4.3.1c Mission images – The voyage home
The first image examined on the return journey is AS11-
Figure 4.3.67: AS11-
Figure 4.3.68: Main image -
On the now magnified Earth, the storm identified in figure 4.3.63 off southern Chile
(magenta arrow) has moved onshore and there are still persistent fog banks off northern
Chile (yellow arrow). When the ATS-
The Stellarium time estimate puts the terminator at roughly 19:00 GMT. As far as
satellite timings are concerned, the ATS-
There is a very similar colour photograph on magazine 44, AS11-
Figure 4.3.69: AS11-
Figure 4.3.70: Section of West Africa around the terminator from AS11-
Although seemingly the same view of Earth as the black and white image from magazine
38, the colour image shows a clear movement along the terminator consistent without
The next image from the 22nd is again one that is duplicated in magazines 38 and
44, although on this occasion there is very little difference between the two, and
therefore they must have been taken very close together. On this occasion, the colour
Figure 4.3.71: AS11-
Figure 4.3.72: AS11-
Figure 4.3.73: ESSA-
The 'X' shape (blue arrow) is much more visible now, and is evidently not in the same configuration as the 'X' shown on the 21st. The storm systems off south America are coming into view, and these are also in a different configuration to those shown on previous days.
Stellarium estimates a time of around 22:00 for the photographs, and this compares with an estimated start time for ESSA's terminator orbit (track 3, pass number 1829) of 18:09. The NIMBUS track for the terminator is orbit 1332, which commenced at 15:12.
Having suggested that the two photographs were taken at the same time, it's worth double checking that they aren't actually just the same photograph. Figure 4.3.74 shows a comparison of the two images at the terminator region over Chile.
Figure 4.3.74: AS11-
The suggestion here is that the colour image was taken marginally before the black and white image, as the large band of cloud running left to right across the centre of the images appears closer to the terminator in the black and white version, and there are similar differences elsewhere on the photographs. They could, however, just be reflections of different image quality, but what does emerge is that there are enough subtle differences to show that they are not identical images rendered black and white through some sort of image processing. It is likely that the colour image was taken first, and the difference in the two around the terminator represents the time difference involved in setting down one camera, picking up the other, checking the settings and taking the photograph.
July 22nd also presents history with an interesting diversion involving the role of satellite images in the Apollo 11 landing.
In 2004, the Naval Postgraduate School, amongst others, published this article: Saving Apollo 11. It contains an interesting and now declassified story about how naval Captain Willard 'Sam' Houston Jr & Air Force Major Hank Brandli between them managed to divert the Apollo 11 landing site to avoid potential storms that could rip the CM parachutes to shreds, killing the astronauts on impact.. It is full of dramatic language, with tales of secret meetings and information from a covert satellite. This satellite contained (according to Hank Brandli) higher quality images than anywhere else (it is probably one of the DAPP/DMSP satellites described in Chapter 2).
Brandli's own website contains a version of the story here: http://libertyyes.homestead.com/hankbrandli-
“Brandl was the only person with access to this critical information – NASA's satellites weren't nearly this advanced – and he was forbidden to share what he knew.”
In what Brandli claims was a career threatening move, he went to Captain Houston, who then went straight to the top with classified top secret data and convinced Rear Admiral (Donald C.) Davis (the man in charge of the Apollo rescue operation) that Apollo 11 was doomed, who then persuaded NASA to alter the landing area “without proof” to avoid impending disaster. According to the articles, “violent thunderstorms” were found by reconnaissance craft on the 24th (the day of the landing), vindicating the decision and Brandli's meteorological skills. According to 'Saving Apollo 11', Houston was awarded a Navy Commendation Gold Medal for his work.
Brandli's website also contains two other versions of the same events: http://libertyyes.homestead.com/hankbrandli-
In October 1969, well before the 1995 declassification of the CORONA mission with which Brandli was involved, ESSA published one of its quarterly publications “ESSA World” (source: NOAA Rescue Archives). In it is an article covering ESSA's support of the Apollo 11 mission, starting with the weather forecasting for the launch period, then describing their monitoring of solar flares, before finally covering weather forecasting for the landing period. An earlier edition of the journal outlines the same role for Apollo 7, and evidently satellite meteorology was a major part of the mission.
The article describes the work of the Spaceflight Meteorology Group's staff at Suitland and Honolulu (which you will recall from Chapter 2 worked for both NASA and DoD), whose job was to monitor incoming satellite images covering the target landing area, while other staff in Houston kept NASA informed of developments in the weather. On July 22nd, these meteorologists spotted a change in the weather on the satellite photos, and examination of successive images suggested relatively strong winds, 6 foot waves and the possibility of thunderstorms. The conditions were not too difficult for landing, but turbulence was a concern. To quote one of the meteorologists,
"On the basis of the Spaceflight Meteorology Group's forecasts, the end-
One of the key military contacts was a “Captain William Houston”, commander of the Fleet Weather Central at Pearl Harbour, and it seems likely that this is the same Captain Willard 'Sam' Houston described in the other articles, who held the same position.
So, we appear to have something of a contradiction in the story. While Houston &
Brandli weren't allowed to speak about their weather forecasting role in the Apollo
mission, ESSA were freely discussing their own role, and seem more than convinced
that they were responsible for re-
ESSA world helpfully includes two satellite images from ATS-
Figure 4.3.75: Photograph cited in this article ‘Saving Apollo 11’ . No definite date is given, and the photograph may or may not be the one cited by Brandli as being responsible for his actions.
The Apollo image used is a black & white one, AS11-
Figure 4.3.76: AS11-
Figure 4.3.77: AS11-
Figure 4.3.78: Comparison of Earth seen in AS11-
Figure 4.3.79: Top image -
According to Stellarium, the Apollo image used is actually from the early hours of
the 23rd . The ATS-
This view of Earth is also captured on video. On the way back from the moon the crew made a couple of TV broadcasts capturing their thoughts after successfully landing. One such live broadcast shown on ABC news is recorded here: youtube source. The date of the broadcast is not given specifically in the clip, but the words in the mission transcript make it clear that is the one made at 155:36, or just after 01:00 GMT on July 23rd. There is discussion before the broadcast of trying to get the moon and Earth in opposite windows ready for the broadcast, and Mission Control initially mistake a now very distant moon for the Earth.
At 155 :51, or around 01:20 ,after some demonstrations of life in weightless conditions, Collins says:
"Roger. Stand by one, and we'll get you that Earth one."
and begins a long zoom into what is initially a white blob, but ultimately ends in
the screenshot shown in figure 4.3.80. Figure 4.3.81 shows that image in comparison
with the ESSA & ATS images, as well as AS11-
Figure 4.3.80: Screenshot taken towards the end of live Apollo TV broadcast, 23/07/69.
Figure 4.3.81: TV image from 23/07/69 compared with ESSA-
The comparison between the video still and the black & white image is obvious, particularly the large system picked out by the red arrow.
After the broadcast, at 156:12 MET into the mission, or about 01:35 on the 23rd , shortly after a TV broadcast, Collins reports that:
“Roger. We were watching a few clouds in your area through the monocular along the Texas Gulf Coast this afternoon, and we also noticed there were clouds over Baja California, which is a little bit unusual.”
so they were clearly positioned correctly in space to see what Stellarium says should be visible.
Returning to the Apollo rescue story, what is evident is that there were several satellites, and even eye witness reports from space, containing the information that NASA required to judge whether a landing site was safe or not. Reconnaissance flights on the day of the landing itself revealed “considerable showers” in the original landing zone, rather than the “violent thunderstorms” that the article claims they found. However as anyone who has relied on a weather forecast knows, they can be incorrect.
Can we find anything to support Brandli’s version? Certainly at this point in the mission NASA weren’t worried and advised through Capcom that:
“We got the -
Even at about 172 hours in (around 17:35 on the 23rd), Capcom are still unperturbed:
“Present forecast shows acceptable conditions in your recovery area: 2000 foot scattered,
high scattered, wind from 070 degrees, 13 knots, visibility 10 miles, and sea state
about 4 feet. The forecast yesterday showed a tropical storm, Claudia, some 500 to
1000 miles east of Hawaii. The -
While NASA were relaxed, other areas of the operation were evidently concerned. The navy photographer for the recovery operation reports (in Navy History) that:
“Deteriorating weather with rain, high winds and rough seas approached the Primary Recovery Area and caused much concern on July 22. The Navy and NASA decided it was best to move the splashdown site to another location 250 miles from the storm. USS Hornet steamed at full speed to the new location 950 miles southwest of Hawaii. A few of the crew wondered if we’d be late for splashdown.“
And in this article Popular Mechanics, Chuck Deiterich, retrofire officer (RETRO)
for the black team at Mission Control and therefore responsible for the re-
“ About 16 hours before re-
The Mission Recovery log (available for download at the Kennedy Space Centre website, membership required) shows an entry at 00:45 on the 24th:
“Suddenly there are weather problems [at the recovery site]. Forecast now says 1000
feet scattered, 2000 feet broken overcast. Many thundery showers with tops to 50000
feet! Visibility 10 nautical miles, 0.5 -
The above has been ‘translated’ from the many abbreviations used. “130” refers to Task Force 130, the naval flotilla responsible for recovery, of which USS Hornet was the lead vessel. The start of the log specifically notes that it will record weather reports and observations, so obviously they were keeping an eye on the situation regardless of any secret operations. It is interesting that the last comment says that it is 130’s forecast, rather than NASA or ESSA.
The entry for 01:30 on the 24th says:
"Retro says if we move [recovery] he would want to move it no more than 80 nautical miles uprange or no less than 150 nautical miles downrange. 130 recommends approx 250 downrange for new [target point]"
And the move is confirmed in the log at 03:05, so that by 181:42 MET (c. 03:15 on the 24th) Capcom can relay the following to Apollo 11:
“the weather is clobbering in at our targeted landing point due to scattered thunderstorms.
We don't want to tangle with one of those, so we are going to move the -
We also have evidence from USS Hornet herself. This document Military History records the official time of the course change as 04:04 on the 24th, giving the reason for that change as
“a forecast of marginal weather”
And later notes that
"The evening prior to splashdown...weather in the end-
USS Hornet’s own handwritten logs (available at Research Archives) also record the course change at that time.
It is entirely possible that Brandli's version of events is true, and he did find evidence of likely problems in the landing zone independently of ESSA in the military's DAPP satellite data, and went hell for leather to Captain Houston to report his findings. It certainly seems that the course change was sudden and relatively late in the day and his actions in relating that to someone who was in a good position to influence matters may well have been crucial. This has to be reconciled with ESSA’s own reports that they were seeing this by the 22nd that certainly weren’t top secret, and that Task Force 130 were producing their own forecasts.
We know from the numerous examples presented in this research that the satellite images used by NASA were of very high quality, certainly better than the one shown in figure 4.3.75. We know that ESSA’s satellites & personnel were closely involved in this and other missions so they must have had access to accurate forecasts. It’s also fair to say that DoD satellites had a more sophisticated array of specialist sensors, even if the overall image quality was comparable it could measure things more precisely and used more parameters to aid forecasting.
There are areas in the image shown in 4.3.75 that have broad similarities with ESSA
& Apollo photographs, but others where there are clear differences. It is possible
that the chosen DAPP image is one that was available, rather than the actual one
presented by Brandli. There are also many areas where the two stories contradict
each other. The 'Screaming Eagles' image is difficult to reconcile with those taken
by ESSA & ATS-
For example where are the cloud and fog banks off Baja California and California that have been a persistent feature over the mission? It is possible that cloud bands picked out by the yellow arrow in the southern Hemisphere and the blue arrow in the north are those either side of the image label “Cu Streets” in figure 4.3.75, but the type of cloud is completely different, and the 'screaming eagles' don't seem to be there at all.
Maybe Brandli's story is correct and ESSA's is just a cover, but it is a cover that has the benefit of using many well publicised 'free to air' satellites and a team of meteorologists actually based with NASA and that was published months, rather than decades, after the landings. Houston’s Navy Commendation citation is certainly genuine, and specifically cites his role in diverting the rescue fleet.
We also know that the military had well document involvement in weather forecasting. Patrick Air Force Base had their own newsletter, “The Missileer”, and just before Apollo 11 this edition detailed the convening of the support group, including a Lieutenant Colonel RH Dowd as being the liaison for weather.
Interestingly, this edition discusses the role of the NIMBUS satellites in mission
support in SE Asia, while this one details Apollo 9’s support role by the Department
Of Defense -
We also have contradictory testimony from Scott Carmichael’s book “Moon men return: USS Hornet and the Recovery of the Apollo 11 Astronauts”:
"Hornet occasionally sent aircraft aloft to chec weather conditions within her immediate operating area, but she had no means to collect weather data beyond the limited range of such flights. Conditions which developed far over the horizon were hidden from view. And commercial weather satellite systems simply did not exist in 1969. So it was impossible for Hornet to predict weather conditions days in advance of the splashdown."
This is self-
A possible scenario would be that Brandli, working at the same air force base (Hickam
Field) thet provided recovery and weather reconnaissance aircraft for Task force
130, sees a forecast that threatens the mission and contacts an officer with direct
links to the SMG -
Houston passes on his information, the SMG then deliberate the evidence from all sides, revise their forecasts and suggest a new landing area.
The story they release is technically accurate in that ESSA changed the landing area thanks to a new forecast, but the detail revealing the role of a classified military satellite in the process was omitted from public release. Brandli has also written elsewhere on the Data Acquisition and Processing Program and its results, which used military polar orbital satellites, eg Air Power and MWR and is clearly knowledgeable on the subject, and it is interesting that his articles start appearing after the initial declassification in 1973. It’s also interesting that he was not given the same recognition as Captain Houston.
It's unlikely that the image used in many articles showing the 'Screaming Eagles' is the one used by Brandli. Even the mosaic ESSA images are of comparable quality, and the zoomed in images from ESSA & NIMBUS used here are extremely clear and detailed.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Apollo’s eventual landing zone was altered, Captain Houston was credited with saving their lives, and the shifting weather patterns are recorded in Apollo’s images.
We digress – there is still some time to go before recovery, and there are more photographs to analyse, An example of this detail occurs next in the narrative.
Another weather system around on the 22nd, one that is mentioned on several occasions
in the mission transcripts, is Tropical Storm Claudia. Claudia was a short lived
storm that formed off Hawaii on July 21st and was dying away by July 23rd. It was
reported in several journals, including the monthly weather review: MWR . It is also
mentioned in the Mariner's weather log in September 1969 (MWL). Claudia was hidden
by darkness in the photographs from the 21st and 22nd, but should be visible as a
remnant on the 23rd in AS11-
Figure 4.3.82 shows Claudia as seen from ESSA 8 on the 21st (from the MWR), ESSA-
Figure 4.3.82: Tropical storm Claudia on the 21st (bottom left), 22nd (right) and the early hours of the 23rd (top left). Sources identified in the text.
For the next image we have a return to a view of Australia, this time from Magazine 38.
Figure 4.3.83: AS11-
Figure 4.3.84: ESSA-
There are some features on this image that can also be found in the previous one,, but they are mostly unidentified to allow for new features to be picked out. The blue arrow in figure 4.3.73 shows the same arrow as the cyan arrow in this one. The purple and yellow arrows in figure 4.3.73 show systems that are still (just) visible in figure 4.3.84. It's interesting to note that the weather systems that were so prominent around Australia on the days around the landing have largely disintegrated and are much less coherent than before. The storm picked out by the yellow arrow is shown in (level adjusted) detail with the corresponding NIMBUS tile just because it is undeniably there!
Stellarium estimates a time for this image as around 05:30 on the 23rd, derived largely from the position of Australia. ESSA's terminator orbit (track 6, pass 1832) commenced at 00:05 on the 23rd.The NIMBUS terminator pass (or at least the first one with any data) is orbit 1338, which commenced at 01:57 on the 23rd.
The next set of images of Earth consist of another pair taken with different cameras, one from magazine 38 and one from the colour magazine 44.
By way of variety, the colour image, AS11-
Figure 4.3.85: AS11-
Figure 4.3.86: AS11-
Figure 4.3.87: Main image shows ESSA-
Stellarium estimates a time of this image as around 17:00 on the 23rd, and it is beginning to be more noticeable that the Earth is moving towards a crescent shape as time passes. The colour image hardly differs from the black and white version, although the different angle of the Earth (caused by the PTC roll) suggests that there is a small time gap, it is difficult to pick out anything along the terminator that would indicate how much.
Figure 4.3.88 shows one area that hints at the colour image being taken first, as there seems to be more visible of the cloud trending from the centre to the 4 o'clock position at the terminator, but as before it could easily be a product of image quality.
Figure 4.3.88: Comparison of sections of AS11-
The ATS image is timed at 15:17 on the 23rd. ESSA-
The next image taken of Earth is AS11-
Figure 4.3.89: AS11-
Figure 4.3.90: Main image shows ESSA-
Stellarium puts the Apollo image as being taken at 19:30, and it is interesting to note that the crescent on Stellarium is more pronounced than that of the Apollo view, with Stellarium's lunar viewpoint becoming more divergent from the Apollo one as it nears home.
During their wake-
“The forecast yesterday showed a tropical storm, Claudia, some 500 to 1000 miles
east of Hawaii. The -
This is, again, confirmation that NASA were using their own satellite images to monitor closely weather conditions likely to affect the landing area, and also that the landing zone had moved. Unfortunately Viola did not (as far as is possible to tell) make it onto any Apollo photographs.
As far as the satellite timings are concerned, ATS-
A couple of images later, we have AS11-
Figure 4.3.91: AS11-
Figure 4.3.92: Main image -
In this photograph, there has been sufficient rotation of the Earth to allow the spectacular weather system off western south America to come more clearly into view, but not sufficient to completely remove some of the cloud patterns visible in the previous analysis. The cyan, yellow, magenta and blue arrows all point to features visible in figure 4.3.90.
Stellarium puts the time of the photograph as around 22:00. The time of the ATS image is, as usual unchanged. ESSA's orbital pass over the terminator is number 1840 (track 2), which commenced at 16:07 on the 23rd. The NIMBUS pass for the same region is 1345, which commenced at 14:28 on the 23rd.
The next image of Earth is a return to the colour magazine, number 44, and shows the scene a few hours later, with the journey home into its final day.
Figure 4.3.93 shows AS11-
Figure 4.3.93: AS11-
Figure 4.3.94: ESSA-
In this photograph, all of south America has gone, but much of north America is still visible, and the persistent fog banks off California (blue arrow) dominate the view of the northern hemisphere. The large system in the south identified by the red arrow is also visible in figure 4.3.79, but in a slightly different formation, and slightly further east.
Stellarium puts the terminator, just off the east coast of the USA, at around 01:30
on the 24th, 15 hours before re-
The next image of Earth on magazine 38 shows a very similar scene, and was taken
only an hour later (if Stellarium is to be believed) than AS11-
Figure 4.3.95: AS11-
Figure 4.3.96: AS11-
Figure 4.3.97: ESSA-
It should be evident that there are still features visible on this photograph that are also visible on the previous two pictures used from this magazine. The red, yellow and cyan arrows all point to the same cloud features shown in those colours in figure 4.3.94, while the magenta arrow in that figure picks out the eastern end of the band of cloud marked by the green arrow in figure 4.3.97. The banks of fog off the US coast are still visible at the northern end of the terminator line.
No NIMBUS data are available for this part of the image, and so we are left with
only ESSA for comparisons. ESSA's nearest orbit to the terminator is number 1843
(track 5), which commenced at 21:03 on the 23rd. Stellarium's estimate is that the
photograph was taken at 02:30 on the 24th, 14 hours before re-
The last images on magazine 38 are all repeat exposures of the image just examined,
and we now return to magazine 44 for our final two images of a full Earth. The penultimate
image examined is AS11-
Figure 4.3.98: AS11-
Figure 4.3.99: Main image -
As the Earth becomes increasingly crescented, identifying cloud masses becomes a little trickier. The first task here is to identify the landmasses visible on the western limb, and close inspection reveals that we are looking at the east coast of Africa. The blue and green arrows point to clouds over Somalia and Arabia respectively.
Life is complicated even further by the fact that as the image features Africa, the area visible on the western limb features weather patterns shown on the ESSA image dated the 24th, while those over the Indian ocean are the last featured on the image dated the 23rd. For this reason, sections of both ESSA mosaics are included. The NIMBUS data are poor quality and much of the area visible is either not available or difficult to make out, and for this reason only the blue and purple arrows are used with any confidence.
The cloud masses identified by the blue and green arrows are not visible on the image dated the 23rd, but are shown on the one dated the 24th, which helps date things more precisely. Stellarium estimates that the Apollo image was taken at around 17:30 on the 24th. ESSA's nearest orbit to the terminator is number 1848 (track 10), which commenced at 07:00 on the 24th. NIMBUS' nearest pass is number 1353, which commenced at 04:15.
The final image examined, and the final full disc image of Earth taken, is AS11-
Figure 4.3.100: AS11-
Figure 4.3.101: Left -
It should be evident to even the least observant that the preceding figure used only
one satellite photograph. We do have the restored image from NIMBUS, but the path
that is available covering Africa shows very little useful information relevant to
the visible part of Africa on the Apollo image. No useful part of ATS-
As for dating the image, the most representative track relating to the Apollo image terminator is number 11, which is 1849, and commenced at 09:05, which compares well with the 14:30 time suggested by Stellarium.
We get few clues from the transcript, but at 193:03 (14:35) we have this from Collins:
“The Earth is really getting bigger up here and, of course, we see a crescent...We've been taking pictures and we've still got four exposures to go, and we'll take those and then pack the camera.”
The remaining images in the magazine are zoomed in much more closely on Earth, and the terminator line on these is closer to the African coast, indicating that they were taken after this statement was made. The terminator line on the 16mm still in figure 4.3.100 suggests that it was filmed about 30 minutes prior to the still image.
Roughly two hours after the Apollo image was taken the CM separated from the SM and
the crew began the re-
So there we have it, the first lunar landing covered from start to finish, with every series of photographs of Earth analysed and compared with satellite photographs to demonstrate that the pictures taken by Apollo 11's cameras could only have been taken where they were claimed to have been taken, including, for the first time, the surface of the Moon.
Having compared a variety of satellite images with photographs covering all parts of the Earth's surface during all parts of the mission, there really should be no more need for any meteorological analysis, but there is always a need for thoroughness.