The Ballad of Apollo 11 DDE


The Ballad of Apollo 11 DDE [1]

Neil and Buzz walked on the Moon
And talked to the President too,
“We’ll deploy that EASEP soon, quite soon,”
Said Buzz, like a kangaroo.
“This bloody dust.
First really must
Be wiped from my overshoe.”

LM took off with a mighty whoosh
And back to earth they popped.
The exhaust behind gave the dust a push
And the DD output dropped.
”But there is no effect” said M.S.C.[2]
“After all, what’s two in three?”

The sun then rose in the lunar sky,
The computers said as such.
The PSE heated rather high,
To one eighty-five degrees,
(A value far too much)
“But dust didn’t do it” said M.S.C.,
“Because of no change in the DDE.”

Methinks this argument is sad,
Because of all the folk involved,
But those who understand are glad,
Because their problem’s solved.
The new space program’s plain to see,
“Oh is it just?” said Agnew, Spiro T.[3]
“Please explain it all to me.”
“Well what you do is simply keen.”
Said the dwindling group not rude,
“We fly to Mars but don’t include
A detector of little men green.
It won’t give an answer rude,
nor any output, (being not there),
So then we tell Congress that we conclude,
There’s life up there, somewhere.”

“You’re making sense, I think” said he,
so off to Mars we’ll go,”
Said Agnew, Spiro. T.

But in later meditation,
He received a revelation,
“On Apollo Eleven effects were seen,
Which proved they were not real.
Now MSC, through a logical inversion,
Says an un-flown detector deal,
Will not-detect little men green,
Thereby proving them real.
I confess this perversion,
Of logical thought,
Even by Congress, will not be bought.

I have the solution
A man-power dilution.
We’ll build a detector of little men green,
And leave it in Houston, there to be seen,
We won’t go to Mars, or anywhere other,
We’ll stay at home and be with Mother.

Source:  Brian J. O’Brien, 18 Sept. 1969.
[Two typos corrected 25 Jan. 2010].
Distributed to: J. Clayton, Bendix; D. Reasoner, Rice; W. Hess, MSC; S. Freden, MSC TG; R. Allenby, NASA Hqtrs.; GP. Kenney, MSC TD5; D. G. Wiseman, MSC, TD.


[1] The Apollo 11 Dust, Thermal, and Radiation Engineering Measurements Package (DTREM) was a modified Dust Detector Experiment (DDE) put on the Moon in 1969 by Buzz Aldrin as one of only two active experiments in the Early Apollo Surface Experiments Package (EASEP) to transmit measurements back to Earth. At the ascent of the Lunar Module, the output voltages of 3 solar cells, all horizontal in this modified DDE, fell by 17%, 7% and zero. O’Brien in Sydney claimed this meant a significant contamination by dust and debris. Manned Spacecraft Center personnel were at first reluctant to agree that any effects occurred..  They argued that it was “highly unlikely that the dust and debris chose [sic] to settle on only two of the three solar cells mounted side by side”. So they concluded that “no appreciable degradation” occurred. This position continued, despite appeals by O’Brien to Bendix Aerospace, NASA Headquarters are others. Finally, as part of Brian O’Brien’s increasing concern, in those days without the Internet and E-mail, with phone calls expensively rare, cables limited and Air Mail very slow, he resorted again to satire with this Ballad on 18 September 1969. It was widely circulated. Despite this, the Apollo 11 Preliminary Science Report SP-214 stated that “no appreciable degradation” occurred. It did not include the acknowledged fact that in two cells there was significant degradation. Instead, it plotted outputs of voltage at 10-hour intervals, and joined the dots with straight lines (Figs. 10-3 and 10-4, SP-214). Early in 1970, MSC agreed to co-author O’Brien’s paper about contamination on Apollo 11 LM ascent. It was peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Applied Physics. But by then it was October 1970. That JAP paper was never referenced to BJOB’s knowledge and appeared unknown until 2009 with O’Brien’s May 2009 GRL paper. The NASA Apollo 11 Preliminary Science Report SP-214, which claims no appreciable effect, is accessible on Google.

[2] MSC was the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

[3] Spiro T. Agnew was Vice President and appointed head of the National Aeronautics and Space Council by President Nixon. In 1969 Agnew publicly supported a US journey to Mars, contrary to Nixon’s view that funding was unavailable.

Image: Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 pilot in December 1972. Lunar dust can be seen clinging to Schmitt’s space suit. Credit: NASA