතනයත්, රාජ්‍ය දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවත් උත්සුක වුණා.

එවකට එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ සංවිධානයේ සාමාජිකත්වය ලද රටවල් 127ක් තිබුණා (දැන් 193යි). ඒ අතරින් වොෂිංටන් නුවර තානාපති කාර්යාල තිබූ රටවල් 116කට මේ ආරාධනය යොමු වුණා. අද මෙන් ෆැක්ස්, ඊමේල් හෝ වෙනත් දියුණු සන්නිවේදන ක‍්‍රම නොතිබූ ඒ කාලයේ ටෙලෙක්ස් හා ටෙලිෆෝන් මගින් සිදු කළ රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත‍්‍රික සබඳතාවලට යම් කාලයක් ගත වුණා. අන්තිමේදී රටවල් 72ක නායකයන්ගෙන් සුභ පැතුම් ලැබී ඒවා ඇපලෝ 11 සිලිකන් තැටියේ අන්තර්ගත කළා. අමෙරිකානු ජනාධිපතිගේ පණිවුඩයත් සමග මුළු සංඛ්‍යාව 73ක් වුණා.

තාක්‍ෂණය අද තරම් දියුණු නොවූ 1960 දශකයේ මෙබදු තැටියක් නිර්මාණය කිරීම ද අභියෝගයක් වුණා. ඒ සඳහා නාසා ආයතනයේ ඇනවුම පරිදි නව තාක්‍ෂණ ක‍්‍රමයක් අමෙරිකාවේ ස්ප‍්‍රාග් ඉලෙක්ටි‍්‍රක් සමාගම (Sprague Electric Company) නිපද වූවා. මෙයට සිලිකන් තෝරා ගත්තේ හඳ මතු පිට අධික උණුසුමට ඔරොත්තු දීම පිණිසයි. හැම රාජ්‍ය නායක ලිපියක් ම 200 වාරයක් කුඩා කොට ඒ තැටියට සුරක්‍ෂිතව ආලේප කළා. පරිගණකවල භාවිතා වන ක්ෂුද්‍ර පරිපථ (integrated circuits) මුද්‍රණය කිරීමේදී මේ තාක්‍ෂණය තවමත් යොදා ගන්නවා.

මේ ප‍්‍රයත්නයට අදාල සියළු ලිපි ගනුදෙනු හා ලියවිලි වොෂිංටනයේ කොංග‍්‍රස් පුස්තකාලයේ ලේඛනාගාරගතව තිබෙනවා. ඒවා පරිශීලනය කිරීමෙන් මේ සිලිකන් තැටියේ කථාව ගැන වෛද්‍ය ටහීර් රහ්මන් (Dr Tahir Rahman) නම් අභ්‍යවකාශ ඉතිහාසවේදියා 2007දී පොතක් ලියා පළ කළා.

1969 ජුනි-ජුලි කාලයේ ලෝක නායකයන් 73 දෙනකු කඩිමුඩියේ ලියූ පණිවුඩ හරහා ඒ වකවානුවේ පැවති චකිතයන් හා බලාපොරොත්තු ගැන දළ හැගීමක් ලැබෙන බව වෛද්‍ය රහ්මාන් කියනවා. මේ ගැන නාසා ආයතනයේ නිල ප‍්‍රවෘත්ති නිවේදනය බලන්න (සියළු රාජ්‍ය නායක පණිවුඩවල ඉංග‍්‍රීසි පරිවර්තන මෙහි තිබෙනවා) http://tiny.cc/MoonPR

සමහර නායකයන් ටයිප් කරන ලද ලියුම් එවන විට ඇතැම් දෙනකු තම අත්අකුරින් ම ලියා එව්වේ මේ ඓතිහාසික අවස්ථාවේ වැදගත්කම හොඳ හැටි තේරුම් ගත් නිසායි. (තවමත් සිහසුන දරණ) තායිලන්තයේ භූමිබෝල් අදුල්යාදෙජ් රජතුමා මේ ප‍්‍රයත්නය ගැන මුලින් වැඩි විස්තර ඉල්ලා සිටියා. එය ලැබුණු පසු අන්තිම මොහොතේ ඔහු පණිවුඩයක් දුන්නා. එදා පණිවුඩ දායක කළ රාජ්‍ය නායකයන් 73 දෙනාගෙන් තවමත් තනතුරේ සිටින්නේ තායිලන්තයේ රජතුමාත්, එංගලන්තයේ දෙවන එලිසබෙත් රැුජිනත් පමණයි.

එවකට ලෝකයේ පැවති සීතල යුද්ධයේදී සෝවියට් පිලේ සිටි රටවල් (ඇරැයුම් ලැබුණත්) මේ තැටියට පණිවුඩ දීමෙන් වැළකුණා. (රුමේනියාවේ නායක නිකලායි චෞචෙස්කු පමණක් තනි වැකියක පණිවුඩයක් එවා තිබුණා.) ආසියාවේ රටවල් රැසක් උද්‍යොගිමත් පණිවුඩ ලබා දුන්නා. ඒ අතර ජපානය, කොරියාව, පිලිපීනය, මැලේසියාව, ඉන්දියාව, පකිස්ථානය, ඇෆ්ගනිස්ථානය හා මාලදිවයින ද වූවා.

නමුත් මේ ඓතිහාසික අවස්ථාවේ නිල වශයෙන් එයට සහභාගි වීමට ලැබුණු ආරාධනය ශ්‍රී ලංකාව පිළිගත්තේ නැහැ! එවකට බලයේ සිටි ඩඞ්ලි සේනානායක අගමැතිවරයාගේ රජය කාරුණිකව මේ ඇරයුම ප‍්‍රතික්ෂේප කළා!

ඇපලෝ 11 උඩුගුවන්ගත කිරීමට පෙර දිනයේ අමෙරිකාවේ ශ්‍රී ලංකා තානාපති කාර්යාලය නාසා ප‍්‍රධානියාට ලියූ ලිපියේ හරය මෙයයි: පෙන් මහත්මයාණෙනි, (1969) ජුනි 23 දා ඔබ එවූ ලිපිය සම්බන්ධයෙනි. ශ්‍රී ලංකා අග‍්‍රාමාත්‍යවරයාගේ පණිවුඩයක් ද සඳ මතු පිට තැන්පත් කිරීම සඳහා නාසා ආයතනයෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටීම ගැන ස්තුතිවන්ත වන අතර, මේ අවස්ථාවේ එබදු පණිවුඩයක් නිකුත් නොකිරීමට ලක් රජය තීරණය කර ඇති බව දැනුම් දෙමු.”

එයට අත්සන් කර ඇත්තේ එවකට වොෂිංටන් නුවර ශ්‍රී ලංකා තානාපති කාර්යාලයේ දෙවැනියා ලෙස ක‍්‍රියා කළ ඒ. ටී. ජයකොඩි නම් විදේශ සේවා නිලධාරියායි. ඔහු එසේ ලියුවේ කොළඹින් ලද උපදෙස් මත බව පැහැදිලියි. එහෙත් මේ ප‍්‍රතික්ෂේප කිරීමට හේතුව කුමක්දැයි කීම අපහසුයි.

දශක හතරකට පසු අපට කළ හැක්කේ ඒ ගැන අනුමාන කිරීම පමණයි. 2009 දී මේ ගැන ඉංග‍්‍රීසියෙන් ලිපියක් ලියන විට සිලිකන් තැටියේ කථාව ගවේෂණය කළ වෛද්‍ය රහ්මාන් සමග මා ඊමේල් සන්නිවේදනය කළා. ඔහු කීවේ අදාල සියළු ලිපි ගනුදෙනු පිරික්සීමෙන් පසුව වූවත් ලංකාව මේ අවස්ථාව මග හැරියේ ඇයිද යන්නට කිසිදු ඉගියක් ඔහුට සොයා ගත නොහැකි බවයි.

ඇපලෝ සඳ ගමන් ගැන අමෙරිකානු ටෙලිවිෂන් සජීව විකාශයන්ට කථනයෙන් සහභාගී වූ ආතර් සී ක්ලාක්ට වෛද්‍ය රහ්මාන් සිය පොතේ පිටපතක් එවා තිබුණා. ක්ලාක් මිය යන්නට වසරකට පමණ පෙර මා ඔහුගෙන් ද මේ ගැන විමසුවා. තමන් ඩඩලි සේනානායක අගමැතිවරයා හා ඔහුගේ ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ ඇමතිවරුන් දැන හදුනාගෙන සිටියත් මේ තීරණය ගැන කිසිවක් නොදත් බව ඔහු කීවා. ”සමහර වෙලාවට රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත‍්‍රික මට්ටමින් රටවල් ක‍්‍රියාකරන ආකාරය තර්කානුකූල නැහැ.” ඔහු ප‍්‍රකාශ කළා.

ඇපලෝ 11 සඳ ගමනට වසර 40 ක් පිරුණු 2009 ජුලි මාසයේ Groundviews.org වෙබ් අඩවියේ මේ ගැන මා ලියූ ලිපිය පළ වුණේ ”ලංකාවට හඳ අහිමි වූ සැටි” නම් හෙඩිම සමගයි. එයට පාඨක ප‍්‍රතිචාර රැසක් ලැබුණත් එකී තීරණයට පසුබිම් වූ හේතු සාධක මොනවාදැයි හෙළිදරව් වූයේ නැහැ. ඒ වෙනුවට මාතෘකාවට ඍජුව අදාල නොවන කාරණා ඇතැම් පාඨකයන් මතු කර තිබුණේ අපේ ඇත්තන්ගේ පටු මානසිකත්වය ලොවට ම පෙන්වා දෙමින්.

දිවයිනේ දැවෙන ප‍්‍රශ්න රැුසක් විසදීමේ අභියෝගයට මුහුණ දී සිටි ඩඞ්ලි රජයට හඳ මතුපිට තැන්පත් කැරෙන සිලිකන් තැටියක් ගැන සිතීමට ඉස්පාසුවක් නොතිබුණා විය හැකි යයි ඇතැම් පාඨකයෝ අනුමාන කළා. සෙනසුරාදා-ඉරිදා සති අන්තය වෙනුවට පෝය හා පෙරපෝය සති අන්තය බවට පත් කළ ඩඞ්ලි රජය, එවකට බෞද්ධ බලපෑම්වලට බොහෝ සේ නතුව සිටි නිසාත් සඳ ශුද්ධ වස්තුවක් ලෙස සළකා සඳ ගමන් ගැන විමතියෙන් හෝ සැකයෙන් හෝ පසු වන්නට ඇතිදැයි තවත් අය විමසුවා.

සඳ ගමන එවකට පැවති සීතල යුද්ධයේ එක් පෙරමුණක් වූ නිසා නොබැදි පිළිවෙතට අනුව යමින් අමෙරිකානු පිළට පක්‍ෂග‍්‍රාහී වීම නොමනා යයි එවකට විදේශ කටයුතු උපදේශකයන් සිතන්නට ඇත් ද? මේ තවත් තර්කයක්. (එහෙත් නොබැදි ජාතීන්ගේ පුරෝගාමියෙකු වූ යුගොස්ලාවියාවේ ජෝසිප් බ්‍රෝස් ටිටෝ ජනාධිපතිවරයාත් මේ තැටියට පණිවුඩයක් ලබා දුන්නා.)

අමෙරිකානුවන් සඳ තරණය කොට එය තවත් අමෙරිකානු ජනපදයක් කිරීමේ උත්සාහයක යෙදී සිටි නිසා ලක් රජය එයට සහභාගි නොවූවා යයි කියන උදවිය නොදන්නා සත්‍යයක් තිබෙනවා. තනි රටක් පෘථිවියෙන් බැහැර කිසිදු අභ්‍යවකාශ වස්තුවක් අයිති කර ගැනීම වළක්වන පිටසක්වල ගිවිසුම (Outer space Treaty) 1967 දී ජාත්‍යන්තර නීතියක් ලෙස ලෝකය පිළි ගත්තා. අද වන විට අභ්‍යවකාශ තරණයේ නියැලෙන සියළු රටවල් එයට බැදී සිටිනවා.

බි‍්‍රතාන්‍යයේ කේම්බි‍්‍රජ් සරසවියේ උගත්, බටහිර ලිබරල් ආකල්ප දැරූ ඩඞ්ලි සේනානායක අගමැතිවරයා අමෙරිකානු විරෝධියකු වූවා යයි සිතීම අපහසුයි. ඔහුගෙ රජය දේශපාලන වශයෙන් දක්‍ෂිනාංශික යැයි අපට සැළකිය හැකියි. සඳ තැටියට එක් නොවීමට ඊට වඩා තර්කානුකූල හේතුවක් ඔහුගේ රජයට තිබෙන්නට ඇති. එය කුමක් ද? මෙය කියවන පාඨකයකුවත් එයට ඉගියක් ලබා දෙයි ද?

මෙරටින් බිහි වූ ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨ බෞද්ධ නායකයකුට අවමන් කරනවා යයි මගේ ඉංග‍්‍රීසි ලිපියට ප‍්‍රතිචාර දැක් වූ එක් (නිර්නාමික) පාඨකයෙක් මගේ බ්ලොග් අඩවිය හරහා මට චෝදනා කළා. හඳට පණිවුඩ නොයැවුවාට ඩඞ්ලිගේ දේශපාලන ප‍්‍රතිරූපයේ අඩුවක් සිදු වී නැහැ. එහෙත් නිල වශයෙන් අභ්‍යවකාශ කටයුත්තකදී ලක් රජය සම්බන්ධ කර ගන්නට 1969දී ගත් උත්සාහය ව්‍යර්ථ වූ නිසා 1977දී වොයෙජර් යානාවල තැන්පත් කැරුණු හඩ තැටියට නිල නොවන මට්ටමින් විද්වත් දායකත්වයක් ලබා ගැනීම ගැන නාසා ආයතනයට දොස් තැබිය හැකි ද?

Buzz Aldrin at 80: Still blasting off imagination everyday

Moonwalker No 2

This is one of history’s most famous photographs – and also one that is frequently misidentified. The man behind the space mask is a pioneer Moon walker – but it’s not Neil Armstrong. It’s the Buzz Aldrin, the second Man on the Moon.

According to space historians, all the famous photos from the first Moon landing are actually of Aldrin, with Armstrong reflected in the visor. This is an occupational hazard for those who take photos!

Buzz, who celebrated his 80th birthday on January 20, remains active and publicly engaged as he has been for most of the past 40 years since the first Moon landing in July 1969.

I’m following Buzz on his Twitter feed, from which I find that he’s just back from a trip to Antarctica with a National Geographic cruise, was at the premiere for the movie Avatar in mid December, and is now busy promoting his latest autobiography, Magnificent Desolation.

On his 80th birthday, Buzz asked fans to donate US$8 ot 80 to the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund. And he will soon launch my iPhone App, Buzz Aldrin Portal to Science and Space Exploration.

This contrasts with Neil Armstrong, who is notoriously shy. He rarely speaks in public, turns down all media interviews and has also refused autograph requests since 1994.

Trained as an engineer, the two-time space traveller Buzz has been keeping up with new media pretty well. He has his own website, and launched his own YouTube channel only a month ago, where we can see his latest broadcast and film appearances. Through these and other means, he continues to promote causes like space exploration, science education and nurturing imagination.

To mark his 80th birthday, we present some of the many Buzz Aldrin videos available online.

First, here’s the moment when Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon, in a partial restoration by NASA Video

Here’s the DVD Promo Overview of the latest Buzz video:

On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 crew landing on the moon, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin shares his experience and predicts where man will go in the future. (Assciated Press video, 20 July 2009)

Buzz has long years of close association with popular culture. For example, the popular space ranger character Buzz Lightyear, in Pixar’s Toy Story movie series, is named after him. Apparently the film’s makers felt that he has “the coolest name of any astronaut.”

NASA video: Follow Buzz Lightyear on Spaceship Discovery

Finally, for comic relief, here’s the 2003 interview Buzz did with Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen) in the British comedy series Ali G in da USA, during which Ali G referred to him as Buzz Lightyear:

P.S.: If you prefer a more detached look at the man and his career:
The Guardian, July 2009: The Man who fell to Earth

Lights, Camera, Apollo: Did NASA and Hollywood co-produce Moon Landings?

Is this how it really happened? Just kidding!

Is this how it really happened? Just kidding!

When NASA announced last week that they were working with a leading digital imaging company in Hollywood to remaster the original Apollo 11 Moon walk video footage, I told myself: that’s one more cannon to the conspiracy theorists!

Everyone would welcome a quality improvement in those murky, grainy moving images capturing humanity’s grand achievement. But the choice of Lowry Corporation, best known for restoring old Hollywood films, could fuel the fire of conspiracy theorists who argue that the entire Moon landing was faked by NASA with the connivance and participation of Hollywood. They believe that the entire Apollo programme – that landed people on the moon six times between 1969 and 1972 – was staged on a movie set or secret military base.

This link didn’t bother Richard Nafzger, the NASA engineer who oversaw television processing at the ground-tracking sites during the Apollo 11 mission, and now involved in their restoration. “This company is restoring historic video. It mattered not to me where the company was from,” Nafzger was quoted as saying.

Technically and officially, NASA is right. The US space agency has always dismissed the conspiracy theorists, and not spent much time discussing the outrageous idea. As it says on NASA website: “The Apollo Moon landings were among the most completely documented and observed events in history. Moon rocks have been examined by scientists from all over the world, not just the U.S. Video special effects were in their infancy in the late 60’s so that faking a landing on the Moon would probably have been more difficult than actually going there, and it seems highly unlikely that the hundreds or even thousands of people who would have had to be involved in such a conspiracy would have kept it a secret for so long.”

In another place, NASA website says Moon rocks and common sense prove Apollo astronauts really did visit the Moon.

Err, Wasn't Spielberg only 23 at the time...?

Err, Wasn't Spielberg only 23 at the time...?

Independent scientists point out that it would be impossible for tens of thousands of NASA employees and Apollo contractors to keep such a whopping secret for almost four decades. Tell that to those who are deeply suspicious of anything to do with governments, who historically don’t have the best record for transparency and full disclosure!

So the conspiracy theory lingers. Like many other crazy ‘theories’, it has spread rapidly with the growth of the Internet. It’s really an old one: even at the time Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, a few people refused to believe it as it apparently conflicted with their religious beliefs.

The Moon Hoax, as it’s popularly called, accuses NASA of manufacturing, destroying, or tampering with evidence — including photos, telemetry tapes, transmissions, and rock samples; and that the deception continues to this day. These theorists concede that the Apollo launches did take place. But instead of going to the Moon, which they say was technologically impossible at the time, the astronauts just orbited the Earth for a few days while NASA carefully fed the media with manufactured images. And then they returned to a heroes’ welcome!

Before we proceed, let’s agree that there is independent, verifiable and irrefutable evidence that the Moon landings did take place. Here are a few online sources for details:
Bad Astronomy website by Phil Plaits
Did We Really Land on the Moon? Suggestions for Science Teachers from Rational Inquiry
Wikipedia entry: collaborative discussion with multiple sources cited
Clavius.org website

My curiosity in conspiracy theories stems from my interest in popular culture. In this instance, I’m intrigued to note how moving images have fuelled the Moon Hoax theory in a number of ways. A cornerstone in the doubters’ argument is that NASA’s photos and videos from the moon contained ‘suspicious anomalies’ (all of which, by the way, have been satisfactorily explained by scientists.)

Superb entertainment, but it was just that...

Superb entertainment, but it was just that...

Some believe that these theories inspired the 1978 movie Capricorn One, where NASA fakes a Mars landing on a military base on Earth, and then goes to desperate lengths to cover it up. It’s entirely possible that some people can’t discern fact from fiction. Or why allow facts to get in the way of a damn good story?

In 1980, the Flat Earth Society was one of the first to accuse NASA of faking the Moon landings, arguing that these events were actually staged in Hollywood studios and based on a script written by Arthur C. Clarke! Another group suggested that acclaimed film director Stanley Kubrick, who co-wrote with Clarke the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, was strong-armed into shooting much of the Apollo footage.

Sir Arthur Clarke, with whom I worked for over 20 years, used to laugh these off. He’d enjoyed a ring side seat when he joined Walter Cronkite in covering Apollo 11 and later missions for CBS News.

At one point in the early 1990s, he wrote to the NASA Administrator, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, saying: “Dear Sir, On checking my records, I see that I have never received any payment for this work. Could you please look into this matter with some urgency? Otherwise, you will be hearing from my solicitors, Messrs Geldsnatch, Geldsnatch and Blubberclutch.”

Of course, he never received – nor expected – a reply. But when media reports about this appeared, some with no sense of humour considered it further ‘proof’ of a cover-up!

And here’s another connection: Peter Hyams, who directed Capricorn One, went on to direct the movie adaptation of Arthur C Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two, which was released in 1984.

More seriously, in later years Sir Arthur was concerned that at one point a few years ago, millions of Americans harboured doubts whether the Moon landings actually took place. That indicated a failure of the education system to produce people with critical thinking abilities, he said.

The conspiracies received a boost when, on 15 February 2001, the Fox News TV network aired
Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?. Hosted by X-Files actor Mitch Pileggi, this hour-long, sensational documentary peddled what it called eerie “inconsistencies” in NASA’s Apollo images and TV footage. Among them: no blast craters are visible under the landing modules; shadows intersect instead of running parallel, suggesting the presence of an unnatural light source; and a planted American flag appears to ripple in a breeze although there’s no wind on the moon.

It concluded that the whole Apollo Moon landings were faked in the Nevada desert because, cccording to the conspiracy theorists, NASA did not have the technical capability of going to the Moon, but pressure due to the Cold War with the Soviet Union forced them to fake it. Fox TV did preface the programme with a notice saying: “The following programme deals with a controversial subject. The theories expressed are not the only possible interpretation. Viewers are invited to make a judgement based on all available information.” But skeptics felt Fox didn’t do enough to provide a minimum level of balance in their discussion.

Warning: This is a funny cartoon and not meant to be taken seriously

Warning: This is a funny cartoon and not meant to be taken seriously

The documentary’s ‘evidence’ has since been refuted point by point. NASA has also dismissed the documentary’s claims. It prompted Sir Arthur Clarke to protest to his long-time friend Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Fox TV network, for peddling unscientific nonsense.

Rather than being a ‘true believer’, Fox TV may have been trying to boost its audience ratings. But others in the moving images industry apparently take the matter very seriously. Among them is the film-maker Bart Sibrel. His aggressive interview tactics once provoked astronaut Buzz Aldrin (second man to walk on the Moon) to punch him in the face in a 2002 encounter.

“I don’t want to call attention to the individuals who are trying to promote and shuffle off this hoax on people,” Aldrin told CNN in a recent interview. “I feel sorry for the gullible people who’re going to go along with them. I guess it’s just natural human reaction to want to be a part of ‘knowing something that somebody doesn’t know.’ But it’s misguided. It’s just a shame.”

One of the strongest rebuttals of the Moon hoax on TV has come from the Mythbusters series of popular science programmes produced by Beyond Television Productions, originally for the Discovery Channel. The series features special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, who use basic elements of the scientific method to test the validity of various rumors, myths, movie scenes, internet videos and news stories in popular culture.

In August 2008, they tackled a number of pervasive myths associated with the Moon landing, debunking them one by one. To film the episode, Adam, Jamie and the rest of the Mythbusters team visited the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. A team of Marshall scientists helped the Mythbusters with several of their tests. Here are two excerpts:

Mythbusters probe the ‘Moonlanding photo hoax’

Mythbusters investigate ‘Moonwalk hoax’:


Read Space.com coverage about how Mythbusters busted the Moon Hoax.

Read Popular Mechanics coverage on the Mythbusters exposure

As the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing passes, the scientific community and rationalists will have to make some hard choices. How much more time and energy must they expend countering such wildly fanciful theories and fantasies? In a world that still has a (dwindling?) number of people who believe in more ancient concepts like the Flat Earth theory, is it really surprising that the Space Age would inspire its own share of modern-day myths?

No matter what the scientists say and how overwhelming the evidence is, conspiracy theories will always believe what they want. Often their convictions border on a blind faith – and as Arthur C Clarke was fond of saying (in relation to religions), one definition of faith is ‘believing in what you know isn’t true!’.

In a pluralistic world, people choose what to believe in

In a pluralistic world, people choose what to believe in

Then there is simple demographics. The total world population in 1969 was 3.6 billion. Today, it has surpassed 6.7 billion. This means nearly half of the people alive today were not even born when Neil and Buzz stepped on to the Moon. At 43, even I have only a headline memory of Apollo 11, even if it’s a strong one.

NASA itself is well aware of this. “As the number of people who were not yet born at the time of the Apollo program increases, the number of questions [about the moon landings] also may increase,” NASA said in a statement on the eve of the anniversary. “Conspiracy theories are always difficult to refute because of the impossibility of proving a negative.”

Perhaps what the Moon Hoax debate really needs is what Sir Arthur Clarke once proposed as a response to the obsession with UFOs and alien abductions: a decade or so of benign neglect. Conspiracy theorists and myth-makers thrive on counter-arguments and debate. When they don’t get it for long enough, they’ll probably run out of steam.

Meanwhile, networks like Fox News should stick to making entertainment programming that is labeled as such. Who can find fault with creations like The Simpsons?

One small step for (a) man, one giant memory for…me!

This can outlast us all...

The most expensively obtained footprint in history, this can outlast us all on the airless Moon...

When Neil Armstrong took that first ‘small step’ on to the Moon, at 10.56 pm Eastern Standard Time on 20 July 1969, it was already 21 July in many other parts of the world. It didn’t matter: day or night, East or West, people all over followed the mission’s progress over TV or radio. As Armstrong climbed down the lunar module’s ladder, more than 750 million people back on Earth had collectively held their breath.

This event holds special significance for me personally. It’s the earliest childhood memory that I have which can be pinned down to a specific date. And what a date!

I was a little over three years old at the time (as I like to put it, I’m the same age as Star Trek!). The year 1969 was already the most eventful yet in my (very short) life: in April that year, a younger sister was born. And at the beginning of July, I started in pre-school. I should think that at least the ‘headlines’ of such key events would be imprinted in my (usually good and sharp) memory. But those events are buried deep beneath the sediments of memory, and I have to turn to secondary (parental) sources to get any details.

What I do remember, to this day, is the excitement over the first Moon landing. My father was listening to the live radio broadcast on Voice of America. Sri Lanka had no television broadcasts then (that medium would arrive only 10 years later), so the only choice was to tune in to radio and imagine the pictures….or wait for the next day’s newspapers.

The crackling shortwave transmission came in loud and (mostly) clear through the large radiogram that sat in a prominent corner of our spacious living room. At over three feet in height, and encased in neatly polished wood, the instrument must have appeared formidable to little me. That was our solitary window to the outside world.

One of my earliest childhood photos...not longer after I took my own first 'small steps'

One of my earliest childhood photos, circa late 1968...not long after I took my own first 'small steps'

Although I realised something pretty important was happening, I didn’t understand what the commentary said. English was still an alien language – heck, at that tender age, I was still picking my mother tongue! But the inquisitive brat that I was, I asked my father to give me occasional summaries of what was going on. His school teacher experience must have helped him to distill the essence for me.

After all these years, I can’t remember too many details. But the highlights linger on, if only as distant headlines. Neil Armstrong’s one small step was taken. Neil and Buzz hopped around like kangaroos, enjoying the lower lunar gravity. They planted the American flag and set up scientific instruments. Then collected lunar soil samples. They often talked as they worked. Mission Control closely followed their every move…as did the whole world, a quarter of a million miles away.

Then it was time to head back. I would later find out that leaving the Moon after two and a half hours of exploration was a particularly tensed moment in the mission. The astronauts had one chance to rejoin the ‘mother ship’ orbiting the Moon. If their lunar module failed to take off, they’d be marooned on the Moon — with absolutely no hope of a rescue.

Having spent just about 1,000 days on Earth myself, I had no clue about any of these dangers. But the one ‘tough’ question I still remember asking my father is: “What could happen if the astronauts can’t return?”

I’m not sure what answer, if any, he gave me. His background was in history and languages, not science. But that sure was an indication that I had the knack for asking difficult, sometimes irritating, questions.

Forty years on, I still haven’t stopped.

Popular Mechanics July 2009 issue has some soundbites from the VOA’s Apollo 11 broadcast

‘Live from the Moon’…and then Lost on Earth: Story of Apollo broadcasts

Apollo still photos were much better than broadcast images: how come?

Apollo still photos were much better than broadcast images: how come?

In theory, it can happen to anyone recording moving images on tape or digital media: absent-mindedly or carelessly re-use the recording media, and thus lose the original content. If no copy exists, such an accident means an irrevocable loss.

But if the images were the most expensively shot in the whole of human history — literally costing billions of dollars and involving the genius and labour of half a million people over several years — we would expect these to be archived and preserved with great care, right?

Well, not necessarily — if the custodian is a government agency. On eve of the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing by Apollo 11, the US space agency NASA dropped a bombshell: it admitted that the original recordings of that historic moment were accidentally erased years later.

One British newspaper called it “the scientific equivalent of recording an old episode of EastEnders over the prized video of your daughter’s wedding day”.

Can you see the men on the Moon? Well, only just...

Can you see the Moon on the Moon? Well, only just...

The loss became public when the Sydney Morning Herald broke the story in August 2096. “A desperate search has begun amid concerns the tapes will disintegrate to dust before they can be found,” it said.

While the media rushed with oops-style headlines like ‘One giant blunder for mankind’, NASA quietly investigated what really happened. Last week, they revealed the hard truth: the tapes were part of a batch of 200,000 that were degaussed – or magnetically erased — and re-used. It was a standard money-saving measure at NASA in those pre-digital days to reuse the 14-inch tape reels after several years in storage. Agency officials fear that the original Apollo 11 tapes were buried among an estimated 350,000 that were recycled in the 1970s and 1980s and the data was lost for ever.

But the historic visuals are not entirely lost: luckily, broadcasters who used NASA’s expensively obtained footage had archived their transmissions for posterity. For many months, NASA has worked with a leading digital imaging company in Hollywood to restore good copies of the Apollo 11 broadcast found in the archives of CBS News and some recordings called kinescopes found in film vaults at Johnson Space Center.

On 16 July 2009, NASA released the first glimpses of a complete digital make-over of the original landing footage that looked decidedly sharper and clearer than the blurry and grainy images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon.

And we have to admit, the new video is definitely better than the ones we’ve seen for 40 years!

Raw Video: Restored Video of Apollo 11 Moonwalk

Another montage of digitally restored Apollo 11 mission highlights:

The full set of recordings, being cleaned up by Burbank, California-based Lowry Digital, are to be released in September 2009.

Read technical details of how Lowry Digital is restoring NASA’s original footage of the Apollo 11 mission

I had often wondered why the original images from the Moon were so grainy: it wasn’t typical even for that time. And if NASA spent between US$ 22 to 25 billion on landing men on the Moon, surely they’d have harnessed the best available technology to capture and share their moments of triumph, I assumed.

Actually, the video coverage that was broadcast around the world — to an estimated audience of 500 to 750 million people — and has since been endlessly redistributed was not quite what came from the Moon. It was a diluted version. Stanley Lebar, the NASA engineer in charge of developing the lunar camera, now calls a “bastardized” version of the actual footage.

Here is the “as-it-happened” broadcast from CBS News that day, with the legendary Walter Cronkite anchoring to the biggest TV audience the world had known. (Footnote: You’ll see the first electronic “character generators” in use.)

The story is technically complex, but here’s the essence: live images from the Moon couldn’t be fed directly to the American TV networks using the NTSC broadcast standard. Audiences worldwide would be holding their breath that a delayed broadcast, even by a few minutes, would not have been as effective as ‘live from the Moon’. Under such time pressures, no conversions could be attempted. So a regular TV camera was pointed at the huge wall monitor at mission control in Houston.

This is known as kinescope, or telerecording: a recording of a television program made by filming the picture from a video monitor. That resulted in the grayish, blotchy images that everyone saw on their home TV sets. In other words, It was a copy of a copy, with significant quality losses in that process!

And what is now lost, permanently, are the tapes containing the original Slow-Scan Television (SSTV) tapes. Digitally remastering the CBS broadcast tapes is now offering us better images than we’ve been used to for 40 years, for sure, but they stem from an already adulterated source.

Scan-converted broadcast image of Armstrong descending the lunar module ladder taken at Goldstone tracking station. This was the image the world saw of the first human on the Moon. But a Polaroid picture of the Slow-Scan television image of Armstrong coming down the ladder reveals far greater detail. Image Courtesy: John Sarkissian/CSIRO Parkes Radio Observatory

Scan-converted broadcast image of Armstrong descending the lunar module ladder taken at Goldstone tracking station. This was the image the world saw of the first human on the Moon. But a Polaroid picture of the Slow-Scan television image of Armstrong coming down the ladder reveals far greater detail. Image Courtesy: John Sarkissian/CSIRO Parkes Radio Observatory

A new documentary, released in January 2009, offers new insights into one of the most challenging feats in international live broadcasting – how those images from the Moon were delivered to TV audiences around the world. Produced by Spacecraft Films and directed by Mark Gray Live from the Moon: The Story of Apollo Television

It tells how for the first time in history millions of people could share, in real time, the experience of frontier exploration.

The story behind the camera...finally!

The story behind the camera...finally!

“Placing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth was hard enough in 1969,” says Gray. “‘Live From The Moon’ tells the story of how television, still a technological toddler, was developed for space flight, and examines the impact of the iconic passages that were returned.”

Here’s an excerpt from Space.com that reviewed the film:

To tell that story, Gray literally circled the Earth, shooting interviews at the deep space communication stations in California and Australia, as well as at space facilities and museums in Houston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Princeton, Kennedy Space Center, Huntsville, Ala., Washington, DC and Weatherford, Oklahoma.

Along the way, he interviewed astronauts, flight directors, mission controllers, tracking station operators, historians and those who built the television cameras for the space program…. “Live from the Moon” is told with the insight of moonwalker Alan Bean; Apollo 10 commander Tom Stafford; flight director Chris Kraft; Neil Mason, who drove the Parkes Telescope; Westinghouse camera team leader Stan Lebar; and the voice of mission control Jack King, among others.

“Every single one of them believed that the TV was one of the most important legacies of Apollo. And many of them admitted candidly that they didn’t give the TV much thought during the actual missions,” recalled Gray.

No Moon, please – we’re Ceylonese: How Sri Lanka lost the Moon…

We came in peace for all makind...

We came in peace for all makind...

When Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon 40 years ago this week, they were more than just Americans taking that historic first step on to another celestial body.

Yes, they planted the US flag there – after all, it was the American tax payers who financed the massive operation. But they left on the Moon other items that signified the universal nature of their mission.

One was a plaque (photo, above) saying “Here men from the Planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” It bore the signature of the three astronauts –- Neil Armstrong, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins –- and then US President Richard Nixon. Another was a golden olive branch.

The astronauts also left behind a silicon disc, which is one of the most important and symbolic items taken to the Moon. Etched on to that disc, about the size of a half US dollar coin, are miniaturised messages of goodwill and peace from 73 heads of state or government around the world.

The silicon disc (right) next to a US 50 cents coin for comparison of size

The silicon disc (right) next to a US 50 cents coin for comparison of size

These letters were received by NASA during the final weeks running up to the launch on 16 July 1969, yet this disc helped turn the Apollo 11 mission into an international endeavour.

It was only in June 1969 that the US State Department authorised NASA to solicit messages of goodwill from world leaders to be left on the Moon. This triggered a minor diplomatic frenzy, with invitations going out from Thomas O Paine, the NASA Administrator.

In all, 116 countries were contacted through their embassies in Washington DC, but only 73 responded in time. Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, responded. But for some unknown and unexplained reason, then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake declined to send a message to the Moon.

When I first heard about it about 18 months ago, I was both intrigued and curious. Was it some misplaced geopolitical considerations, or simple diplomatic arrogance that led to Ceylon’s negative decision? After all these years, we might never find out.

I have now written this up in an article titled ‘How Sri Lanka Missed the Moon’, which appears this weekend in the mainstream media and online in two different versions.

The Sunday Leader newspaper has printed the compact version in its issue for 19 July 2009. Citizen journalism website Groundviews carries the more detailed version, where an interesting reader discussion is evolving…

The story is based largely on a book that came out in 2007. Titled We Came In Peace For All Mankind: The Untold Story Of The Apollo 11 Silicon Disc, it was authored by Tahir Rahman, a Kansas-based physician and space historian.

Uncovering forgotten history

Uncovering forgotten history

The book documents the full story behind this little known facet of the very widely covered Apollo 11 mission. It also reproduces each of the 73 goodwill messages, as well as those which were received too late for inclusion on the disc.

“I was amazed at how NASA and the State Department rushed to get these messages before launch,” says Rahman. He took two months to locate from the Library of Congress the boxes in which NASA Administrator Paine had preserved the full correspondence.

While researching for this article, I contacted Rahman hoping for some additional insights, but he replied: “I do not have any information about why Sri Lanka did not send an Apollo 11 goodwill message.”

Sir Arthur C Clarke, with whom I worked for over 20 years, was also intrigued by Ceylon’s decision, which he didn’t know about until Rahman’s book reprinted the official letter. His only remark: “Mysterious are the ways governments think and work.”

Reading the messages, whose English translations are available online, is like entering a time capsule. Only two of the world leaders are still holding office (Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, and King of Thailand); most of them are dead. Some countries have since changed names. Others have been subsumed by neighbours, or broken into two or more independent states. Geopolitical map of the world has been completely redrawn.

The story of the Apollo 11 silicon disc is more a history and politics lesson, and less a science story. But I’m glad that I found a little known facet of the very widely covered Apollo missions to write about on its 40th anniversary.

Watch Tahir Rahman interviewed on Fox News network: