Some fake space news


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Fake news permeates our modern news sources, but today we have two space-related stories that make me shake my head.

The first comes from Newsweek (which supposedly died years ago): Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins Shares Unseen NASA Photo of Moon Landing Crew

Standard Apollo 11 press image

Michael Collins—one of the three crew members of the historic Apollo 11 moon mission—has posted a previously unreleased NASA photo on Twitter of himself, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, which he discovered by chance in a box. The photo—taken in 1969—shows the trio, decked out in full astronaut gear, standing next to a moon prop with Aldrin and Armstrong on one side and Collins on the other. The picture also features Collins’ autograph scrawled over the top in black ink.

“The crew. Found this at the bottom a box. Don’t think it was ever used by @NASA. #TBT @TheRealBuzz,” Collins tweeted.

The release of the photo is a fitting tribute to the mission in the year of its 50th anniversary, especially because it has likely not been seen by human eyes for five decades.

Florida news outlet The Orlando Sentinel—which is about to publish a commemorative book on the 1969 mission—reported that no staff members could remember seeing the photo before either in the NASA archives or the paper’s own records.

I’m sorry, but that photo is hardly news. Nor has it been lost until now. I know I’ve seen it myself at least a few times over the years, though not recently. It was one of dozens of standard public relations photographs taken by NASA leading up to the launch.

Collins himself himself should know better than to suggest this was never used. He doesn’t know that, and in fact is certainly wrong. Worse, neither Newsweek nor the Orlando Sentinel should not expand upon Collins’ statement for the sake of creating clickbait.

The second bit of fake space news today is buried in a news piece from Reuters.

The story, focused mainly on comments by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine about how the SpaceX Dragon test explosion is certainly going to delay NASA’s effort to fly Americans on American spacecraft, also made this bald-faceded inaccurate statement:

Bridenstine also pledged better communication and transparency after the agency and SpaceX were criticized over a reluctance to describe in plain terms what happened to the capsule for days after the incident.

That stance was at odds with NASA’s long history of transparency surrounding accidents involving its human spaceflight program.

This is garbage. With previous space accidents where humans died, NASA was no more transparent than SpaceX was here. In fact, maybe less so. Though SpaceX appeared to downplay the explosion by calling it an anomaly, it, like NASA followed the policy to always withhold detailed comments until an investigation has learned what really happened.

Note also that NASA in the past three decades has hardly followed a “history of transparency” when it comes to the failures of its big projects. If it weren’t for numerous inspector general reports, we would hardly know anything about the agency’s incompetence and its inability to meet both its budgets and its schedules, until there was no longer any way to deny it.

In both cases some might call my complaints here nit-picking. Fine. I just can’t stand how so-called major news sources are routinely too lazy to get their facts right.

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8 comments

  • wayne

    “The Orlando Sentinel….reported that no staff members could remember seeing the photo before either in the NASA archives or the paper’s own records.”

    well, that’s good enough for me. (he typed sarcastically)

    pivoting….

    Dr. Richard Feynman
    -Rogers Commission excerpt
    https://youtu.be/ZOzoLdfWyKw?t=100

    “The Case of the Brittle O-Ring”

  • wayne

    Armageddon–
    “You guys are NASA” scene
    https://youtu.be/_B7MzBmjaJ8

  • mpthompson

    Well, I don’t recall ever seeing that specific photo. If that counts for anything.

    Mandella effect?

  • wodun

    I’ve always thought of Fake News as something is deliberately misleading rather than just being wrong. People are wrong all the time and journalists get to be wrong in front of lots of people. It is worthy of criticism because that is how corrections get made but it isn’t the same class as Fake News, which is a corrupt and ethical failing deserving of far more scathing criticism.

  • Jason Hillyer

    I agree with wodun’s comment right above mine. Also, I know the trio of Collins, Armstrong, and Aldrin took pictures that looked similar, but I myself don’t recall ever seeing them in those specific positions, especially with Collin’s hand over the Moon.

  • Edward

    wodun wrote: “I’ve always thought of Fake News as something is deliberately misleading rather than just being wrong.

    There once was a time when news was fact checked to make sure that it was not false, either deliberately or just wrong. This seems to have devolved into asking around the office whether anyone thinks that it is false.

    Just because a reporter and his editor fail to fact check does not make the news any less fake. Indeed, they could easily be passing along a story deliberately falsified by their source, which is still fake news. Even if a mistake is innocent, the truth has suffered, and the record is wrong. People can remember the wrong “facts” for a long time.

    Even wayne’s clip from the Rogers Commission stops short of having all the facts, and wayne seems to have remembered it all these years later. A year earlier, after an O-ring low-temperature burn-through incident, the Morton-Thiokol engineer who had the most knowledge of the O-ring design, operation, and history wrote a report to NASA explaining that it was acceptable to launch at that cold temperature, and he backed it up with data and charts. NASA would not have launched Challenger, that morning, had Morton-Thiokol told them it was not safe to do so, but the night before launch, Morton-Thiokol told them it was safe to do so. Interestingly, it was that very same engineer who had raised concerns about the O-ring, that night.

    Feynman was right about the O-ring material, but the engineers had been led to believe otherwise for the specific conditions for which it was used. Since the O-ring did not burn through anywhere except on the side nearest the cold external tank, it seems to me that what they did not understand was the full affect that the tank had on preventing the O-ring from coming up to a temperature in which it was just compliant enough to work. The engineers may have been right enough about most of the O-ring but not right about that one location’s conditions.

    There was plenty of fake news that came out of the reporting of that tragedy. The one that most irks me is the reporting that engineers were trying to hide things from NASA by using waivers. NASA’s waivers do the opposite of hiding anything. They describe a problem that engineers are having while using NASA’s pre-approved methods and are a request for doing something a different way. Waivers describe the standard design, the problem, possible solutions, and why the non-standard solution should work, and they request permission of NASA, not hide designs from NASA. They are among the most detailed records of design thinking in existence.

    Apparently fact checking was not so common in 1986, either.

    On the other hand, there must have been plenty of people trying to correct the waiver story, but since the news persisted with the conspiracy theory that designs had been hidden by waivers, it is quite possible that this fake news was intentional.

  • Kirk

    Regarding the Michael Collins photo, I agree with mpthompson and Jason Hillyer that this pose (with Collins to the side, resting his arm on the Moon) appears not to have been previously released. A Tineye reverse image search on the photo yields only results from last week.

  • After many years of telling us lies about everything with space NASA flogs yet another unreal story to return back to the moon Lol
    CGI will once again along with Musk and other clowns be the only way to prove that lie…
    Thought Trump would expose the cover up and lies when he stated space was fake but being a Mason like astronots has forced him to play along and continue the lie …,
    Maybe JFK junior will be the one to tell the truth to the masses once he comes out of hiding finally … Cut their rediculous budget and spent the money on their homeless

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