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EAVESDROPPING IN LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
by C. Graney
First created 8/29/09, last updated 4/4/17.
In July of 1969 a Louisvillian by the name of Larry Baysinger accomplished an amazing feat. He independently detected signals from the Apollo 11 astronauts on the lunar surface. Fortunately, his accomplishments were recorded and promptly published in the Louisville Courier-Journal, by another Louisvillian by the name of Glenn Rutherford, in an article entitled “Lunar Eavesdropping: Louisvillians hear moon walk talk on homemade equipment”. The story appeared in the July 23, 1969 issue of the paper, on the front page of section B. Scans of the article are provided below.
Rutherford was a 23-year-old reporter for the Courier-Journal. Baysinger was a technician for Louisville’s WHAS 840 AM radio, and only a few years older. The story garnered some attention for Baysinger. He was interviewed by the Collins Corporation who was very impressed that anyone could detect the Apollo signals with home-built equipment.[i]
However, in time the story faded from view. I learned just how much it faded by doing searches for information using keywords such as “Baysinger” and “Apollo” in Google, as well as in EBSCO and JSTOR databases. These searches yielded no references to Baysinger’s work. Searching “Lunar Eavesdropping” yielded no returns of any sort at all.[ii]
The story came to light again thanks to a discussion between Rutherford and me about some of the research Henry Sipes and I had going on at Otter Creek-South Harrison observatory. Rutherford had written about this research in July 2009. Our discussion drifted into the issue of Kentuckians doing scientific research and how people don’t tend to associate the words “Kentucky” and “scientific research” very much (much less “Kentucky”, “community college”, and “scientific research”, as the case may be with this observatory). And that reminded Rutherford of the story of Baysinger’s work.
Since then I have had the pleasure of speaking to Baysinger directly. It is remarkable that these two gentlemen, forty years later, should both still be here in Louisville, just a phone call away!
Baysinger told me that the Apollo lunar eavesdropping project arose because in the late 1960’s he was an amateur radio astronomer with an interest in NASA, in astronomy, in UFOs, and in other such things that were hot topics at a time when America was on the verge of landing its first men on the moon. He experimented with satellite tracking and capturing pictures of Earth transmitted from weather satellites. He had some success in these matters – for example, he was able to print out crude images from weather satellites using an impact printer that printed using carbon paper.
These interests and efforts led to the idea that he might independently verify the information that NASA had been providing about the Apollo program. Could he get unedited, unfiltered information about the Apollo 11 landing by eavesdropping on the radio signals transmitted from the lunar surface? And could he find out things that NASA did not want the public to know about?
Most of all, successfully detecting a transmission from the lunar surface would be a great technical accomplishment. Various local experts said that it could not be done.
On the night of the Apollo 11 eavesdropping effort, Baysinger said he and Rutherford had to essentially “bore-sight” the antenna on the moon – aim it by getting behind it and sighting it like a gun. This was difficult since the weather was cloudy and the moon not easily visible. The antenna, which was originally built as a radio telescope to look at naturally occurring radio sources in space, had a motorized steering mechanism but it had to be manually guided. Its “beam” or “field of view” was such that, once pointed at the moon, it could be let go for a little while, but pretty soon it would have to be re-aimed because the Earth’s rotation caused the moon to drift out of the field and the signal to be lost. In fact, this was one piece of evidence that, once the receiver started picking up Apollo 11 signals, the signals were indeed from the moon – if the antenna was not kept aimed at the moon, the signal disappeared.
Baysinger’s wife and daughter watched the Apollo 11 landing on TV while Baysinger and Rutherford listened via Baysinger’s equipment. The signal on the home-built equipment came through approximately 5-10 seconds earlier than the signal on TV. Baysinger figures NASA or the TV network [I assume it was probably CBS] put in a delay in case they needed to edit out anything embarrassing.
The signal the lunar eavesdropping equipment picked up was noisy, but Baysinger says you could hear what was going on. Baysinger made tapes of the transmissions, which he still has. In September 2009 he transferred salvageable sections of the tapes to MP3 format for this project. You can hear them for yourself via the links below.
I asked Baysinger whether he found anything that NASA edited out – comments about things going wrong, the astronauts being loose with their language, or exclamations about meeting aliens! He said no – absolutely everything was transmitted to the public on TV. In fact he said, “that was kind of disappointing”. Part of the idea of this project was to hear the unedited “real story”, and it turned out there was nothing edited out.[iv] Indeed, Rutherford’s story (click here for hi-resolution version which you can read) makes no mention of hearing anything unusual.
Baysinger did not attempt to eavesdrop on any other Apollo missions. After Apollo 11 he moved on to other projects.
Various Google/EBSCO/JSTOR searches have convinced me that there certainly were not a lot of amateur radio astronomers eavesdropping on Apollo transmissions. An enquiry I made via the HASTRO-L history of astronomy e-mail listserver did turn up the web page of Sven Grahn. Grahn and Dick Flagg apparently received some signals from Apollo 17 command module in orbit around the moon, although the voice signals they received were limited to two small sentence fragments and they were using a large dish to receive the signals.[v] A German radio observatory also recorded signals from the Moon, and their recording shares a number of things in common with Baysinger’s (see audio files above). I made inquiries with a number of people in the radio community, none of whom knew of anything comparable to Baysinger’s work. These include Zack Lau, Senior Lab Engineer for the ARRL (the national association for amateur radio) and their QST magazine, who responded to an e-mail I sent to QST to say that they have no record of anyone picking up signals from Apollo 11; Rachel Baughn, editor of Monitoring Times magazine, who responded to an e-mail I sent to Monitoring Times that had no information on this sort of thing; and Jim Sky of Radio-Sky Journal who responded to an e-mail Henry Sipes sent to him – again, no additional information. Phil Plait featured Baysinger’s work on his Bad Astronomy blog. His readers posted many comments, but no definite information. In general, people seem to be aware that amateur radio enthusiasts and radio astronomers listened in on Apollo missions. But what was heard, whether the signals were received from the Moon or just from the Apollo spacecraft when they were in Earth orbit, and so forth is an open question. What truly makes Baysinger’s work unique is that it was recorded in print at the time, and that he not only received but recorded extensive audio, much of which has survived to this day. If someone else did succeed in eavesdropping on NASA, but no record was ever made, and that someone is no longer around, we will not know about it.
Besides the obvious “local interest” aspect to this story, there is a great educational aspect as well. Most people are aware that there is a significant (or significantly vocal) “Apollo denier” movement that says that we never went to the moon. The Apollo deniers have received attention through shows on Fox and Mythbusters that address the Apollo deniers’ arguments. I have found that a noticeable minority of my students, or maybe more than just a noticeable minority, are at least open to the idea that we never went to the moon.
In a sense this is not surprising. Today’s traditional-age college students were born decades after Apollo 11. They have no memory of the moon landings – Apollo is just something in a book. And, it is not obvious that we will be returning to the moon any time soon; returning to the moon may be in NASA’s plans in some way – but the fact is that with the end of the Shuttle program, NASA actually has no manned space capability now. Thus the voyage to the moon probably seems to today’s students like a mythical voyage such as might have been made by Jason and the Argonauts, to a land which we visited once but to which we cannot go now. And, since all the evidence that we went to the moon comes from one source (NASA), it is relatively easy for conspiracy theorists to make their claims. Had thousands of amateur astronomers been able to see the men on the moon for themselves, there would be no Apollo deniers.
Baysinger’s lunar eavesdropping is an independent verification that men were on the moon, by a local person who is not part of the scientific establishment. Had there been more Larry Baysingers eavesdropping on Apollo, or had there been more Glenn Rutherfords to record the work of the Baysingers who did eavesdrop, there would be no Apollo deniers. I just this semester (Fall 2009) presented a copy of Rutherford’s article to a student who doubted that we went to the moon. Having the evidence come from the Courier-Journal, from Louisvillians, and not from NASA, was something new, and it obviously had an impact.
course we can ask, did Baysinger
really pick up signals from the
moon?[vi] Is it possible that he was merely detecting
spurious transmissions from a local radio or TV station that was broadcasting
the moon landing? Baysinger
has asked himself these same questions (click
here).[vii] However, several lines of evidence indicate
that these signals were not spurious:
The antenna had to be aimed at the moon in order to
receive the signals, and the signal was lost when the moon set.
The audio could be heard through Baysinger's
receiver a few seconds before it was heard over TV.
· The audio Baysinger recorded is different from the audio provided by NASA in that Aldrin and Armstrong are can be heard, while Collins, CAPCOM, and the PAO voice-over cannot. Were Baysinger picking up the local TV or radio station, he should have recorded the same audio that everyone heard on TV. A recording of Apollo 11 made from a German radio observatory (click here) is similar to Baysinger’s recording in this regard.
For so many reasons, this is a great story.
Other “Lunar Eavesdropping” items on the web:
“Space Ham” – BBC Radio 3 production
1/19/2013 (click here). Click here for
excerpt of the show featuring Baysinger and
Rutherford. The excerpt was provided
to Otter Creek – South Harrison Observatory by show producer Rose de
Larrabeiti, who learned about Baysinger and
Rutherford through this observatory’s work.
“Eavesdropping on Apollo 11” – ARRL News
& Features 7/16/2010 (click here).
“Eavesdropping on the moon, circa 1969” –
Make Blog 11/3/2009 (click
“Lunar Eavesdropping” – Discover Magazine Bad Astronomy Blog
[i] From discussions and e-mails between G. Rutherford and C. Graney, August 2009.
[ii] Searches performed August 2009
[iii] Discussion between L. Baysinger and C. Graney, September 9, 2009.
[iv] All material about Baysinger from discussion between L. Baysinger and C. Graney, August 29, 2009.
[v] Grahn and Flagg recorded an astronaut saying “the barber pole is grey”. They also picked up “standby three zero”. See “University of Florida Student Satellite Tracking Station, Recollections by Dick Flagg” and Grahn’s web page.
[vi] Phil Karn, of San Diego CA has offered extensive commentary on this. His remarks are reproduced here with his permission:
I've been a radio amateur since 1971 when I was 15, and Apollo was a large part of my inspiration both to get into ham radio and to pursue a career as an electrical engineer....
Lately I've been debunking some of the Apollo hoax arguments. I don't know why - I know I'll never convince them - but given the personal inspiration I got from Apollo as a kid I guess I find the whole thing too offensive to ignore.
So I was delighted to hear of another independent verification of the Apollo signals from the moon. What's remarkable about Larry's work is that he managed to pick them up on VHF; the other amateurs I know of did it on S-band.
By the way, there's an error in the newspaper article on this point.
Apollo S-band communications were NOT encrypted. Although pulse code modulation (PCM) was used for telemetry since it was inherently digital information, voice was entirely analog so it could be and was picked up by independent listeners.
The S-band downlink had two modes: PM and wide band FM. In the PM mode, used during flight, voice was on a narrow band FM sub carrier that phase modulated the main carrier along with other information. This could be received by relatively small dishes.
The wide band FM mode was necessary for TV. It is a "one for all and all for one" mode that needed a very large antenna to receive anything at all; in FM it was not possible to use a small antenna to pick up just the audio. That's why the Parkes radio telescope was pressed into service, as shown in the (semi fictional) movie "The Dish".
So Larry made the right choice in going for VHF during the Apollo 11 EVA. The LM transmitter was in wide band FM mode so it could transmit TV, and there would have been no chance of hearing it on a small antenna.
What Larry actually heard was the VHF AM transmitter on Neil Armstrong's backpack. It sent his own voice plus that of Buzz Aldrin to a receiver on the LM that retransmitted it to earth on S-band.
Larry could hear both astronauts because Buzz Aldrin's backpack transmitted his voice on a second VHF frequency to a receiver in Armstrong's backpack, which then combined the two before sending them to the LM.
A third transmitter, on the LM, relayed Houston to the astronauts. They each had a receiver so no extra relaying was required.
It's truly remarkable that a radio link intended to operate over just a few hundred feet was nevertheless audible all the way from earth. But I've done the numbers for Larry's setup. It's quite marginal but doable; his recordings are about what I'd expect if everything worked right....
– Email to C. Graney 2/26/2010
...What he reported hearing was evidently Neil Armstrong's VHF-AM transmitter relaying both him and Buzz Aldrin's voice (received on a separate VHF-FM link) to the LM for relay to earth on S-band.
There was a total of three separate VHF frequencies:
296.8 MHz (channel A) - AM from LM to both LMP and CDR relaying capcom
259.7 MHz (channel B) - AM from CDR (Armstrong) to LM carrying LMP/CDR 279.0 MHz (channel C) - FM link from LMP (Aldrin) to CDR (Armstrong)
so evidently he listened to 259.7....
I'm also wondering if Larry realizes just how lucky he was to hear anything at all. A regular "link budget" shows the link would have been quite marginal, but the fact that the moon was setting for him at the time meant that he would have had multipath reflections off the earth's surface that would periodically enhance and then cancel the direct signal. This is a trick that the ham "moonbouncers", especially those with smaller antennas, have used for a long time. Indeed, the very slow multipath fading is evident in Larry's recording, which to me serves as further confirmation of its authenticity.
And of course the recording ends when the moon sets at Louisville. The story doesn't mention this, but I was able to verify it with a lunar ephemeris from the Naval Observatory.
I've been fascinated by this story since it first appeared a year ago.
Besides my interest as a ham (who vividly remembers watching Apollo 11 as a 12 year old boy) I've been interested in collecting independent verifications of Apollo as evidence to rebut the silly claims that Apollo was all a hoax.
- Email to C. Graney 7/23/2010.
[vii] Baysinger also notes:
I tried to think of all possible signal sources that we might have been inadvert[ent]ly hearing and mistaking for the "real" moon-based signals. Firstly, the "selectivity" of the receiving equipment - the antenna and radio receiver - was "narrow" enough to respond to only the frequencies - and "mode" of modulation - we knew would be used. Had the signal been a "harmonic" (i.e., a multiple, either sub or super ) or even a "spurious" emission of a local TV station, the audio portion of the signal (an FM subcarrier) would not have been separable from the video portion (an AM main carrier + sync pulses) and would have been heard as a raucous buzz, not voices. And IF it had been heard, [it] should have included the other voices indicated in NASA's transcript.
– E-mail to C. Graney 9/29/2009.