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It’s Carnival time again… :-)

We all have busy lives. There are so many demands on our time now that it’s hard, if not impossible, to keep up with all the good stuff on t’internet. Oh, if only there was a site you could go to where the best of the week’s space and astronomy blogging was gathered togethet in one place –

Wait, there is! It’s called the “Carnival of Space”! Every week a different space- or astronomy-related blog hosts an online reading group party, where posts from a dozen or so blogs are gathered together for an all you can eat buffet of tasty spacey treats.

This week’s Carnival is being hosted by the “Twisted Physics” blog, and you can find it just by following this link…


Admission is free, and everyone there is friendly, so what are you waiting for? Go take a look! I understand there’s a great post this week about how ridiculous is is that Neil Armstrong’s “One Small Step” wasn’t documented better… ūüėČ

The Night of the Lost Moon…

So. My plan last night was – after getting home from work – to get my telescope out, head up to Kendal Castle, and have a good Moon-gazing session. The main aim of the evening was to see, and maybe even get a photo of, the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility. But all day the clouds came and went, and after a half-hearted thunderstorm at teatime the clouds only partly cleared, and by the time I got home the Moon was playing hide and seek with banks of low cloud in the west… didn’t look good. In the end, rather than trek up the hill to the castle I elected to stay at ground level, in Abbot Hall Park and try observing from there. Conditions were pretty poor, and the ****** midges that swarmed around me in the muggy heat didn’t help, but eventually the Moon swam into view…

… but it was way, waaay too misty and murky to see the Apollo 11 site, or even pin it down with any level of confidence, so I quickly gave up on that. Another time. Instead, when the Moon briefly emerged from behind the worst of the cloud, I took a couple of pics, just by holding my digital camera up to the eyepiece and clicking away at various settings until something worth saving was taken. Ah, the joys of digital, no more worrying about wasting film…!

Anyway, here’s the best of the pics… click to enlarge, of course…

moon jun 28 003b

moon jun 28 017b

I’m quite pleased with those; you can see a fair amount of detail, considering it was a horrible night for observing. ūüôā

Apollo Outreach…

Thanks to collectSPACE.com for adding my July 17th Apollo talk – at Kendal Library – to their guide to everything that’s going on to commemorate the anniversary…


NASA’s Return To The Moon has begun…

title pic

Earlier today, something very, very important happened. The world changed – not in a huge way, not in a way that shook houses, or knocked plates off shelves, or made dogs howl in the street. In fact, unless you were a space geek, watching it live online, you wouldn’t have realised anything was happening at all. It wasn’t front page news for papers and magazines, it wasn’t the lead story on Sky News or CNN, but earlier today, just short of 40 years after Armstrong and Aldrin stepped onto its dusty surface, a quarter of a million miles away, NASA finally Returned to the Moon.

Not with people. That won’t happen for another decade, probably a decade and a half I reckon. Today NASA returned to the Moon with cameras, computers and instruments packed neatly and lovingly into a pair of unmanned spacecraft – LRO and LCROSS – that will, together, help us get to know the Moon well enough to begin planning how to stage the manned missions NASA is wanting to stage in the¬†next decade and beyond.

The probes were launched last week, onboard a single, powerful rocket, and since then have been travelling to the Moon. Earlier today the LRO spacecraft – essentially a lunar version of the “spy satellite” like Mars Reconaissance Orbiter that has, with its incredibly high resolution HiRISE camera, revolutionised our view of Mars by allowing us to see objects on its surface just a metre across – went into orbit around the Moon, and now its mission scientists can look forward to seeing the Moon’s surface in almost unbelievable detail when the probe’s cameras are calibrated and turned on the Moon at the beginning of next month.

How good will LRO’s pictures be? Well, with a resolution of 50cm, the cameras will, it is confidently predicted, be able to spot Apollo hardware standing on the Moon’s surface, such as the descent stages of the Apollo lunar modules, and even the famous lunar rovers used on the last three Apollo missions…!

LRO went into lunar orbit this morning, to great cheers and applause from its understandably relieved team. A few hours later, the LCROSS spacecraft – which is designed to crash into the Moon later this year, in the hope of detecting deposits of water ice beneath its surface – began its first fly-by of the Moon, and the event was shown live on the internet, with live streaming video being beamed back by the spacecraft and shown on the web in realtime for all to see.

I’m not sure how many people watched it, but I hope lots did, because it was a fantastic event. Ok, so the picture quality was a bit poor, but that’s not the point. The point is that anyone who wanted to could go online and essentially see the Moon through the spacecraft’s point of view, as if they riding on the back of it. Here’s the view we were treated to…


On the left was the live feed from LCROSS, on the right a computer simulation showing the spacecraft’s position relative to the Moon. That meant we were able to follow the spacecraft’s rolling, pitching and yawing as it maneouvred whilst taking pictures, which was pretty cool. The view wasn’t spectacular, the Moon was a bit blurry, a bit fuzzy and over-exposed…


…¬†but again, that wasn’t the point. The point was we were seeing the Moon LIVE, from a spacecraft flying around it!

… just like the Apollo crews did, all those years ago.

So, that’s it. NASA has finally, after all the plans and proposals, reviews and recommendations, hopes and dreams, returned to the Moon. There is actually, after all the hot air and fancy talk, equipment in orbit around the Moon that is designed to help NASA eventually send people back to the Moon to continue the work of the Apollo astronauts.

Hubble poems…

I am VERY honoured to have my poems inspired ¬†by the recent Hubble Servicing Mission featured on the Hubble Heritage website! ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā


hub poems

Carnival of Space time again..!

Yes, the latest CARNIVAL OF SPACE – #108 –¬† is now available for you to read. So go to the fantastic “STARTS WITH A BANG!” blog to catch up on the best of the week’s space blogging!


One small step for (a) man… alas, one giant FAIL for Mankind

Welcome to Carnival of Space #109 readers!

Someone asked me the other day “When do you think they’ll actually invent a time machine?” After my initial deep, patient sigh of despair, I actually realised something important and told my friend “They already did, centuries ago. It’s called a camera…”

And that’s true, isn’t it? Cameras allow us to freeze time and re-live and enjoy all over again key moments in our lives. The birthdays of our kids, weddings, holidays; all events that can be immortalised forever – now even more easily than ever thanks to the cheapness of digital cameras. Cameras have also captured, in years gone by, key events in history, and allow us – in the absence of a crazily-spinning, brass¬†HG Wells time machine – to travel back and witness those events.

Take a look at these pictures (click the image to enlarge it – come on, you know how this works by now! ūüôā ) …

thumbs f pix

Can you imagine how terrible it would have been if those key momemts in history hadn’t been captured? And they’re just the ones I could find quickly, between coffees, on Google. There must be thousands of images of the¬†signings of war treaties, of coronations and hundreds of other subjects Out There. Some of those images were staged, of course, the people in them posed and arranged specifically to make a good photograph, but that doesn’t matter. Many more were just a case of a guy or girl with a camera being in the right place at the right time. However they were taken, and why, we should all be very grateful that there was a photographer on hand to grab those moments and preserve them.

Of course, some epic moments in Mankind’s history were missed because they occurred before the invention of the camera. When time machines are eventually developed, there’ll be a huge demand I am sure for pictures of legendary events from the Deep Past. Who wouldn’t want to see a photograph of the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs? Which magazine or newspaper editor¬†wouldn’t pay a fortune to send a photographer back in time to capture on a memory card the exact moment that Columbus first stepped onto American soil -well, sand? Which amateur astronomer worth his or her salt wouldn’t love to see a 6Mb image of the cataclysmic impact that formed the Moon? How many historians would say “no” to a picture of Galileo turning that telescope on the sky for the first time, or Newton writing in his notebook about apples? How many archaeologists wouldn’t weep at the thought of seeing for themselves the moment our earliest human ancestors walked upright for the first time? ¬†Maybe one day.

My point is, photographs are important to Mankind. They’re our witnesses and our judges, our Q’s if you like – proof that we can be both stupid and brilliant, timid and bold, ambitious and pathetic.

Which is why, as the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 approaches like a runaway steam train, I’m getting more and more angry that the greatest event in the history of mankind, the first footsteps taken on an alien world by a member of the human race, weren’t recorded better. Or, more specifically, that the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, was photographed so pathetically.

This subject has come up before, of course, countless gazillion times, and I’m sure many people are absolutely sick to the back teeth of it. But I can’t help it, it really, REALLY winds me up that the greatest achievement of Mankind – after the invention of the Crunchie, of course – wasn’t preserved on film in the way it should have been.

Some questions for you. Do you know how many still images – that is, images taken¬†during the Apollo 11 EVA –¬†there are actually showing Neil Armstrong standing on the surface of the Moon? Five. Do you know how many of those images show Armstrong’s whole body? One. Do you know how many of those five images actually show Neil Armstrong’s face? None.

That, surely, is a massive Fail.

What the hell happened?!?! Really, what the frak were they thinking?!?!?!?!? This was clearly the one part of the whole Apollo mission that wasn’t rocket science. Didn’t at least one person get it? Didn’t someone think to stand up in a meeting and say “Listen guys…¬†first man on moon = IMPORTANT! It will change EVERYTHING… History will forevermore be divided into pre-Apollo and post-Apollo, so we should make sure that we get a great photo of the first person to stand on the Moon, whoever it is. We’ll never get another shot at this, and we’ll look like bloody idiots in years to come if we mess it up, so for God’s sake set aside just a minute for Aldrin to take a photo of Armstrong next to the flag, or at the foot of the ladder, or standing beneath the Earth – something to go on the cover of LIFE.“..?

Obviously no, that never happened, because there was no “official” picture taken of Armstrong on the Moon, just a handful of images that, frankly, look like they were taken by a 7yr old kid with a ¬£20 digital camera when he and his mates were playing “Lets pretend to be astronauts”.¬†

Why? Well, being charitable, everyone’s human I guess, and to be fair it was a crazy time, a time before the PR gurus reigned, so I perhaps… maybe… possibly… it might just be down to bad pre-planning by the Apollo mission managers. It might just be down to the enormous pressure put on the astronauts to use every second wisely during their EVA. It might be that the people in charge of the mission were so busy trying to ensure the Apollo 11 crew actually survived their lunar voyage that they gave little thought to how¬†significant it was going to be.

I was quite prepared to believe this until the other day when, reading James R Hansen’s excellent biography of Neil Armstrong, “First Man”, I read what Chris Kraft – ther Director of Flight Operations – said about Armstrong:

“Look, we just knew damn well that the first guy on the Moon was going to be a Lindbergh. We said to ourselves ‘He’s going to be a Lindbergh… He’s going to be the guy for time immemorial that’s going to be known as the guy that set foot on the Moon first… The first man on the Moon would be a legend, an American hero beyond Lucky Lindbergh, beyond any soldier or politician or inventor.”

Hmmm. Maybe, if you knew he was going to be so important, so famous, so significant, you should have made sure there was a decent photo taken of him then, eh?

There’s another theory, of course, a rather less palatable one. Some people have¬†have suggested it might have been a deliberate act of revenge by a sulky Buzz Aldrin who, it was widely known, really, really wanted to be the first person down the ladder… I don’t want to believe that, I really don’t. It would be so petty, so dishonourable. And from what I’ve read about Buzz, and from the interviews I’ve seen and heard with him, I have a really hard time believing such a professional would behave like that. But hey, human beings – especially hacked off human beings – are peculiar creatures. You never know what they’re capable of if pushed.

We’ll probably never know the reason why Armstrong’s presence on the Moon was so pathetically documented. All I know is that it bugs the hell out of me, always has done, always will. It naws at me like a rat gnawing on a bone, and that’s the truth.

If I had a working time machine right now I would crank it up, send myself back to 1969, break down the door of one of the Apollo surface ops planning meetings and tell them all “Make sure you take more photos of the astronauts working on the Moon, especially Armstrong, because trust me, if you don’t, in forty years time a lot of people ¬†are going to be scratching their heads wondering how you could have messed up so badly.”

It wouldn’t happen now, of course. The world has moved on, and everyone appreciates the power of the image. I have no doubt that if the Moon landings were happening right now, NASA would have already built into the Apollo 11 astronauts’ lunar EVA timeline several periods of simply photographing each other, and photographing each other properly, after some serious thought had been given to the best poses and locations. You see, the modern NASA realises – and clearly¬†embraces – both the public’s insatiable desire for “pretty pictures” and the need to ensure key events in history, not just “space history”, are recorded properly. That’s why so many beautiful images come out of each space shuttle mission now, why many of the images taken by the Mars rovers look like professionally composed tourist postcards, and why the launches of missions such as LRO are photographed so beautifully and dramatically by photographers like Ben Cooper, whose launch pad shots are never less than inspiring.

And when the first person sets foot on Mars, you can be absolutely 100000% certain that even though the outside of the lander will be covered with cameras, recording each and every fraction of a second of the EVA in high definition, from a dozen different angles, there will be a few precious minutes set aside for the second astronaut down the ramp or ladder to take pictures of the first astronaut down the ramp or the ladder, posing beside the flag, visor up, smiling, for the sake of history.

But look back at the Apollo archives and you could be forgiven for thinking that Buzz Aldrin was bouncing and bounding around on his own at Tranquility Base¬†in July 1969. Which is, I personally think, almost criminally negligent on someone’s part.

Because let’s be clear about this. There will never, ever be another moment as significant as that moment when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon. That was the moment when – albeit briefly – Mankind became a multi-planet, spacefaring species, the moment when one of its number stood on the surface of another world for the very first time.

As I write this I’m watching – on and off – the episode of the HBO series “FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON” where Apollo 11’s landing is depicted so wonderfully. The Eagle just landed, barely a few moments ago, and I’m not ashamed to admit that tears welled up in my eyes as I watched that scene, just as they have done every single time before.¬†It brought home to me, yet again, what an amazing achievement it was. It also brought home to me how unique an achievement it was, too. You see, one day, maybe around 2030 or so, ¬†a man or woman will make history and set foot on Mars, and the world will cheer and I will cry my eyes out, but they will be following in Armstrong’s footsteps. One day in a few centuries’ time another man or woman will make history by setting¬†foot on the surface of a planet orbiting another star, far out in space, but they will still be in standing Armstrong’s shadow. And one day, in the far, far future, a man or woman will reach out with their foot to stand on the surface of a world orbiting a star in another galaxy… but as they stand there, looking up at the alien sky, seeing the Milky Way as an elongated smudge of light barely as wide as their fingernail, they will know, they will feel, that all those millennia before them, a man called Neil Armstrong stood on the surface of the Moon as the first human being to set foot on another world…

…and no-one thought to make sure¬†his picture got taken properly.

Does this matter, really? Yes, I think it does. We literally lost a piece of our species’ history because of that. If you don’t agree, then that’s fine, this is after all a very personal thing for me, but just take a moment to ask yourself if it isn’t simply, fundamentally¬†wrong that¬†this iconic image shows not the first man on the Moon, but the second


But we are where we are. We don’t have a time machine, I can’t go back to those meetings and tell The Powers That Be to ensure that Armstrong’s picture is taken on the Moon, nor can I – as I really, really want to – jump in a TARDIS, land on the Moon at the moment after that picture was taken and tell Aldrin “Go get the damned camera, and take a picture of Neil just like the one he took of you…” What have we actually got?

Well, I’ve been researching this, and – as is commonly known, it’s not something I’ve “discovered” – there are just five pictures of Armstrong outside Eagle, on the Moon’s surface. Here they are, in the order in which they were taken.

And trust me, if this hasn’t annoyed you before, it’s about to.

(1) AS11-40-5886

That’s image AS11-40-5886.

(2) AS11-40-5894

That’s image AS11-40-5894. If you’re thinking “Where is he?” Neil Armstrong is that blurry, under-exposed, shadowy figure on the far left. You can just see his helmet. Then we have…

(3) AS11-40-5895

That’s image AS11-40-5895. At the top centre you can just see Armstrong’s body from the waist down… Then we have…

(4) AS11-40-5896

That’s image AS11-40-5896, which doesn’t even show Armstrong’s whole lower body, just his legs. And finally, take a look at…

(5) AS11-40-5916

That’s image AS11-40-5916, with a well-focussed, well0-exposed view of half of Armstrong’s backpack and his right leg.

There you have it. Those are THE images of Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. That’s it. That’s all we’ve got. Let’s take a slightly closer, tweaked look at those pictures. These are crops and enhancements I’ve made from those original images. (Other people have made far superior versions, I know, but I wanted to have a go myself.)

(1c) AS11-40-5886 crop2 figure

(2b) AS11-40-5894 enhance and crop small

(3b) AS11-40-5895-legs enhance and crop small

(4b) AS11-40-5896 feet enhance crop small

(5b) AS11-40-5916 enhance crop back leg small


Actually, there are two more images of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, but they were taken inside the Eagle lunar module after he and Aldrin had clambered back inside at the end of their EVA…

inside 1

That’s image AS11-37-5528, and then, finally, there’s image AS11-37-5529…

(7) AS11-37-5529_Neil

… so there you have it. Ok, let’s be charitable and say there are actually seven sharp, still photographs of Neil Armstrong on the Moon.


Now, I don’t know about you, but that really p’s me off. It’s just not right. Why it happened, I don’t know. But I personally resent Mankind not having a good photograph of the First Man On The Moon to use to show just what greatness we achieved once, and can reach out for again in the future.

Just imagine, for a moment, how you’d feel if¬†important events in history had been commemorated by these photographs…

The Wright Brothers’ first flight…

w doh

The loss of the Hindenberg…


Scott reaches the pole after Amundsen…


Shackleton’s HMS Endurance becomes trapped in the ice…


And those events were nowhere near as important as the first Moon landing.

Of course, there are lots more images of Neil Armstrong on the Moon than those seven stills, but they’re all screengrabs and scans taken from the jerky footage shot by a trio of¬†movie and television cameras used on the mission. Freezing frames of the footage taken by the¬†16mm camera¬†mounted above and pointed¬†out of one of the lunar module’s famous triangular windows gets you images¬†like¬†this…


… and there are the famous images that everyone is familiar with, frames from the blurry, streaked footage of Armstrong descending and stepping off Eagle’s ladder, taken by the TV camera mounted on the boxy MESA payload that Armstrong deployed after shuffling backwards out onto Eagle’s porch…


Finally we can also grab frames like this from the footage taken by a small TV camera Armstrong deployed a short distance in front of Eagle…

bags up2

( That’s a screengrab I took and played about with skilfully enhanced, showing, on the far right, Armstrong sending one of the boxes of priceless collected Moon rocks up into the LEM.)

… but I think by now you’ll agree that it’s unbelievable to think that there are no better images of Armstrong on the Moon than those. It makes me want to put my fist through this screen, to be perfectly honest! ūüė¶

Having said that, that’s not the end of the story. There are other images “out there”, lurking, hidden away in boxes, archives and cracks in the dusty walls of the internet’s deepest, darkest dungeons.

For a start, there are¬†the famous “Honeysuckle Creek pictures”, which are essentially photographs taken of TV monitors in the control room of the 26m Honeysuckle Creek dish in Australia, which received signals from the Moon at the same time as the 64m Deep Space Network dish at Goldstone in California and the 64m Parkes dish in Australia. To cut a very long story short, the pictures that went out on TV from NASA, received by the Goldstone dish,¬†were of much poorer quality than the pictures received in Australia because the Goldstone footage was sent to Houston via a landline, so it was considerably degraded by the time it was broadcast to the world. However, the monitors at Honeysuckle Creek were showing much higher quality footage, and realising this one of the techs there photographed them, thus preserving the best quality images to be returned during Armstrong’s historic descent down the ladder and his initial moonwalk –

Probably easier if I show you, eh? ūüôā


Left: pic broadcast from Houston using Goldstone feed. Right: the images being received at Honeysuckle Creek. Big difference!

Here are some more screengrabs from the Honeysuckle Creek monitors, copyright of and taken from the excellent Honeysuckle Creek Apollo 11 website.




And over the years, spaceflight enthusiasts have inevitably turned their attention on the old Apollo images and tried to squeeze something new out of them, too.

It was thought for a long time that the “best” image of Neil Armstrong on the Moon was actually to be found in that previously mentioned “iconic” image of Buzz Aldrin taken by Armstrong himself. What? Well, scroll back up the page a little to the image, and if you look closely you can see an elongated bright streak in Aldrin’s visor… that is actually the reflection of Neil Armstrong as he took the famous picture! If you take a crop of the visor, tweak and enhance it, you get something like this…


Now, that’s really a very special image. Not only does it show Armstrong standing on the Moon, it also shows the US flag, the LEM and, at the top of the picture, Earth too!

Just think what that image would have looked like if Aldrin had bounced over to Armstrong, taken the 70mm Hasselblad camera off him, and taken the picture properly… What a fine and fitting portrait that would have been.

Well, maybe we’ll come back to that idea later… ūüôā

It is no surprise that Neil Armstrong’s “small step” has inspired many artists since 1969, and in a way their paintings have been the best “images” of the great day we’ve had. Countless artists have immortalised Armstrong’s first footfall on the Moon, among them the Apollo astronaut/artist Alan Bean, who has created several works celebrating it.


This painting by Bean accurately depicts how Armstrong would have looked while taking that famous, iconic image of Aldrin… and in a neat flip-around, if you look closely you can see Buzz Aldrin reflected in Armstrong’s visor…


Neil Armstrong, as everyone knows, is not a hoopin’ and a hollerin’ kind of guy. But Alan Bean painted a great picture depicting what it might have been like if Armstrong had let his hair down to celebrate the succesful first lunar landing…


In his own unique and loved style, the great American painter Norman Rockwell also immortalised Neil Armstrong’s first footfall on the Moon…


But y far my favourite Apollo 11-inspired painting is one by Paul Calle. Calle was the artist who designed the official stamp commemorating the landing of Eagle on the Moon…


Calle’s dramatic painting “The Great Moment” is exactly the picture that should have been taken as Armstrong stepped onto the Moon’s surface for the first time…

Paul Calle

Isn’t that gorgeous? Don’t you wish we had that picture of Armstrong to use? Aah well, that just wasn’t possible – the camera wasn’t of high enough quality, it couldn’t be put into that position… maybe some images are best left imagined.

Back to actual photographs of Armstrong on the surface. The famous “visor” reflection was the “best photo of Armstrong on the Moon” until recently when fames Apollo historian and fan Andrew Chaikin – who wrote “A Man On The Moon”, the book which was the inspiration for “From The Earth To The Moon” – revealed to the world a picture he had made by scanning frames of that aforementioned 16mm film and enhancing it with the latest techniques to bring out previously hidden details. Andy came up with this image, which features in his new book “Voices From The Moon” (and thanks to Andy again for giving me permission to reproduce it here on Cumbrian Sky)…


Wow… look at that… you can actually see Armstrong’s face! It’s clearly there, through his visor…


That’s him, that’s the First Man on The Moon! How cool is that? Finally, FINALLY, thanks to Andy Chaikin’s hard work, we have a picture of Neil Armstrong on the Moon that actually does him justice.

…well, kind of. It’s still blurry, and we can only just see his face. It’s hardly a portrait is it? It’s not the picture that could have been taken – and should have been taken – not by a long shot.

I decided to do something about that.

It all began with a simple, nagging question: what if…?¬† What if, after taking that iconic image of Aldrin, Armstrong had decided it was his turn, that it was only right for him to have his picture taken there on the Moon too?

I invite you now to imagine an alternative timeline for the Apollo 11 EVA. In this timeline Armstrong has just taken That Picture, and Aldrin is starting to turn away to get on with their scheduled activities.

Armstrong: Just a moment Buzz, come over here will you? You need the camera.

Aldrin: I do? That’s not on my checklist.

Armstrong: No, it’s not, but I would like a picture of me too. I’m sure no-one would¬†mind. Do you? We have time.

Aldrin: Okay…

Aldrin bounces over to Armstrong, takes the camera, and bounces back a short way.

Armstrong: Back a little further Buzz… there you go. That’s fine. Wait while I lift this up… ( Armstrong lifts the protective outer visor of his helmet, allowing his face to be seen…) Ok, go ahead…

And click

Oh, how I wish things had happened that way.

This has turned into a bit of a rant, hasn’t it? I didn’t mean it to, that’s just the way it’s turned out. I certainly don’t want anyone reading this to think it’s an anti-Aldrin diatribe, it’scertainly not that, I have only the greatest of respect for him. There’s no point in trying blame him or anyone else for what happened, it’s history now. But the inescapable truth is that the photographic record of what is surely one of the most important events – if not THE¬†most important event – in our species’ history is woefully inadequate, as it does not include a good, appropriate picture of the first member of the human race to set foot on another world.

So what can we do?

Well, the moment is gone, lost in the swirling mists of history. We can never get it back, never replay it, never repeat it. I don’t have a time machine, so I can’t, even though I desperately want to,¬†go back in time and change history so that a good picture of Armstrong was taken.

But I do have Photoshop, and Google, and a lot of patience and imagination, and most importantly a burning desire to have a decent “portrait” image of Neil Armstrong standing on the Moon to use and enjoy, and share with other people – something worthy of showing in the¬†many Outreach talks I give in schools and community centres and drafty church halls here in England.

So I sat down, cracked the old knuckles over the keyboard and got to work, looking to make something that was obviously fictional, but plausible; something that looked fairly accurate, if not photo-realistic; a photograph that, had I been Armstrong, I would have made damn sure Buzz Aldrin took of me.

…and after a lot of cutting, pasting, cropping, burning, dodging and layering, cups of tea and Crinkle Crunch biscuits, I came up with this

Armstrong on Moon v5b-Full Moon col2

I know others could do better. I know that my picture’s a million light years away from realistic. There are mistakes, inaccuracies and impossibilities in it by the dozen. You know what? I don’t care. I did it for me, and all the people who, like me, wish things had been different. So no, it’s not perfect, but I humbly suggest that it’s the kind of picture that should have been taken on the Moon, and printed in all the space and astronomy magazines and books, and featured on websites, for the past 40 years.

In my alternative timeline, things were different. After posing for his photo, Buzz Aldrin took the camera off Armstrong, when they got back to Earth this was on the shelves of newsagents everywhere…


I hope you like it. ūüôā

NLC seen at last!

After missing out on the big display of NLC that amazed people across the UK on Tuesday night I couldn’t help wondering – and hoping – for a repeat performance last night, so at 10.30 I dragged myself away from Newsnight to look up at the sky, hoping to see a hint, a trace, a wisp of NLC…

… and saw this…


Half the sky was covered with NLC! (note: please click on that image, and all the others in this post, to bring up the full size image) Well, I was pretty sure they were NLC; I did wonder for a few minutes if they were just high bright normal cloud, but then I saw the telltale cross-hatched patterning within the blue-white streamers and billows up above me and knew that they were the real deal. Success! Ran back across the road and inside to get Stella so she wouldn’t miss it, and then we headed over to Abbot Hall Park to get a really good look at what was going on…


By this time it was 11pm, and while the sky to the west, east and south was darkening, the northern sky was still very bright, and the NLC appeared to be brightening further…


By 11.15 there was some hint of activity further around to the NE too…


… so I decided to grab my camera and binoculars to head up the hill to Kendal Castle, to enjoy a better view. Up there the view is almost 360 degree panoramic, just interrupted by the Castle itself, so even though it was very late at night by then I knew it would be worth it.

5 minutes later I was heading up the road towards¬†the ruins of Kendal Castle, and halfway there I paused for a moment on the bridge to capture¬†this view…


Then it was a ten minute heave up the steep hill to the Castle itself. The ancient castle was a stark silhouette against the still fairlt bright sky, but for once I wasn’t interested in taking its picture. Because to the north the sky was doing this…


I grabbed my binoculars and focussed them on the NLC, and was rewarded with beautiful views of the clouds’ delicate structure – ripples and whirls, kinked streamers, cross-hatched and herringbone patterns.. just beautiful… unfortunately my camera is not very sophisticated, or powerful, so I wasn’t able to photograph the clouds’ gorgeous structure, but the view just got better and better…


I stayed there until 01.15, just drinking in the view, loving, relishing every moment of it. It wasn’t the best display I’ve ever seen, not by a longshot, but my surroundings made it special – looking out across Kendal, with its lights flickering and glaring, seeing the NLC glowing softly and serenely above the fells and valleys beyond the town… just beautiful…


It was hard to drag myself away at 01.15, but as I had to be up for work at 6am I didn’t really have much choice. To be honest tho the display was definitely waning by then, past its best (I think? I haven’t read any reports of it flaring up again before dawn… yet! If it did I’ll be mad!) and a lot of filthy black cloud was rolling in from the north, obliterating the NLC still shining, so I packed up and headed home, pausing to take one last trio of shots to make into this “closing credits” panorama…


When will the next display of NLC be? No idea, we can’t predict them in advance. They just… appear. All we can do is keep looking, on every clear night, just in case. We do know that this summer is expected to be a very good one for NLC-spotting because they appear more at “solar minimum”, and we’re in a deep, deep minimum now, so all we can do is keep an eye on the sky, and cross our fingers!

Fantastic NLC display seen from Kendal…

I wish I’d stayed up late last night… there was a BIG display of noctilucent clouds visible across the UK after midnight, and it was well seen from here in Kendal by the Eddington Astronomical Society’s founder, Philip Stobbart and our Treasurer, David Allan. You can read Phil’s report, and see some stunning pictures, here…


Chris Riley – Britain’s “Man In The Moon”


Sigh. This Apollo anniversary is going to end up costing me a fortune, I swear.

I was wandering around in Waterstones the other day, not looking for anything in particular, when a book in the “Popular Science” section caught my eye. At first glance I thought it was in the wrong place, that some idiot had put it back on the wrong shelf after flicking through it elsewhere in the shop, or maybe had put it there as a “little joke” to wind up space enthusiasts like me. Then I looked more closely, and saw…


Oh… look at that… that’s GENIUS! I mean seriously, that is just a great idea. To look at the Apollo 11 mission and its hardware in the same amount of detail that the popular Haynes car manuals do… Not familiar with those? Well, even non-drivers like me have grown up surrounded by these books…


I didn’t buy it there and then because I was on my way to somewhere else, but in one of those amazing webby coincidences that happen now and again, when I checked The Bad Astronomer’s site later that evening I found he was going nuts about it too! So, back into the shop I went the next day, handed over my card, and out I came with the book.

And I was in for a surprise.

Not the quality of the book itself, that was obvious from the start. It’s jam-packed with gorgeous photographs, artwork and diagrams, and really brings the Apollo missions and their hardware to life. No, the surprise came when I read the names of the book’s two authors –

Phil Dolling and Chris Riley.

Ah. I should haver known. Look in most UK dictionaries and encyclopedia and under “Moon” and “Apollo” you’ll see the name “Chris Riley”.

Ok, you don’t really, but you should do. For many years now Chris Riley has been one of the UK’s most active and successful producers of space exploration-related documentaries and films, and has worked on more than 30 TV shows, documentaries and films. He has a very special passion for the Apollo missions and the Moon, which led him to write this new book.

I first came across Chris’ work back in 2005, when the BBC aired a mini-series called “Space Odyssey”, which told the story of a fantastic “tour of the solar system” by a crew of astronauts onboard a fantastic – and beautiful – interplanetary ship called the Pegasus. The idea behind the series, and the gorgeous full colour book that accompanied it, was simple: what if we hadn’t turned our back on the Moon, but had kept going? What would we see if we went out into the solar system, and saw what was out there?


The series featured – for the time – ground-breaking CGI effects, as well as a¬†stirring orchestral soundtrack and well-written characters, and received pretty good reviews and viewing figures when it aired. Many of the sequences were literally beautiful, such as a lone astronaut floating amongst the tumbling ice boulders of Saturn’s rings, and several of the explorers standing on the edge of the Mariner Valley and peering down into it…


At the time I fully expected “SPACE ODYSSEY” to take off like one of the rockets featured in it, and have a real, world-wide impact. For some reason that didn’t happen. The series didn’t really catch fire, with the public or the media, and it kind of came and went without much fanfare. This literally shocked me; I bought the DVD as soon as it came out, and have watched it over and over since then, and every time I watch it I get goosebumps all over again. True, it had its faults – some of the acting was a little, um, cheesy (yes, looking at you, Zoe!) – and some slap-across-the-face-obvious scenes and sequences of historic-events-to-come were missing (when they didn’t show the first footprint being made on Mars I actually shouted “NO!!!” at my TV!), but it was a lovely production, made with real love and feeling, and no-one watching it can fail to feel a “What if..?” pang of sadness.

I was lucky enough to actually meet Chris at the time, up in Edinburgh, and was able to congratulate him on the series, which I remain a fan and supporter of. I still have the Pegasus mission patch he gave me! ūüôā

Speaking of the Pegasus, that has to be one of my all time fave ship designs… sleek, functional, realistic, it was a piece of design genius…


And I’m obviously not the only person who thinks so. I reckon Danny Boyle is a fan too, judging by the design he chose for the “Icarus” spaceship in his film “SUNSHINE…


… and it should be pointed out that half a decade before cinema goers drooled over the sight of the re-vamped USS Enterprise emerging from Titan’s atmosphere, in the new Star Trek movie, the Pegasus was shown sailing serenely through Saturn’s rings…


Fast forwards a few years, and Chris moved on to the Moon, and this time his project really did sweep and entrance the world.


Chris was co-producer of the epic film “IN THE SHADOW OF THE¬† MOON” which collected awards by the bucketful after it was released, including the prestigious “Audience Award” at the Sundance Film Festival. “Shadow” was¬† a detailed and emotional look back at the Apollo missions, with comments from and interviews with many of the astronauts, engineers and technicians involved in the missions.

I was lucky enough to see the film at a special screening here in my own town, Kendal. The Brewery Arts Centre showed the film during a special presentation, which my astronomical society supported by mounting an exhibition of astronomy and space exploration pictures, and I gave a special illustrated talk on NASA’s plans to Return To The Moon around the year 2020. It was a wonderful night, it really was, and the film was just about sold-out. I’m not ashamed to admit I was very close to tears at many points in the film, and I know it made a huge impression on many of the other people in the audience, too.

Now Chris has returned to the Moon with his new book, this “Apollo Owners Manual” which is in the shops right now. I’ve now finished the book, just a few days after buying it, and I really was impressed. The writing style is casual but informative, it’s packed with fascinating artwork, illustrations and diagrams, and the photographs in the book are all very well chosen, too.¬† A couple caught my eye – a small black and white photo on page 137, showing the lunar module EAGLE, just c0mpleted, gleaming bright and fresh and new, ready to be mated with the mighty Saturn V rocket, and a half-page colour picture on page 174 showing Apollo 17 astronaut geologist Harrison Schmitt standing next to the lunar rover, with his face clearly visible through his helmet visor…


There are lots of fascinating facts in the book, too. For example, I already knew that the “skin” of the lunar module was ridiculously thin, but until reading this book I had no idea just how thin: just 0.012″ thick, or as thick as three layers of aluminium cooking foil! As the book says, when the LEM was pressurised its skin “bulged outwards”… :-0

So, with the book read cover to cover, I was curious to know the story behind it, and to learn how Chris’s feelings about Apollo and space exploration have changed since we were last in contact. I sent him an email, asking if he’s mind answering a few questions for Cumbrian Sky, and he was happy to… ūüôā


1. APOLLO 11 OWNERS MANUAL Рanother Apollo project! What moved you to write this new title?


A friend – Phil Dolling thought up the idea and approached Haynes last summer ahead of the anniversary. ¬†They said yes – and asked him to recommend someone. ¬†He suggested me! ¬†I’d just spent a year researching the engineering of Apollo for Moon Machines so it was something I was interested in doing.
2. I¬†bought the book on Friday and even leafing through it quickly I realised that it¬†features some rarely seen ‚Äď and probably completely new ‚Äď images. Can you tell CS readers a little about the pictures in the book? Maybe pick out a¬†few favourite ones?
The pictures in the book represent ten years of trawling through NASA’s archive and tapping into the collective knowledge of some outstanding Apollo scholars (thanked in the acknowledgements). ¬†Hard to pick a favourite. ¬†Although it’s well used I guess I love the first picture in the book – with the Apollo 11 crew all smiling out from Columbia – their home en route to the Moon and back. ¬†I love this picture cos it says a lot to me about the astronaut’s relationship with the hardware and the engineering challenges of Apollo. One of my other favourites is the opener for the LM chapter of a tiny little LM on Apollo 16 (I think) making its descent to the lunar surface. ¬†It was taken from the Command Module and is the only shot I’ve ever seen like this showing the LM descending in this way. ¬†Sadly Haynes have printed it upside down in this first editionso I hope we can fix it in the next print run!
3. “IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON” was a huge worldwide hit, both with critics and audiences. Why do you think it was so popular?
We’d worked hard to capture intimate and engaging interviews with the astronauts – and I’d pushed hard from the start to persuade the director David Sington to shoot the interviews in this style – straight down the barrel of the lens – so it feels like a very personal encounter with them. ¬†Other than that I think it’s just good simple story telling – intercut with carefully chosen archive and a wonderful score by Philip Sheppard – nothing gimmicky. ¬†That’s what’s at the heart of its success I think.¬†
4. I’m sure by now you’ve seen the ‚Äúnew‚ÄĚ image of Neil Armstrong – retrieved from the Apollo archives by Andrew Chaikin – standing on the Moon, with his face visible. What are your thoughts on the story behind that? Why do you think Armstrong’s activities and presence on the Moon were so poorly recorded?
I’ve not seen it – can you point me to it. ¬†Buzz assured us that he’d never meant to return without a good photo of Armstrong on the surface – and you have to take his word. ¬†They were both very busy on the surface and I can easily believe that this was something that could have been overlooked.
5. Can you explain your personal passion for / obsession with Apollo? What makes those missions and that time so magical for you?
I guess it’s cos Apollo represented an extraordinary and lasting human achievement which united the world in ways that no politician or preacher has every really managed to do. ¬†Not bad for a bunch of engineers! ¬†On top of that I think Apollo is something of Galactic significance (as intelligent technological life is probably quite rare in the galaxy and the number of times in the Milky Way’s 13.9 billion year history that life has got going on one planet and left to explore another one is also probably quite rare). ¬†That’s something that continually amazes me – and I find that the more I explore the history of Apollo the more rich it becomes as a story. I’ve spent longer working on Apollo now than many of the original engineers and astronauts! ¬†But I continue to love it.
6. Just going back in time a little, what are your thoughts on “SPACE ODYSSEY” (known as “VOYAGE TO THE PLANETS – AND BEYOND” in the US) five years after it graced our screens? I was – and still am – a huge fan of the production, and still think it hasn’t received anything like the recognition or praise it deserved (even though I’m still mad at you for not showing the first footfall on Mars! What were you THINKING!?!?!) Do you think it “stands the test of time”? How would you change it now?
Thanks for your compliments. ¬†It was a lot of very very very hard work for two years of my life and it also¬†disappoints¬†me that it wasn’t recognised more widely. ¬†I haven’t watched it back again for some years – so not sure if it does stand the test of time – although I suspect the CGI is still OK. ¬†I also can’t believe we missed the first footfall on Mars – but looking back I guess (given that Buzz missed taking Neil’s picture on the Moon) it’s not impossible that circumstances and technical glitches might also have prevented it from being recorded in the story – but the truth is that on location in Chile the director blew it – despite my demands that they make the time to shoot it. ¬†I seem to remember that we collected some atacama dust and tried to reshoot it at Pinewood studios – but for some reason it didn’t cut well with the rest of the footage. ¬†Oh well!
7. Tell us a little about your other big Apollo project – the film “Moonwalk One”…
Well I first came across MWO at the BBC when a friend showed me it on crummy old Beta SP tape. ¬†It was still a dam good watch – with all that incredible footage buidling up to the launch. ¬†It’s all filmed so beautifully and we always used to lift bits of it to put into our own documentaries. ¬†Years later when we were making Shadow I remembered it and wondered if we could get a copy on film to transfer onto HD tape for the production. ¬†We eventually found a print at the National Archives in Washington – but it was not a great copy – badly colour faded and with some parts of the sound missing. ¬†But towards the end of Shadow we found the director of Moonwalk One on the web and I gave him a call. ¬†It turned out that he still had a 35mm print of the directors cut – a longer 110 minute version – and it proved to be the only remaining copy of this original cut of the film. ¬†Ever since then we have been working to bring a consortium of companies together to do justice to the restoration and remastering of the film to release it this summer. ¬†NASA had commissioned it back in May of 69 with just a few weeks to go before the launch of Apollo 11 and the director Theo Kamecke was asked to make them a time capsule film – capturing what life on Earth and in human society was going on that summer along side the first attempt to land on the Moon. ¬†So I guess what we are doing with this re-release is to open the entire time capsule again for the first time in 40 years.
8. As this Apollo 40th anniversary approaches, what are your feelings? Are you one of those people happy to solely celebrate the drama and achievements of Apollo, or are you ‚Äď like me ‚Äď frustrated that we turned our backs on Apollo, and the Moon, and today are another decade, at least, from going back..? Do we need to have another “Space Race” – with the Chinese perhaps? – to get manned space exploration moving again?
Well I am happy to celebrate Apollo and look back and help to remind people what an incredible thing we did back then. ¬†But I am also like you¬†disappointed¬†that we didn’t continue to maintain a presence on the Moon. ¬†However I think if we had there might be even less general interest in human¬†space flight. ¬†People would just say – “oh why are we still sending science teams to the moon at $3 trillion to keep the base operational…. there’s nothing more to discover there and what’s the point”. I suspect most people wouldn’t know the names of the current crew on the Moon if we were still there – just like they remain unaware of who’s on the ISS. ¬†Left as it was with the footprints of just 12 men on it – the Moon shots remained something sacred and special – a soruce of constant inspiration to the generation who grew up with APollo and went on to forge the IT revolution which has changed all our lives.¬†
9. What’s next? When are you going to do something about Mars? ūüėČ
Don’t know! ¬†Got any money to fund something else?
So, there you have it, something else to spend your hard-earned money on as the Apollo 40th anniversary approaches. No doubt there will be many, many more books published about Apollo as the anniversary draws near, but I doubt many will be as fact-packed, or as original, as the APOLLO 11 OWNER’S MANUAL. ūüôā