review: a funny thing happened on the way
  to the moon
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Sooner or later A Funny Thing has to deal with some of the obvious objections to a hoax. The viewer's first intuitive objection is rightly that the Apollo project was so large and widespread that its true nature couldn't have been hidden for very long. But that problem, the film alleges, could be solved by compartmentalization. Even though hundreds of thousands of people worked on the project, no one saw the "big picture". This presumes two conditions, neither of which the film substantiates.

First, the suggested compartmentalization has to be shown to exist. Engineers just don't work that way. The film implies that most of these workers were concerned only with the one part or the one fitting or the one procedure they were assigned to develop, and that they had little interest in, and no access to, information about any of the rest of the program. That's just patently false. NASA and its contractors required their engineers to attend training on the entire, overall designs and procedures. Handbooks comprising hundreds of pages of detailed descriptions, circuit diagrams, drawings, tables of analysis data, were all required reading for Apollo engineers.
Fig. 1 -Detail of page from a copy of the Lunar Module Orientation Manual, dating from 1966 depicting the LM cockpit. Also visible are some of the notes taken by its original owner about the functions of each of the controls.

Engineers prefer to work this way anyway. They prefer to accumulate as much information as possible about the problems they are trying to solve because it's often hard to determine ahead of time what facts will apply to any one problem. This was especially true for Apollo engineers, who were recruited from among the best young candidates in the country (and from other countries). Young, "hungry" engineers are notorious for going the extra mile to become acquainted with the "big picture". Today, even in retirement, these Apollo engineers can pull well-worn handbooks out of attic boxes and show you the notes in the margins (Fig. 1) that testify to their eagerness to understand everything and not to be bound by artificial limits.

The evidence shows that Apollo was nowhere near as compartmentalized as A Funny Thing suggests. Further, the survival of these training aids and widely-disseminated manuals let us 21st century engineers verify the "big picture" in retrospect. If the hardware didn't really work, as Sibrel suggests, then such failures would be evident in the designs. And if the detailed designs didn't follow the "big picture" (i.e., if these comprehensive handbooks were just fiction) then it would be easy to see.

Second, it has to be shown that the hoax would only be visible from the "big picture" and that anyone mired in details would miss it. It doesn't take much to realize that this can't be the case. Regardless of how compartmentalized you make the process, certain people would just have to know they were participating in a hoax. For example, the film crew in the studio where the lunar EVA footage is being faked will sooner or later understand what they're doing. They wouldn't have to be privy to the "big picture" to recognize that the footage they saw on television as the "live" moonwalk was the same footage they shot in their studios.

We have some 14,000 70mm photographs alone from Apollo. Those would all have to be faked, in some cases -- according to Sibrel -- by cutting and pasting or other darkroom shenanigans. If you started in 1965 and worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day without interruption, you would still have to crank out a faked photograph every half hour. That can only be accomplished by a team of people working in parallel. This army of photo fakers would definitely know what they were doing as soon as their work appeared in National Geographic as photos allegedly taken on the moon. They wouldn't need to know the "big picture" to realize they had taken part in a hoax.

The Manhattan Project and the phantom army assembled prior to the 1944 invasion of Normandy prove that large-scale deceptions are possible.

Fig. 4 -Two soldiers move a decoy Sherman tank, part of the materiel for the phantom U.S. Third Army formed to draw attention away from the real Normandy invasion in 1944. (National D-Day Museum)

A Funny Thing tries hard to characterize Apollo as a military project. Mr. Sibrel is not entirely wrong in connecting Apollo to the military. The military's bookkeeping system for techniques and specifications (MILSPEC) was used to keep track of Apollo engineering. Military administrators served in key roles. This was not because Apollo was a military project, but because military discipline and protocols provide the best available experience in safely managing and operating complex, experimental engineering. (Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents. Princeton Univ. Press: 1999, p. 305)

But here Sibrel draws the parallel so that it can refer to these secret wartime military operations as somehow similar to the supposedly super-secret Apollo. The more similarities that can be alleged, the less strenuously Sibrel has to argue the plausibility of his hoax scenario.

Unfortunately the contrasts are still too apparent. Both the Manhattan Project and the Normandy decoy operation occurred during an all-out war, when secrecy was standard procedure and not generally questioned. There are two levels of secrecy: things you know exist, but don't know about; and things that you simply don't know exist. People knew, for example, that the Manhattan Project existed. But they didn't know what it was trying to do.

Even though many people were involved with these secret projects, they were not expected to be secret for very long. The phantom army in England had to last only up until June 6, 1944, after which secrecy was no longer an issue. The special cloak of secrecy over the Manhattan Project had to last only until the bombs were used. After that, the purpose of the project would no longer be secret.

It's simply not true that these projects went undiscovered. In 1945 the U.S. government discovered that the Soviets had extensively infiltrated the Manhattan Project. The Soviets had nothing to gain by revealing their knowledge of the atomic bomb while Japan was still the enemy. But with the war over, the Soviets used their intelligence to develop their own atomic bomb. (Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel. Bombshell: The Secret Story of America's Unknown Atomic Spy. NY: Crown Publishing, 1997.)
Fig. 4 -Soviet representatives and American sailors prepare Apollo command module boilerplate BP-1227 for loading aboard a U.S. vessel in Murmansk. (Nandor Schuminszky)

The Soviets also had assets inside Apollo, according to former U.S. FBI agents. Further, they had recovered an Apollo boilerplate spacecraft, which they turned over ceremoniously to the U.S. in Murmansk after studying it extensively. Unlike either of the two projects mentioned, a vast amount of material was publicly available describing what NASA was supposed to be doing. Unlike either of the other projects, many academic and professional consultants were employed by Apollo without being sequestered in a secure facility such as Los Alamos. And unlike the other projects, most of Apollo was open to the press.

The TETR-A satellite could have been used to relay space communications in a way that made it seem like signals were coming from space.

We deal with the technical and historical impossibility of that proposal here.

Of course it is necessary to show that the hoax would be feasible not only from a social and operational standpoint, but also from a technical standpoint. But Sibrel is ill-equipped to describe in specific and plausible terms the complexity of faking a space mission to fool the whole world. While his thespian background gives him some insight into the wilful suspension of disbelief, it does not prepare him for the unforgiving world of engineering where the devil is in the details.

Nor can A Funny Thing recover from its myriad contradictions. Here Sibrel suggests that a relay satellite in low Earth orbit could mimic the signals from a moonbound spacecraft. But later he argues that the Apollo spacecraft itself was in low Earth orbit, obviating the need for TETR-A as a relay. The film doesn't present a coherent scenario so much as throw a handful of unrelated, ad hoc allegations of inconsistency and hope that some of the mud will stick and create doubt.

But in stepping back to observe these overall inconsistencies, the viewer sees the glaring flaw of the whole secrecy argument: A Funny Thing lays out what is alleged to be possible, but presents no evidence at all to substantiate that any of it actually happened in Apollo. This approach seems to suggest that Sibrel's opponents have the burden of proof not only to show that it didn't happen the way he claims it did, but that it couldn't have happened that way. If this were standard operating procedure in historical investigations, chaos would ensue. Such a policy would allow long-held and well-established historical conclusions to be overturned merely on the suggestion of an alternative possibility, regardless of how objectively absurd that possibility seems.

A Funny Thing wants to make its case by disputing the notion that a hoax was impossible. It's neither feasible nor necessary (in the logical sense) to prove that a hoax was impossible in order to discount a hoax theory. And Sibrel's challenges fall far short of showing a hoax was possible. To dismiss the hoax theory it is necessary merely to show that, all things considered, it is more likely that the missions were authentic than that they were fake. It's not possible to be 100% certain of that, as Sibrel demands, and the implied requirement that NASA must prove that fakery was impossible (as opposed to merely implausible) shifts the burden of proof much too far away from Mr. Sibrel.

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