una ronald and the coke bottle
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We first discuss the "Una Ronald" story as described in Dark Moon. Then we discuss the authors' summer 2003 response to the points we and others have raised.

In western Australia, a woman pseudonymed "Una Ronald" stayed up late to watch live Apollo 11 coverage and saw a Coke bottle kicked across the screen. When the coverage was repeated the next day, the bottle had disappeared. [Mary Bennett and David Percy, Dark Moon, pp. 319ff]

This is obviously a pretty fantastic story, one which the authors claim holds "great importance." We think we know what Una Ronald's "Coke bottle" might have been, but the authors maintain that what "Una" saw cannot be seen in existing videotapes and kinescopes.

The inhabitants of western Australia did not see the same version of the moonwalk as the rest of the world. Since the radio telescope receiving the signal was located in eastern Australia, the Australian television stations just copied the signal directly before it was sent off to America and the rest of the world. Una Ronald actually saw a delayed broadcast of videotape flown to Perth from Sydney. There was no direct hookup across the Australian continent so the western Australians had no way of seeing it live.

This is how Bennett and Percy deftly attempt to patch up the first large hole in Una Ronald's story, namely that she had to "stay up" to watch the moonwalk live. The Apollo 11 EVA occurred in the late morning in western Australian time. So Una couldn't have "stayed up" to watch it live. Bennett and Percy gently ignore Una's mistaken recollection and assert she must have been watching taped coverage replayed later at night.

Unfortunately the authors are wrong about the live hookup. The telecast was received via satellite at Carnarvon, north of Perth, and then beamed to Perth over an ad hoc network specifically constructed to carry the moonwalk live to western Australia. So Una Ronald could have seen the moonwalks live from her home, but not at the time she claimed.

In the end it changes the story very little. If Una had been watching a tape-delayed repeat, it could be consistent with when she said she watched it. We bring up these inconsistencies to show that Aulis authors simply pick and choose the parts of her story they present as credible evidence, and pass over the parts that don't add up. In order for Bennett and Percy's conclusion below to make sense, it must have been a tape-delayed broadcast, so they just change Una Ronald's story to match the conclusion they want to draw. And it's not the only time they change her story.

In contrast to the grainy, indistinct images of the astronauts, the Coke bottle was clear and sharp and unmistakable.

The authors suggest that the Coke bottle might have been added by an anonymous Australian whistle-blower between when the telecast was recorded in Sydney, and when it was rebroadcast from Perth. This is why the authors argue that Una must have seen a videotape. It would have been practically impossible for someone to interject a convincing Coke bottle facsimile into a live transmission undetected. However, some technician with access to the video could have done it off-line.

This is the second attempt to gloss over major differences between Una Ronald's story and what the Aulis authors want to make of it. After seeing the Coke bottle, Una exclaimed, "It's a fake!" How could there be a Coke bottle on the moon? It must have been filmed on earth.

In other words, Una believes the Coke bottle was actually on the "set" with the astronauts, not pasted on in post-production by some mysterious mischievous video engineer. But she can't answer why the bottle was so suspiciously recognizable in contrast to the rest of the picture, yet still part of the scene. The Aulis authors de-emphasize that Una thought the Coke bottle was integral to the scene, and predicate their hypothesis solely on the other part of her observation.

But that's a significant departure, at least from the point of view of the authenticity of the footage. Una's interpretation, if correct, would mean that the moonwalk itself was fraudulent. There were no Coke bottles on the moon. The astronauts couldn't have kicked one across the surface if it hadn't actually been there, as she believes. But in the Aulis interpretation the bottle wasn't really there on the "set". It was added electronically to the picture. That, unfortunately, doesn't prove that the underlying picture was fabricated.

If you take a real picture of the real Eiffel Tower and then use Photoshop to insert a flying saucer, the resulting image -- taken as a whole -- would be considered fraudulent. But that doesn't change the fact that the background plate was actually taken of the Eiffel Tower. That part of it is still real. So when Bennett and Percy depart (again) from Una Ronald's story to argue that the Coke bottle must have been added later, they fall well short of proving by this that the telecast itself was false.

The unknown Australian whistle-blower was sending the message that the Apollo 11 telecast was nothing but a big marketing ploy.

To be fair, Bennett and Percy clearly label this conclusion as speculation, but at this point it's speculation piled on top of speculation. They can't prove that the incident even took place, and yet they devise fanciful explanations for it. Logically this is a subversion of support.

As it stands the hypothesis is circular. Aulis' interpretation stems from an assumed premise that the footage was fake, and that their hypothetical whistle-blower is assumed to know about it. If you relax the assumption that the footage was fake (since this is, after all, what they're trying to prove) then the hypothetical video tamperer can have a variety of motives, including pure mischief.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First we still require proof that the Coke bottle actually appeared at all.

When Una and her friends watched the repeats, the bottle was not there. But a week or so later, letters to the editor appeared in The Western Australian newspaper from other people who had seen it. The Western Australian declined to respond to our inquiries about those letters. [Bennett and Percy, op. cit.]

While Bennett and Percy emphasize the Western Australian's lack of cooperation, they neglect to tell the reader whether they verified the existence of those letters by other means. After all, you don't need the testimony of the editor to establish that a certain letter was or was not published in a widely-circulated newspaper. You just look at the back issues.

Clavius researcher Peter Barrett examined surviving copies of The Western Australian dating to the time in question and failed to find any mention whatsoever of Coke bottles in the moonwalk telecast.

Chief librarian Tracey Bennett (no relation to Mary) for The Western Australian has confirmed that no letter or article regarding a Coke bottle in the moonwalk telecast was printed in either of their two newspapers for at least two weeks following the broadcast. (And it only took Clavius researchers 48 hours and one request to confirm this.)

Are we surprised?

The claim that The Western Australian published those letters comes from -- you guessed it -- Una Ronald herself. She claims there was a protracted discussion in print which was abruptly terminated. But no evidence of such a discussion can be produced.

It wasn't just about a Coke bottle. Una Ronald was suspicious about the lighting, which she felt was "odd". She also was confused by the apparent inconsistencies in shadows.

We think it's suspicious that Una would already be fairly well versed in the standard allegations of moon hoax conspiracists before seeking out Bennett and Percy. And all of these allegations use the Hasselblad photography as their basis; the lighting and shadow arguments are generally not arguable from the Apollo 11 video, as these images are of too poor quality. But Una said she was suspicious of those shadow directions while watching the telecast, before any of the Hasselblad photographs had been released. (And, indeed, before many of them had even been taken.)

Una Ronald allowed us to tell her story only if we kept her anonymous.

Then why does Una Ronald appear, undisguised, on camera in What Happened on the Moon? Bennett and Percy seem fairly unconcerned about keeping their "whistle-blower" from being recognized. They're only concerned, apparently, with making sure no one can investigate or verify her story.


We simply dismiss Aulis' allegation of some mysterious hypothetical Australian whistle-blower. It's circular, tacked-on speculation. And Aulis has to bend and twist Una Ronald's story in order to make it fit their conclusion anyway. Let's see if we can come up with a different interpretation of Una Ronald.

First, did she see the moonwalk live, or on tape? We'll be honest -- we don't know. Either is possible. We presume Una remembers whether she watched it during the day or late at night, so if we trust that part of her story then we concede she saw a taped version. But she claimed to have seen it live? Well, she was mistaken, and this is an understandable mistake.

If we strip away the selective analysis of Bennett and Percy, we're left with a woman who claims to have seen, live, an unmistakable Coke bottle kicked across the "moon" surface. But the next day, on the re-run, it was gone. All this, put together, points to a claim that the "live" broadcast contained that blooper which was hastily edited out of the re-run.

But hundreds of millions of people saw the moonwalks live. If we stay true to Una's belief, those hordes of people would have had to see it to. And we believe they did. Only, for whatever reason, they didn't recognize it as Una did. Nevertheless it does fit Una's observation very closely. It's in the lower right portion of the screen, and it does appear to bounce along as would a bottle kicked across the ground.

Una says she could clearly identify it, but let's be honest. No matter how pristine the video image, who can recognize a Coke bottle as it's being kicked? But Una needs to be able to claim the object was what she said it was. If it was simply a trick of light or a bit of insulation, she has nothing to say about it to the world. It has to be a bottle and she has to be sure about it.

But how to deal with repeats? The object she perhaps caught out of the corner of her eye in the "live" broadcast was there again, but not nearly as unmistakable as it was the night before. So did she "remember" the prior broadcast differently? Was this the point at which she said, "No, I must have seen something different last night?"

Now simmer for thirty years, adding a conspiracy theory book occasionally. She learns about shadow angles, of "botched" illumination, of the various telltales others notice. Then when the Aulis authors advertise for any potential Apollo "whistle-blowers" she sees her moment to shine. After 30 years of reinforcing her belief that she really did see something extraordinary that winter night in western Australia, she's ready to tell her story.

But what about the corroboration? Una can't produce any other witnesses, so she invents the little white lie about The Western Australian. After all, are the Aulis authors really going to do all that legwork to verify that part of the story? (It turns out she was right; they didn't.) And she desperately needs some sort of objective corroboration. Maybe she did, in fact, "remember" that the newspaper published those letters. Unfortunately the facts disagree, and Ms. Ronald's recollections must take a back seat to cold fact, even if it means accusing a sweet lady of telling white lies.

Are we speculating? Absolutely. Are we putting thoughts and motives into Una Ronald's head? Absolutely. Might we be entirely wrong about that whole scenario? Without a doubt.

But that's the point. Una Ronald doesn't give us anything to go on except Una Ronald. There are no facts to corroborate her story, no opportunity to ask clarifying questions, no opportunity for investigation or verification whatsoever. We have an excuse: we don't know who Una Ronald is. We'd love to interview her, but we can't. So we have to speculate and risk taking a beating for it.

Aulis, however, doesn't have that excuse. They know who she is, but they aren't telling. Nor do they apparently feel like doing any serious investigation of her claims, except to wrap an absurd, fanciful tale around it.


In summer 2003, Mary Bennett and David Percy responded to claims made here and elsewhere regarding the suspicious aspects of Una Ronald's claims.

(Paraphrasing their critics) Since the residents of Perth were able to see the live images on their TVs that Coke bottle is in this lady's imagination.

No. Since the residents of Perth were able to see the moon landings live, we know that Una Ronald was mistaken in her claims in one of two possible ways. The authors did not apparently ask Una Ronald herself to correct or clarify her claims, nor will they allow us to conduct a proper investigation. Instead, they concluded what she "must" have seen based on their understanding of the Australian telecast. Their understanding has been shown to be incomplete, thus their second-guess treatment of Una's testimony becomes suspect.

(Paraphrasing their critics) She only saw a 'flare' on the screen that looked like a Coke bottle.

We have clearly labeled this as our hypothetical theory. We have found an anomaly that matches in duration and location Una Ronald's description of where she saw the "Coke bottle". We cannot, of course, confirm that it is what she saw unless the authors are willing to allow us to interview their witness.

(Paraphrasing their critics) Either that or we have invented her, since she seems to have too great an appreciation of lighting problems and no knowledge of the time differences between England and Australia.

We have considered -- but rejected -- the hypothesis that "Una Ronald" is simply an invention of the authors. We believe it is likely she is a real person. However, we cannot reconcile with the facts all the claims that she has made, nor all the claims that the authors have made about her and on her behalf. It is suspicious that the authors keep her identity secret, for how can we accept the testimony of a witness unless we are able to satisfy our own curiosity?

The issue of the time difference would pique the curiosity of a conscientious researcher. Such a researcher would ask, "Ms. Ronald, are you aware that the moon landings were broadcast live in Australia in the morning?" Our authors seem not to have asked that question. They have just put words in their witness's mouth.

The issue of Una's apparently astute observation of lighting issues raises the question of bias. A careful researcher, knowledgeable of the various claims in this area, would ask, "Ms. Ronald, have you read any books or seen any programs that argue for faked moon landings based on image analysis of shadows and illumination?"

Keep in mind that Ms. Ronald claims to have drawn these lighting conclusions based solely on the downlink video -- of admittedly very poor quality. Of all the authors that allege improper illumination (wrong shadows, etc.), none uses the Apollo 11 television kinescopes as evidence. In fact, very little shadow or illumination information can be discerned in what Ms. Ronald saw on her television screen. But in the subsequent years, after the high-quality Hasselblad photographs and the 16 millimeter film became available, then there arose questions of light and shadow which quickly became the core of the hoax theory evidence. And no one has yet shown any of those alleged effects in the kinescopes, even after Una Ronald says she saw them.

Either Una Ronald has image interpretation skills which far exceed even the professionals, or else she has retrofitted her recollection of the Apollo downlinks with information which has come to be commonly associated with the hoax theory. We simply favor the latter explanation.

Attempting to pin this story on us ... is pointless, because the flare exists on all versions of this event.

And we have dealt with this above.

The Coca-Cola bottle was visible once-and once only.

...According to Ms. Ronald, that is. Such a thing to see, but no one else saw it. True, she claims others saw it, but those claims cannot be verified. She cannot produce even a single corroborating evidence. The discussion she claims was in the newspaper is patently not there. Although it was easy for us to verify its absence in the newspaper, Ms. Bennett and Mr. Percy apparently had great difficulty doing so. It leads us to question how hard they really tried to verify Una Ronald's story. Dark Moon considers the possibility that it was simply a misperception, but then goes on to bank fully upon the supposed corroboration from The Western Australian. Well, absent that corroboration we're back to square one.

After all is said and done, the authors can give us only the unverified testimony of an anonymous woman.

And its movement across the screen, as described by Una Ronald, did not in any way emulate that of the flare.

It appears in the place described by Una Ronald. It has been cited by many other conspiracists as a "Coke bottle" kicked across the surface. It is only two or three seconds long, as Una says.

It may very well be that Una Ronald saw something that behaved entirely different, but Ms. Bennett and Mr. Percy aren't especially good at keeping to Una Ronald's story. They don't seem to do a very good job at trying to fit her story with the facts. And so it's clear that in order to know exactly what's going on, we need to speak to Una Ronald. She's the authority on what she saw, but we only get her testimony through the untrustworthy filter of Dark Moon.

Apart from reading Una Ronald's statements very selectively...

We find this particularly amusing since the authors don't agree with Ms. Ronald's stated conclusion. She believes she's watching it being acted out on a film set. The authors believe she's watching an edited videotape. They have not reconciled these two claims. They simply depart from her claims when it seems to them convenient.

Very well, so have we. The difference is that we try to explain the discrepancies between our theory and Ms. Ronald's claims. We are hampered by our inability to interview Ms. Ronald. The authors had that opportunity, but chose not to follow up.

...this lady lived nowhere near Perth or its environs.

Where she actually lived is irrelevant. Where her television programs came from is what interests us. In Dark Moon we read

"Contrary to the established pattern set up by Parkes observatory together with NASA and Australian Television, the images of 'Apollo 11' destined for Western Australia were not set via satellite, neither was there a broadband link from Sidney. The moonwalk had to be retransmitted from Perth to the relatively small population of that region." (op. cit., p. 320, emphasis added)
The authors tell us Una Ronald lived near Perth -- or at least close enough to watch Perth television -- when it suits their purpose. But when the holes in their story appear, then all of a sudden Ms. Ronald doesn't live anywhere near Perth. It seems the qualities and properties of Ms. Ronald become whatever Ms. Bennett and Mr. Percy need them to be to fend off any particular question.

Again, if we could interview Ms. Ronald ourselves, this would solve all the problems.

Her work and life did not permit her to see any TV during the daytime -- even an event such as Apollo...

More convenient revision. Ms. Ronald's employer did not see fit to give her Monday morning off to watch the moon landings live -- along with millions of other Australians -- even when great and expensive lengths had been undertaken to provide a live telecast to her backwater area of the country. But she got Tuesday morning off (Dark Moon, p. 319) to watch the re-runs.

The fact that our information referring to the distribution of TV to Western Australia was considered incorrect by our detractors is now somewhat difficult for them, since the information we received when writing Dark Moon came from the same official source as their apparently correct data, namely CSIRO in Parkes Australia.

We're not uncomfortable in the least. We simply dug deeper than the Dark Moon authors and consequently got better information than they. Real researchers admit their errors, when they make them, and apologize and move on. Conspiracists such as Bennett and Percy try ... well, they try a tap dance like the above.

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