The Sciences

Bad TV on the Science Channel: The Apollo 11 “UFO”

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJul 31, 2006 7:07 AM


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I just watched a program on the Discovery Science Channel about the epic voyage of Apollo 11 to the Moon. I didn't know it was going to be on until my buddy Chris Pirillo told me about it. I'm glad he did. Well, kinda. The show was awful, which is bad, but it gave me a chance to review it on the main website. I'll talk about it here too, briefly. It was called "First on the Moon: The Untold Story" and purported to be a look at stories you might not have heard about Apollo 11. The show had lots of little errors; not enough for me to write about on their own, really, but then the show screwed up in a major way: it talked about the Apollo 11 "UFO". Basically, on their way to the Moon, the crew reported seeing something out their window, and it was following them. It couldn't have been the booster rocket that sent them to the Moon, because at the time it was 6000 miles distant. The show then intones, quite (over)dramatically,

If it wasn't a part of their rocket, it could only be one thing: a UFO.

Dun dun duhhhhhhhh! Besides that being a dumb thing to say (if it's not identified, it's a UFO by definition, duh), it's incredibly misleading, since by even using the phrase "UFO" you're strongly implying aliens. In fact, this thing has been identified. It was one of the panels from the booster rocket that separated when the crew went into their lunar trajectory. Here's a drawing:

The panels would have been on a similar trajectory as the module, and would have appeared to have followed them. It explains lots of other details about the "UFO" the show mentions, as well. Worse, the show interviewed Buzz about this, and Buzz himself has said they quoted him out of context. To me, this was an obvious and ham-handed attempt to make this event far more dramatic than it really was. I remind you, this was on the Discovery Science Channel, and not some lame channel that features ghost-hunters and other such silliness. Damnation, that makes me unhappy. I have a lot more detail about this whole thing over on the main website. Go ahead and take a look there and get more info. But I'll quote myself here:

This is one of the things that irritates me most about some of the documentaries about Apollo, as well as Moon hoax believers in general. Apollo wasn't just some wacky scheme cobbled together by a handful of people-- it was a carefully planned, heavily-practiced, and expertly-executed program that had the brains of hundreds of thousands of people behind it.

It was one of the singular great achievements of humankind: sending men to another world, exploring it, and bringing them home again. Isn't that exciting enough?

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