If you pay attention to what’s trending online, you might think NASA recently declassified audio and transcripts from Apollo 10 — the “dress rehearsal” for the first moon landing a few months later — that show the astronauts heard crazy alien music while they were out of radio contact traveling behind the moon and then decided never to speak of what they heard.
This story smelled fishy to me when I first saw it Saturday, and within about 30 seconds of searching, I was able to find this “newly uncovered” transcript online (PDF link), on NASA’s history site, where it’s been sitting in plain view since at least 2008. It’s not a transcript of the radio transmission between the three astronauts and mission control on Earth like we’re used to hearing. Rather, it’s a transcription of a recorder that’s mounted inside the command capsule, recording all the crew’s interactions with each other and mission control.
The transcript does mention hearing “whistling sounds” the crew describes as “outer spacey” music, and at one point they discuss whether to mention it to anyone. Astronaut John W. Young does say “nobody will believe us” about the music. This part in particular has been cited by some of the more conspiratorial-minded corners of the web for several years now as evidence of a government cover-up. The story went viral over the weekend because of a partial clip from an upcoming Science Channel show that emphasizes the mysteriousness of the sounds and claims that the tape and transcript were hidden from the public for 40 years.
In reality, NASA says the transcript was classified in 1969 due to space race paranoia, but has been declassified since 1973. While the audio didn’t make it into online archives until 2012, it’s been available in the National Archives for decades.
Listening to the actual tape from the recorder makes it clear that the astronauts don’t really think much of the weird sounds at the time. In fact, right after Young wonders out loud what the sound might be, the topic shifts to insulation for a second and then Commander Thomas P. Stafford decides to take an action that isn’t exactly what you’d expect from an astronaut who thinks he may have just had a musical encounter with E.T.:
“You might get thirsty in the future, Gene-O,” Stafford says to Eugene Cernan, who has been surveying the surface of the moon from a detached lunar module. (This is slightly different than how the transcript reads, but it sounds pretty clear to me that the transcriber made a mistake) “So I’m going to fix us some grape juice.”
Cernan himself confirmed on the NASA Tumblr on Monday that the Apollo crew didn’t think they were really hearing alien whistling music at the time.
“I don’t remember that incident exciting me enough to take it seriously,” he says. “It was probably just radio interference (between the two modules). Had we thought it was something other than that we would have briefed everyone after the flight. We never gave it another thought.”
So there you have it — no extraterrestrial tunes on the dark side of the moon on Apollo 10. America would have to wait another four more years for Pink Floyd to finally provide them in 1973.
The transcript is mostly a long and tedious read, but it’s an entertaining window into what spaceflight is really like. In between communications with mission control, the astronauts complain about how things aren’t where they’re supposed to be or aren’t working in space like they did in simulators on Earth. In a way, the whole thing will be a familiar read to anyone who has ever struggled to operate or assemble anything they’ve just brought home from the store.
If there’s one little bit of scandal, it has nothing to do with aliens playing woodwinds in space. Instead it’s how much the astronauts hate Velcro. I mean, they are highly disappointed in the stuff, which is supposed to be one of NASA’s lasting contributions to society.
While the spacey music is mentioned six times, Velcro is called out 10 times in the transcript and never in a positive way. The crew refers to their least favorite fastener as either “miserable,” “terrible,” “ain’t worth a damn,” “about as useless as a god-dang,””crappy,” and my personal favorite from Cernan:
“I don’t know how the hell guys have lived with this Velcro as long as they have, but it is the sh***iest stuff, I tell you.”
Almost makes you wonder if the aliens are too busy making Velcro to sabotage our space missions to even think about making music.