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Could something like “Apollo 18” really have existed?
Conspiracy theories and hoaxes abound when it comes to mankind’s arrival at our moon (or the non-arrival.) One such hoaxes is the Apollo 20, a purported top secret mission that back to the moon back in 1976 to fetch some aliens living there. The secret would have been revealed by no other than William Rutledge, who claims to have been an astronaut in that mission and who nowadays lives and writes out of Rwanda.
Arguably this theory was never as popular as its always popular theory that NASA spent billions of dollars to fabricate the moon landings but somehow forgot to paint stars in the ceiling.
Now however a film promises to inspire the masses who believe NASA has been sending secret missions to Luna. The movie is Apollo 18.
The movie’s premise is that after the Apollo program was cancelled, NASA would have flown another mission and found, of course, aliens and that’s why we’ve never been back to the Moon. It’s one more movie in the style of Cloverfield, where the audience is expected to pretend to be watching to real top-secret leaked footage.
Domension Films’ big cahuna, Bob Weinstein, stated,
We didn’t shoot anything, we found it. Found, baby!
The movie is of course a work of fiction. That’s not hard to figure out, even if you could not look up the actors who were in the movie. For instance, the astronauts of Apollo 18 in the movie are supposed to be Nathan Walker, John Grey e Benjamin Anderson, but the astronaut corps roster was very well known and none of these gentlemen were part of it. Although none of the crews for the cancelled flights (Apollos 18, 19 and 20) were never officially named – what would be the point? –, one can infer from the assignment rotation system NASA used that the Apollo 18 crew would likely be:
Except Schmitt was activated to the Apollo 17 main crew when it became clear that it would be the last chance for a scientist to step on the moon. Somebody – Joe Engle, perhaps – would have to replace him on Apollo 18.
But the hoax is not really about the movie itself, but about the general idea that NASA ran more missions than we know about. So, could something like Apollo 18 really have existed? Could NASA have performed this secretly?
It is unfortunately impossible to prove a negative, but at least we can think of how likely would that be. I can’t really see how such a thing could have been done. To begin with, there’s this:
(Image credit: Euclid vanderKroew)
You see, the Saturn V was big. Really big. Not easy to hide, then. It seems highly unlikely that NASA could have launched a Saturn V out of Cape Canaveral without it being seen.
I also saw this argument on some forum that NASA would have prefferred a night launch to improve the chances to keep it a secret, but the thing is, that big dumb rocket is not very subtle either.
(Image credit: Euclid vanderKroew)
And then if we discard a launch in the continental US, it would have to be from either a platform at sea or from somewhere in North Africa. Problem here is that the logistics of accomplishing such an feat – let alone in absolute secrecy – are just fenomenal.
As well, the Saturn V was a very public project. All its parts were very well tracked and it’s possible to know where most parts are even today. And some of those parts are huge, not the kind that you can stow in the back of a black unmarked van.
And then there are other factors, of course. We’re used to the image of three astronauts sitting on top of a rocket and a mission control room with, say, 20 or 30 people.
(Image credit: Cory Doctorow.)
But an Apollo flight involved a lot more people than that. In A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, Andrew Chalkin estimates the figure at 500,000 workers altogether. Others state the number is more like 400,000 people.
Regardless of the actual figure, it should be clear that such a mission would require the collaboration of hundreds of thousands of people all around the world (more on that below.)
And contrary to what some might want to believe, the Apollo program was not something entirely done behind closely guarded doors at some Air Force base. It involved a lot of private contractors. GE, IBM, Boeing, GM… the list of contractors can occupy several pages. To assume that all the employees involved who have since likely changed jobs multiple times and retired would be able to keep this a secret for four decades really stretches one’s imagination.
(Image credit: history.nasa.gov)
As big as the contractors’, the list of academic institutions involved in the program is amazing. Virtually every major US university and institute was included, but the list also included institutions form Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Japan, Scotland and Switzerland. And that takes me to what is, to me, the most important thing to consider.
In order to fly to the Moon, you don’t just point the rocket, turn on the ignition and wait for it to reach its destination. It’s a complex voyage with huge preparations, calculations and adjustments. Orbital mechanics was one of the most interesting things I’ve even studied. But I digress.
An interesting challenge for NASA was to be able to communicate and track the ship all the way to the Moon and back.
Nowadays NASA added a whole network of satellites to assist the tast, but back when Mercury and Apollo were underway, the tracking depended on a network of tracking stations, vessels and aircraft all around the world.
That network was the Manned Space Flight (Tracking) Network. Starting from Apollo 10, the Deep Space Network was added to assist.
It’s interesting to know that over the course of its evolution, NASA’s networks included a station in Havana, Cuba. That station was dismantled after years of service due to the Cuban revolution. As Brazilian, I also find special interest in that there was even one station along with the Brasilia International Airport, even though it was quickly disassembled and shipped to Madagascar.)
Although those were NASA installations, they employed locals. These stations all around the world had been performing duties for years under heavy media scrutiny and to expect that all of a sudden they would be able to do it in complete secrecy is beyond reasonable belief. That and the local workers who also had to keep secrets for four decades make the most absurd hole in the hoax.
Now remember that the Apollo missions were tracked and monitored by several governments including, of course, the Soviet Union. In Two Sides of the Moon, Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov – trained to be the first man on the moon – states that all the missions were followed by the Russians in a very well equipped Space Transmissions Corps, in Moscow. Now you need the secret to be kept by the Soviets and then, after the USSR fell, by the several nations that sprouted from it.
And the Apollo missions were tracked by amateur astronomers and radio operators all over.
Of course that nothing here proves beyond any doubt that such secret missions were impossible, just unreasonable unlikely. But since you can’t prove a negative, no matter how improbale, there will still be plenty of people who believe.
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Algo como a Apollo 18 existiu?
Existem várias teorias de conspiração envolvendo a chegada da humanidade à Lua (ou a não-chegada). Uma destas é a sobre a Apollo 20, que teria sido uma missão altamente secreta em 1976 enviada à Lua para buscar extraterrestres. O segredo teria sido revelado por ninguém menos que William Rutledge, suposto astronauta da missão e que hoje vive em Ruanda.
Aparentemente a teoria sempre foi menos popular que a de que a NASA teria gasto bilhões de dólares em uma encenação, mas esquecera de pintar estrelas no céu falso.
Mas agora um filme chega para dar uma forcinha à teoria de que a NASA realizou missões secretas à Lua. Trata-se de Apollo 18.
O filme afirma que, após o cancelamento do programa Apollo, a NASA teria feito mais uma missão, onde se encontrou, óbvio, alienígenas e por isso nunca mais fomos para a Lua. Trata-se de um filme no estilo popularizado por Cloverfield, onde a audiência assistiria a imagens vazadas de algo super secreto.
O chefe da Dimension Films, Bob Weinstein, chegou a afirmar à imprensa que nada foi filmado por eles, foi tudo encontrado:
We didn’t shoot anything, we found it. Found, baby!
O filme, claro, é uma obra de ficção e não é difícil de descobrir. Por exemplo, os austronautas seriam Nathan Walker, John Grey e Benjamin Anderson, nenhum desses era parte do grupo de astronautas do programa Apollo. Embora a tripulação da Apollo 18 jamais tenha sido oficialmente anunciada, pelo esquema de rotação utilizado pela NASA (backup da missão N viraria principal da missão N+1), a tripulação deveria ser:
Exceto que Schmitt, por pressão de cientistas, acabou sendo promovido à tripulação principal da Apollo 17, tornando-se o único cientista a pisar na Lua. Assim, alguém (Joe Engle?) teria de substituí-lo na Apollo 18.
Também não ajuda nada saber o nome dos atores que fizeram o papel dos astronautas. Aparentemente o Comandante Nathan Walker também chegou a ser o pai do Indiana Jones na antiga (e ótima!) série Jovem Indiana Jones.
Mas a teoria em si não é sobre o filme. O filme serve apenas para dar uma corda. Será que a NASA poderia ter feito missões secretamente?
Impossível é difícil de provar, mas pessoalmente não vejo como fazer algo assim. Para começar temos o Saturn V.
(Imagem crédito: Euclid vanderKroew)
Veja, o Saturn V era grande. Muito grande. E não há muitos locais de onde lançá-lo. Parece difícil aceitar que seria possível lançar um Saturn V a partir do Cabo Canaveral sem que ninguém o visse.
Vi alguém em um forum argumentando que a NASA poderia escolher lançar à noite, para minimizar a exposição. Mas o Saturn V também não é muito sutil (sem falar que a NASA não tem tanta flexibilidade na escolha da janela de lançamento quanto ela gostaria).
(Imagem crédito: Euclid vanderKroew)
Assim, se descartarmos um lançamento a partir do território dos EUA, ainda se poderia imaginar algo como lançar a partir de plataformas marítimas ou de algum local no norte da África. O problema é que a logística disso seria formidável.
Além disso, o Saturn V é um projeto extremamente público. Sabe-se bem onde cada parte construída para cada uma das unidades feitas está até hoje em dia. E não são peças pequenas.
E aí entram outros fatores. Estamos acostumados a visualizar um voo como sendo três “pilotos” no foguete e uma sala de mission control, com umas 20 ou 30 pessoas trabalhando.
(Imagem crédito: Cory Doctorow.)
Mas um voo da Apollo envolvia consideravelmente mais gente que isso. Em A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (Ótimo presente, Stulzer!!), Andrew Chalkin estima o número 500.000. Outros afirmam que são 400.000.
Seja qual for, é claro que as missões dependiam de centenas de milhares de pessoas ao redor do mundo (mais sobre isso abaixo).
Outro ponto é que, a contrário do que se poderia pensar, o programa Apollo não é realmente algo que foi montado em salas fechadas da NASA (ou da força aérea americana), mas sim através de licitações públicas. GE, IBM, Boeing, North American, GM… a lista de empresas contradas ocupa várias páginas. Esperar que funcionários de todas estas empresas mantenham este tipo de segredo por quatro décadas é realmente difícil de acreditar.
(Imagem crédito: history.nasa.gov)
Ainda maior que a de empresas, a lista de instituições acadêmicas envolvidas é impressionante. Praticamente toda a grande universidade americana estava incluída, mas também instituições da Alemanha, Austrália, Bélgica, Canadá, Escócia, Finlândia, Inglaterra, Japão e Suíça. O que me leva àquele que é, para mim, o fator mais relevante.
Fazer um voo para a Lua não é apontar um foguete na direção da Lua, ligar o motor e esperar ele chegar lá. A viagem é complexa e exige uma enorme preparação. Mecânica orbital é algo lindo de se estudar. Mas eu divago.
Um desafio bastante interessante é como comunicar-se e acompanhar a tragetória da nave durante a viagem.
Embora hoje haja uma grande rede de satélites para ajudar na tarefa, à época dos programas Mercury e Apollo, o monitoramento dependia de uma grande rede de estações, embarcações e aviões ao redor do mundo.
A rede chamava-se Manned Space Flight (Tracking) Network. A partir da Apollo 10, também somou-se ao esforço a Deep Space Network.
É interessante saber que ao longo dos anos, a rede chegou a incluir estações em Havana, Cuba (desmontada após anos de atividade quando da ocasião da revolução cubana) e, de interesse especial para nós, brasileiros, junto ao Aeroporto Internacional de Brasília (desmontada e os equipamentos transferidos para Madagascar).
Embora fossem instalações americanas, elas contratavam trabalhadores locais. Esperar que estas estações ao redor do planeta pudessem realizar as mesmas atividades que vinham fazendo há anos sob enorme escrutínio da mídia, de maneira totalmente secreta e sem que ninguém vazasse nada por 40 anos é, para mim, o ponto mais absurdo da teoria.
Some a isso o fato de que todas as missões foram monitoradas por diversos governos ao redor do mundo, incluindo, é claro, a União Soviética. Em Two Sides of the Moon, o cosmonauta russo Alexei Leonov afirma que as missões foram monitoradas a partir de um centro extremamente bem equipado pelo Corpo de Transmissões Espaciais, na Av. Komsomolsky, em Moscou. Isto quer dizer que também a URSS teria de manter esse segredo, mesmo depois de ter sido desfeita e retransformada.
E, claro, sem esquecer os vários radioamadores e astrônomos amadores que ou pegaram sinais de rádio de Apollos ou as viram.
Claro que nada disso prova além de qualquer dúvida que uma missão secreta jamais aconteceu. E por isso, por mais improvável que seja, vai continuar a ter gente que acredita.
My need for anonymity
Much has been said about the pros and cons of anonymity lately, prompted by Google+ TOS which require the use of one’s real name. No pseudonyms allowed, except apparently if you call yourself Lady Gaga or 50 Cent.
I have seen many kinds of arguments both for and against the use of aliases and I will not repeat them here. There is however one use of aliases that I haven’t seen stated anywhere and that coincidentally affects me personally. Perhaps this is so because the problem I am about to present is not so common after all. Or perhaps it is common but people decide not to talk about it. I have no way of knowing.
Anonymity is a vital necessity to people with a certain kind of disability, a mental disorder. I am such a person. As some of my friends know and others mock, I suffer from a mental condition called social phobia, also known as social anxiety. I take medications that help me overcome some of the most serious effects and that allow me to do things like write about it on this very blog.
Social anxiety manifests itself in varying degrees in all kinds of social interactions. And the levels of manifestations are not what you might expect. I regularly make presentations without a second thought. I’ve given talks to hundreds of people. And yet, ordering a pizza over the phone is terrifying experience to me. No matter how many times I’ve done it, I still have to “prepare” myself every time. I rehearse, play several unlikely scenarios in my head until I finally get the courage to dial the number and talk to the person on the other side. One characteristic of this anxiety disorder is that rationally I know that there is nothing wrong; there is no risk in calling the pizza place. But the brain acts as if there were. But I digress.
I love coding. I have been doing it since I was a kid and it’s the best thing I know how to do. And then there is open source. Open source projects should be the perfect venue for me to have fun. Except I am scared stiff by the idea that someone might laugh at the code. It came to a point where it is impossible for me to contribute. Then I’ve come up with a solution: an alias. For the past several years I’ve lived two different lives online: one as myself and another as an alias. I keep them strictly separate.
Using the alias, I actively contribute to several different projects. I’ve published books. And I enjoy it all. And it would be impossible for me to do that using my own name. My pseudonym allows me to work around my condition. It allows me to live my life.
I understand the rationale behind the requirement for real names on Google+. But I also know that the requirement makes it impossible for people like me to be really free on the Internet. So far, Google hasn’t figured out my alias. Hopefully it never will.
(Photo by Abhishek Singh)
People’s gullibility often staggers me. A couple of days ago a photo and accompanying story started popping up everywhere.
The story went that the mayor of a Lithuanian town saw a luxury car parked on top of the bike lane and decided to act swiftly and decidedly and ran over the car with an armored vehicle. Isn’t it amazing?
I was talking to some friends yesterday and mentioned that the most amazing thing about this story was the fact that people bought it. And buy it they did. I had an argument with someone about it in which I was ultimately labeled a cynic who only cares for the rich. Yeah. I didn’t get it either.
I probably am a cynic. Still, I cannot read a story like that and not wonder. For the story to be real, you have to believe that the mayor was strolling about, saw a car, got upset, ran to get himself an armored vehicle, came back and ran over the car, inviting a suit. Or maybe he was riding an armored vehicle in the first place. Either way, wouldn’t a tow truck be more efficient and cheaper for the city?
No matter. People want to believe and believe they will.
But as it turns out, the scene was indeed staged (check out Google Translate.) It’s a promotional campaign film. He’s saying: everyone must follow the rules, even the rich. Not a bad point, but hardly revolutionary words from a campaigning candidate.
Oh, did I mention that he will also sweep the streets himself? Yeah, you bought that story, sucker!
Don’t just believe what you see written in the news. Think, even if just a little bit.
Chrome and the new Lion full-screen behaviour
While I was ranting about the annoyances I found in OSX Lion today, a friend commented he had no issues at all, except for the full-screen mode. I got curious because the new Lion full-screen mode is probably the only new feature I found interesting. What did Apple do so wrong?
The answer: Google Chrome.
Wait, what? My friend was complaining that in Chrome you needed to use a keyboard shortcut in order to leave full-screen mode. That, he continued, was because Apple had given programmers too much freedom to implement the new feature any way they wanted. And he knew that, he assured me, because he had searched Google and confirmed it.
The new full-screen mode in Lion is implemented as a window behaviour not enabled by default, but adding it to a window is remarkably easy*:
1 2 3
NSWindowCollectionBehavior behavior = [window collectionBehavior]; behavior |= NSWindowCollectionBehaviorFullScreenPrimary; [window setCollectionBehavior:behavior];
Adding the NSWindowCollectionBehaviorFullScreenPrimary behaviour to a window will enable a small button to its top right corner. When enabled, the mode will allocate a new Desktop for the fullscreen app and will also add a icon to the system menu to allow you to quickly leave full-screen mode.
And that’s the little icon my friend complained Chrome wasn’t showing, forcing him to use a keyboard shortcut. Imagine the trepidity! And all because of Apple.
I tried to explain that the problem was that Chrome’s windows still didn’t support the new full-screen behaviour but my friend’s version of reality was unswayable: Chrome supported the new behaviour and the problem was Apple. He had searched Google to confirm it. What could I possibly do?
Search it myself is what. And search I did. And I found this comment on Chromium’s bug tracker:
We had a conversation with one of our designers, and what we’re going to do right now is remove the fullscreen button so we don’t advertise a behavior that we don’t really implement. That change just landed and will hit Canary/Dev channels soon.
Long-term, we’re going to implement a proper fullscreen interface for Lion. In this interface, we’ll also experiment with having a collapsable toolbar. Until then, fullscreen will operate as it does on Leopard/Snow Leopard.
So there it is, straight from the source. Chromium — same as Chrome — still doesn’t support the new behaviour. Done. Nothing like reality to end a discussion.
Except my friend would not yield. Apple still needs to fix Chrome and anyone who disagrees — presumably that Chromium developer himself — is to be disregarded as an Apple fanboy.
If however you don’t want to wait for Google (or is it Apple?0 to release Chrome with the new full-screen behaviour, you can get by using Maximizer, which adds the behaviour to any application window.
* Yes, I do realize that if you’re supporting multiple OSX versions and, even worse, multiple platforms, things get slightly more complex, but still.
I’m a sucker for comics and some of the movies based on them (the Dark Knight, Iron Man, X-Men and Spideman movies being the best of them.) But last night I’ve watched Kick-Ass and now I have a new favourite superhero: Hit-Girl.
Best. Action. Hero. Ever.
Show’s over motherfuckers!
Jeff Greason on the near future of space exploration
Fascinating TEDx talk about the near future of space exploration. Jeff Greason – Rocket Scientist: Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It:
New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.
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