Apollo 12 'secret' EVA?
October 2, 2016 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I've been rabbit-holing some NASA conspiracy sites and, yeah, they're just as batty as they ever were. But I have been intrigued by one unexpected find - claims that there was an undocumented EVA carried out just after the Apollo 12 LM landed. I'm after non-wingnut input on this.

There's this video and this forum discussion, both firmly within the conspiracysphere. The claims are that for various reasons, the Apollo 12 LM landed without being able to take sightings of the local geography and didn't know where it was. To sort this out, they popped the upper hatch and took a look around - a so-called 'stand-up EVA'. This wasn't documented, because it was important for PR for this mission to have pin-point guidance during descent, but was arranged in a hurry through a 'private radio loop'. Location established, the mission continued in the clear.

Which would be the usual concatenation of NASA cover-up themes, except that - as the video pieces together - there's a mention of this in one official NASA document, a bunch of circumstantials, and what looks like a plausible timeline, based on lacunae in the published mission transcripts. Plus, the 'private radio loop' is also mentioned a bunch of times by astronauts and others, and was used for medical and personal matters on a number of missions (it seems to involve repurposing some of the medical telemetry channels).

Has this been discussed in the circles of the sane? If it pans out, there's probably a bunch of undisclosed lunar surface imagery somewhere, taken from the top of the LM and thus probably rather interesting. Help me get this story straight, oh spacehead Mefites!
posted by Devonian to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Stand up EVA from Apollo 15, and they do take sun-compass bearings.

There were two stand-up EVAs done by Buzz Aldrin on Gemini 12.

Confusion? Conflation? Confabulation?
posted by the Real Dan at 12:56 PM on October 2, 2016

There's this video and this forum discussion, both firmly within the conspiracysphere.

I can't find any relevant mention of apollo 12 in the forum discussion (just one mention at all), it seems to be about apollo 15. Is it possible you posted the wrong link?
posted by advil at 12:57 PM on October 2, 2016

Response by poster: No, the second link was more about the secret radio loop stuff, which I'm just as interested in.
posted by Devonian at 1:26 PM on October 2, 2016

While they did peer out the windows for at least an hour trying to determine their rough location, they had only to wait for Dick Gordon orbiting in Yankee Clipper to spot them with a telescope to determine it precisely. This occurs at 114:23:15, with the landing having happened at 110:32:35. There's no point in trying to get a slightly higher surface vantage point when there's a guy in orbit waiting to spot you.
posted by rlk at 2:06 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's this video and this forum discussion, both firmly within the conspiracysphere. The claims are that for various reasons, the Apollo 12 LM landed without being able to take sightings of the local geography and didn't know where it was.

Watch the video of Apollo 12 landing. Commander Conrad knows exactly where he landed. The press kit for Apollo 12 doesn't make a big deal out of doing a pin point landing.

There doesn't seem to be much to gain from hiding this, especially after it was confirmed they landed correctly, so I'm thinking it's bullshit. It's been almost 45 years, I can't imagine Conrad (when he was alive) or Bean, wouldn't have just said they did this, if it happened.

FYI: Your forum discussion link goes to a page about Apollo 15.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:26 PM on October 2, 2016

Here's the probable thread the OP meant to link to in the post. Note that the entire paragraph the conspiracy theorist hangs their dumb ass point of view was said to be mistake by the editor and the she's requested that it be corrected to say Apollo 15. Though others have noted that intended correction doesn't make sense, as the SEVA on Apollo 15 was planned, while the editor makes it sound like it wasn't.

In the end, it's probably just an editor being wrong and continuing to be mistaken even in a correction. There's just not a lot evidence to support the theory that Apollo 12 did a secret stand up eva that remained secret for 30+ years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:41 AM on October 3, 2016

This particular delusion seems to rest on the notions that (a) Apollo landings were intended to be "pinpoint", and (b) failure to accomplish that would be so embarrassing to NASA that they'd scam to cover it up.

Without a definition, "pinpoint" is useless. Zero distance from target? Ten feet? 100 feet? 1000 feet?

The landings targeted an area. Surveys of the lunar surface at the time were far from perfect. The LEM pilot could, and did, maneuver the LEM during the final approach, as Armstrong famously did on Apollo 11. The astronaut in orbit in the Command Module routinely assisted in fixing the precise location.

As for a cover up, who else would know? Was anyone else there to notice? Why would NASA try to cover this up? They knew they could not guarantee landing at a single specific point.

AFAIK, all NASA flights have had a separate private commo link to protect crew privacy and for potential security-related issues.
posted by justcorbly at 6:22 AM on October 3, 2016

Apollo 12 was very much designed to be a pinpoint landing, with pinpoint meaning "near enough to the Suveyor 3 probe, so we can grab a piece of it to bring back". This was a test case of sorts, for later missions, because scientists very much wanted to land in a specific area to do research. The technique for doing so was developed after Apollo 11 and tested with Apollo 12.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:37 AM on October 3, 2016

Response by poster: Aha - Brandon Blatcher makes the point I came back to make: the mission did have a specific need to land close enough to Surveyor

But I don't think any PR points would have been lost by having a live SEVA - why on earth would they? It's not as if it can affect where the LM actually is and whether they can actually reach Surveyor 3, so it'll be no secret if they aren't close enough, and it's not as if there's any attempt to disguise other off-script operational events as they prove necessary. That's an expected aspect of doing this stuff - in fact a 'more dust than we expected, we're going to take an unscheduled peek out the top to establish our location ASAP' would fit rather well into what would now be called the narrative.

The document with the anomalous paragraph is here, btw. The reference is on page 1, and remains an oddity, as does the proposed correction, but if the programmers had a 'delete last entry' function in the PGNCS star lists none of this would have given any succour to our UFO-minded brethren.

Still interested in the non-open radio link, though, but just because I'm a comms geek and it appears to be - understandably - undocumented in the public domain.
posted by Devonian at 9:49 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Fot reference, in case anyone else comes looking, I tracked down what I think is the de-facto private radio loop description in NASA TN D-6739, APOLLO EXPERIENCE REPORT - VOICE COMMUNICATIONS TECHNIQUES AND PERFORMANCE .

The document is quite terse on the voice signal chain and I suspect - though it could be my misreading - that the diagrams don't match the descriptions in the relevant section (there seems to be a subcarrier oscillator missing in the backup CM voice downlink,for example), but there's enough differences in the main and back-up chain that it would be trivial to automatically route the backup loop differently to the main loop - the crew could just switch, and nothing would need to change elsewhere in the chain.

There's no form of digitisation or encryption - all analogue - so if anyone else was monitoring the signals, they'd have been able to receive both main and backup, and that would have been (just) within the gamut of an expert, well-equipped amateur of the time with EME experience if the high-gain S-band antenna was in use on the CM (even NASA struggled with the omnis from time to time).

Anyway, if anyone finds themselves here looking for extreme radio space nerd gratification - there it is.
posted by Devonian at 3:29 PM on October 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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