On Archives

This  week (14-07-17thru 24) marked the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps by a human being on the moon. For reasons I don’t fully understand, NASA opted to celebrate the event this year instead of awaiting the 50th anniversary in just five more years. But in so doing, the commemorations triggered a pet peeve of mine and inadvertently made a connection in my mind which I had not made previously.

The pet peeve lies in the misrepresentation that is now always made in Neil’s first words, broadcast live on national television.  Neil was supposed to say “One  small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

That is, in fact, what all current public recordings of the event show. But that isn’t what he actually said.

Neil blew his line. Unfortunately, what he actually said made no sense at all and I never got it straight enough to remember it exactly, so I can’t even jog the memories of the millions who heard it. But I heard it–clearly: and that wasn’t what he said.

But the coverup that ensued is illustrative of so much that is wrong in modern culture that it deserves our attention.

First off, notice how much better a story the flubbing makes: Neil Armstrong was one of the most professional of America’s most professional. And yet even he was flustered by the extraordinary accomplishment that going to the moon was. That’s a very good story.

Next notice how successful the coverup has been. The only existing evidence, aside from testimony of obstinate eye witnesses such as myself, is the television recordings of Walter Cronkite being confused by the transmission of Neil’s comment live as he stepped off the ladder of the Eagle.

The coverup is so thorough, in fact, that my better judgment says I should just let it go. The powers that be might  even come after littl’ ol’ me. But I’ve rarely listened to my better judgments, so here goes.

If you listen to the modern recordings, you hear no reason for Walter’s confusion, since the patched version of Neil’s words are quite clear. Besides, even in those days, it is virtually unbelievable that Cronkite didn’t know what Neil was supposed to say.

Yet almost no one remembers it the way it was. That, too, is a good story.

For one thing, we are not prone to trust our own perceptions. It is far easier to believe what we are told, especially in concert with apparently corroborating evidence, such as the doctored recordings, than our own recollection. Most people I share this observation with, if they watched the landing live, recall only the official version.

Besides, no one likes to think of themselves as conspiracy theorists, and a coverup of this magnitude would require a massive conspiracy.

Along similar lines, this example, which has always seemed so bizarre to me, is akin to a more recent one, and I only just now saw the connection. It would be almost as great a coverup–and potentially more important. This involves the Earth at Night composites.

Earth at Night composites are collages of numerous photos, usually taken by satellites, showing the earth as it would appear if it were possible to see the whole thing all at once in darkness under cloudless skies.

I have in my possession a poster of such a composite showing the earth in 1984. I have, as well, the composite I took from the APOD website of Nov 27, 2000, which, I believe, now has been replaced by a more recent image from about 2010 or 2012. In any case, the current composite in the NASA “archives”  at 11/27/2000 looks suspiciously like the entry from more recently. (I apologize to those who expect more from me, but I’m just too tired to run all these references down at the moment.)

Archives are meant to be records of what was. To that end it is against their very purpose to alter an existing archive entry by replacement of an old image with a newer one. So I sincerely hope I am wrong in the accusation just made.Yet that is precisely what I think NASA has done with Earth at Night composites and it would be completely in keeping with what I’m sure it did in regard to Armstrong’s words. It also justifies my use of quotation marks around archives above. The APOD archives are no such thing.

This may be of vital importance, since Earth at Night satellite composites record, in a manner unique in their ability to communicate to the average man, energy consumption and population growth on a global scale. One can, by reference to true archives, get a realistic concept of what the world population problem is really about.

By replacing the earlier composite with the more recent one, NASA has made the most striking aspect of the passage of time invisible. I.e., the effect of growth between 2008 and 2010 or 2012, is  rendered as if nothing.

It is not nothing, and  realizing that may make the difference between humanity’s responding to the reality of our current crisis and not.

That is also a good story, even if it is also a badly misdirected strategy.

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