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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