By Michael Stennecken
On 03/05/98 Lunar Prospector succeeded in (probably) finding water on the Moon, a prime condition for returning to this celestial body.
On the same day I sent my results of nearly two years research as (private) astronautics historian to the Group 'Back to the Moon'. My initiative is called 'CLLC' or 'Coordination of Lunar Landing Coordinates'. This initiative about the 'unsolved' location-problem of Apollo-Landers has already been published in X-List-URL of the Group 'Back to the Moon':
I want to propose my initiative called 'CLLC', which stands for 'Coordination of Lunar Landing Coordinates'. Maybe you are able to support my effort and suggest it to those who are responsible today for the heritage of the great "first exploration of the moon", the Apollo program of 1969 - 1972. I believe that this achievement of mankind to leave the Earth and set the foot upon the Moon is not complete as long as one important point has not been finished. Namely that it is officially documented where exactly the landing points of the six Apollo-LM's are located. It turns out that there exist many inconsistencies in the data of lunar landing site. So far an uncommented variety of landing coordinates can be found in the literature.
My last discovery: NASA also lacks an 'official' version. Nearly 30 years after first landing there is no common-valid agreement concerning such basic data. A unique version of landing data is therefore still missing.
I myself am a (private) astronautics historian and maybe the first who ever documented the "inconsistencies in lunar landing site data". The discovery of the inconsistencies began in June 1996. By funny accident I read about a man called Dennis Hope who claims to be able to sell small pieces of property on the Moon. Allegedly even U.S. Presidents like Carter and Reagan "have" such properties on the Moon. As I myself cannot get up there to select a "good" site, I decided to "order" a nice piece of Moon on a site, where other men already took a lot of photos. So my search for the six Apollo landing sites began with maximal accuracy.
Now joke aside: I never would really "purchase" a thing which not even the vendor possesses.
But I made a discovery. To get the exact and congruent data of lunar landing coordinates was impossible! To me this was a total surprise and everyone I told couldn't believe it. Everbody was convicted that facts like this were established data that could be found in history book for 30 years already!
Now I was challenged as an astronautics historian. This novel profession raised in me 30 years ago and my activities began when I was 8 years old (starting point was exactly the famous Christmas-flight of Apollo 8 in 1968). Now I have nearly a small private "astronautics museum" with many contemporary documents and even flown hardware (one piece of oxygen hose of Apollo 12 circled 45 x around the moon)!)
In main occupation I am industry-computer scientist at the University of Muenster, but every free minute I turn to "higher places".
And now I was looking for the places where the descent stages of Apollo LM's touched down on the moon standing there till today.
In specialized textbooks there were partly remarkable deviations in statements about the landing coordinates. I turned to the Internet to find out the "truth", but here I found the same discrepancies. Sometimes contradictory data are in two adjacent web sites of the same provider!
Whithin nearly 2 years of searching the 'lost lunar landing sites' I could not get a satisfactory answer from any NASA site. When asked they didn't understand my 'problem' saying: "It's all described in this and that web-page" and so on. So I decided to collect all available 'official' NASA versions of landing coordinates and I found not less than 10 different main versions, 8 of them in NASA sites. Not listed are many sites whose statements are identical (and derived) from official listed sites and those which precision is only one place after decimal point:
(between brackets: my 'translations' from ARC to DEC)
latitude longitude Source No. (S#) Apollo 11 0 d 41' 15" ( 0.6875) N 23 d 26' (23.43 ) E S#01 0 d 04' 05" ( 0.0681) N 23 d 42' 28" (23.7078) E S#02 0.67 N 23.49 E S#03 0 d 43' 56" ( 0.7322) N 23 d 38' 51" (23.6475) E S#10 0.71 N 23.63 E S#05 0.647 N 23.505 E S#06 Apollo 12 3 d 11' 51" ( 3.1975) S 23 d 23' 08" (23.3856) W S#01 3.20 S 23.38 W S#03 2.94 S 23.45 W S#04 3.04 S 23.42 W S#05 3.036 S 23.418 W S#06 3 d 12' ( 3.20 ) S 23 d 49' (23.82 ) W S#08 2 d 56' 33" ( 2.9425) S 23 d 26' 36" (23.4433) W S#09 (center of target ellipse) Apollo 14 3 d 40' 24" ( 3.6733) S 17 d 27' 55" (17.4653) W S#01 3.67 S 17.47 W S#03 3.67 S 17.46 W S#04 3.65 S 17.48 W S#05 3.66 S 17.48 W S#06 3 d 40' 19" ( 3.6719) S 17 d 27' 46" (17.4628) W S#07 3 d 40' ( 3.67 ) S 17 d 28' (17.47 ) W S#08 Apollo 15 26 d 06' 03" (26.1008) N 3 d 39' 10" ( 3.6528) E S#01 26.1 N 3.7 E S#02 26.10 N 3.65 E S#03 26.11 N 3.66 E S#04 26.08 N 3.66 E S#05 26 d 05' (26.08 ) N 3 d 39' ( 3.65 ) E S#06 26 d 04' 54" (26.0817) N 3 d 39' 30" ( 3.6583) E S#07 26 d 06' (26.10 ) N 3 d 39' ( 3.65 ) E S#08 Apollo 16 8 d 59' 29" ( 8.9914) S 15 d 30' 52" (15.5144) E S#01 8.99 S 15.51 E S#03 8.60 S 15.31 E S#04 8.97 S 15.51 E S#05 8 d 59' 29" ( 8.9914) S 15 d 30' 52" (15.5144) E S#06 8 d 60' ( 9.00 ) S 15 d 31' (15.52 ) E S#08 Apollo 17 20 d 09' 55" (20.1653) N 30 d 45' 57" (30.7658) E S#01 20.16 N 30.76 E S#03 20.17 N 30.80 E S#04 20.16 N 30.77 E S#05 20 d 10' (20.17 ) N 30 d 46' (30.77 ) E S#06 20 d 09' 50.5(20.16403)N 30 d 44' 58.3(30.74953)E S#07 20 d 10' (20.17 ) N 30 d 46' (30.77 ) E S#08 20 d 09' 50" (20.1639) N 30 d 44' 58" (30.7494) E S#09
I produced these for decision to NASA-authorities in an e-mail-action with some provoking subject: "lost lunar landing sites". Some answers clearly said: "I do not know the exact coordinates...", and: "I am unable to suggest sites other than the ones that you mentioned." And another authority finally: "Other than that, we have no further suggestions."
Or other not definitive answers like: "I would advise to use these coordinates...". The basic attitude seemed to be: "..not so important..". That may be right, and I don't write that to reproach anyone. It was neither important nor did it strike anyone who read a single book about astronautics in the past.
But now in the age of Internet, where all kind of information and even digitalized books are available simply per mouse-click, and mighty search engines present all available information in parallel, opportunities of comparison became better and quicker.
To emphasize the discrepancies I standardized all data to decimal numbers and 'threw' them into a statistical program (SPSS) using only the 8 NASA sources. It showed that the greatest deviation was about 20 km (Apollo 11 LAT). Even the smallest range of coordinate-deviation amounted to about 120 m (Apollo 16 LON). Besides the (in some cases) different grades of accuracy there are other explainable reasons: writing errors, mistake of ARC- and DEC-systems.
But the data also show that there must be a fundamental problem not explainable by that.
After nearly two years I finally found two specialists who at least could explain the 'problem' (but couldn't solve it): I got certain indications that no agreed coordinate systems for determination of landing coordinates was used. One source is the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC), where Dr. Dave Williams answered me:
"I've run into the same problems you have, and as far as I know there is no "official" list of Apollo landing sites. In fact I have it near the top of my list to go through all the information and try to decide the best locations. One problem is that (I believe) the cartographic grid on the Moon has undergone some changes over the last 30 years based on new data and analyses, so the coordinates may be different just based on what coordinate system was used. But there also seems to be a basic inconsistency between all the values. I'm going to try and get to this next week, thank you for the list of sources, and I'll put up the best values (but not the "official" values) for each landing site."
Paul Spudis of the Johnson Space Center wrote:
"There are two fundamental reasons why you are seeing different numbers quoted as site coordinates. First, until recently, we did not have a very accurate cartographic control network for the Moon. Although the Apollo zone (the near-equatorial area where the Apollo landings took place) was very well mapped, and we know exactly where those sites are to very high degree of precision, when you express site coordinates in degrees, it must be in reference to some global system. Thus, your coordinate knowledge is only as good as the global control network you are using. (As an illustration of this "paradox", imagine that I know that the Apollo 11 site is exactly 301 km from the Apollo 16 site. I know the RELATIVE positions of the two sites extremely well, but where are they in relation to any other lunar feature, arbitrarily chosen? This is the basic reason why control networks are important). Moreover, to make this even more confusing, the flight people at the Houston mission control and the lunar map makers used different control networks, and those networks were constantly being modified during the Apollo flight program, as our knowledge improved, so many different numbers found their way into print."
The second reason the numbers don't agree is much easier to understand. People are often both lazy and ill-informed. They so not bother to track down exactly where certain numbers come from; they just reproduce the first thing they find. Thus, in case more than one set of numbers exists, the different sets or even mixtures between them may become current. Thus, set of authors "A" get their numbers from one source, set "B" get theirs from another. Set "C" mixes the two!
So which ones to believe? Here's the best part: IT DOESN'T MATTER! Each set (assuming that they were not just made up, but come from some legitimate control system) are equally valid (or invalid). I have no doubt that different numbers will continue to be quoted for the foreseeable future, as apparently no one can be bothered to do the work needed to reconcile all of them. For your information, I happen to believe that the most accurate (and believable) numbers were published in 1987 in a paper in The Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 92, number B13, pages 14177 to 14184. The authors are Merton Davies et al. This paper will give you the Apollo site coordinates to five decimal places!"
I sent that information to the first source at NSSDC, who wrote back:
"Thank you for passing that on ... Merton Davies is a very reliable source, so I'm glad to have that reference. I'll check those numbers against ours and make the necessary corrections."
My thanks to Paul Spudis and Dave Williams who gave my research the deciding turning point!
Now I know the places where jet engine of descent stages of Apollo LM's exactly point to with an accuracy of nearly 30 cm, that's less than the diameter of the jet engine itself!
Here they are (in brackets my 'translation' from DEC to ARC):
degrees N degrees E latitude longitude Apollo 11 LRRR 0.67339 23.47292 Lunar Module 0.67266 23.47298 (0 d 40' 21.58" 23 d 28' 22.73") Apollo 12 ALSEP -3.00776 -23.42450 Lunar Module -3.01040 -23.42113 (-3 d 0' 37.44" -23 d 25' 16.07") Apollo 14 LRRR -3.64450 -17.47841 ALSEP -3.64402 -17.47736 Lunar Module -3.64567 -17.47175 (-3 d 38' 44.41" -17 d 28' 18.30") Apollo 15 LRRR 26.13335 3.62837 ALSEP 26.13409 3.62981 Lunar Module 26.12836 3.63452 (26 d 7' 42.10" 3 d 38' 4.27") Apollo 16 ALSEP -8.97545 15.49808 Lunar Module -8.98851 15.49410 (-8 d 59' 18.64" 15 d 29' 38.76") Apollo 17 ALSEP 20.19214 30.76514 Lunar Module 20.18169 30.76453 (20 d 10' 54.08" 30 d 45' 52.31")
Site coordinates are based on the transformed Defense Mapping Agency 603 (DMA/603) lunar cartographic control network as described in Davies et al., J. Geophys. Res., v. 92, pp. 14177-14184, 1987. The Apollo 11, 12, and 14 landing site locations are estimated from the transformed DMA/603 network and the relative locations of the ALSEP's (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages) and LRRR's (lunar ranging retroreflectors) as given in the Apollo Preliminary Science Reports.
And after comparison with preliminary science reports a new web site was created where these data are now published:
But this version again is different from every version I collected, and furthermore they are published with the restriction:
"I don't know that these are the "official definitive" locations, but they are precise insofar as they are referenced to the control network established by Mert Davies and based on the information in the science reports."
Even the above 5-decimal-accurate version is considered to be 'most reliable', but everywhere it is mentioned that these coordinates are not an official NASA-version. There apparently is none even after nearly 30 years after the first moon landing!
In statistical comparison of 8 NASA sources published on the Internet you can say (if you assume these 5-decimal-data as correct), that the most 'reliable' one is S#06 with a mean inaccuracy of ca. 60 m. I know that a statistical statements like this is useless. It shall focus the necessaty of ONE official defined version of each landing site referring to ONE (if possible worldwide) valid carthographic network. Even a five-decimal-accuracy (estimated in 1987) is worthless if this is based upon a non-common established network system.
Now after the Clementine mission (1994) there exists a passably well carthography of the Moon. As it is said by these NASA specialists, that coordinate grids changed several times during the last 30 years (what partly causes the differences), my question now is: Is the Clementine-cartography the final and official grid of the Moon (with an official 'Lunar Greenwich'?)
The next step: if at last within the NASA exists an agreed grid version, when will there be an international accepted system ? If that achievement will be reached, then they can begin to translate the most accurate and 'most reliable' coordinates of Merton et al., based on DMA/603, according to those new official arranged cartographic network.
Therefore I am starting the following initiative:
The 'first exploration of the Moon' from 1969 till 1972 will not be really completed until there exists a complete authorized documentation of the lunar landing coordinates. My suggestion: to create this before the 30th anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon.
I know that as an external I am in no position to tell anyone how to handle and represent their (national) achievements. In my opinion it is totally o.k. that - despite of the peace- message 'for all mankind' - on every landing site 'waves' the US- flag and not of UN. I also realize that you may see my ambitions as an excess of the typical German exactness concerning a thing that is not of vital interest 'for all mankind'.
But as astronautics historian I think this 'giant leap for all
mankind', which was taken 'in peace for all mankind' has enough
symbolic power, that it is worthy to become more concrete again
(especially in view of the 30th ann. 1999) if man can locate it.
Consider the following:
The badges with the inscription 'We came in peace for all mankind', attached on the remaining descent stages of lunar LM's (at least of Apollo 11 and 17 as I know) will be the only human extraterrestrical fixed 'peace message' at the end of 1999, when the Russian MIR-station (Mir = Peace) splashes down in the Pacific ocean.
Isn't it therefore a considerable aspect saying the 30th anniversary has a better efficiency for this message if man can determine an universal valid location of the original places ? So I think an official NASA version of Lunar landing site coordinates would be a historic matter.
The Initiative 'CLLC' to 'Coordinate the Lunar Landing Coordinates' shall be my contribution to this historic jubilee in 1999, but it only is a small suggestion of a private astronautics historian from outside and my possibilities end at this point. Maybe you see a chance how to realize it!
Thank you in advance.
Here is the very encouranging reaction from the National Space Society:
===== Original Message from National Space Society =====
Subject: Good sleuthing on lunar coordinates!
I've been reading your ongoing saga about lunar coordinates on the back2moon maillist. It has been a real eye-opener. Like many others, I had assumed this issue was settled in the '60's or at the latest early '70's.
You have performed a valuable service in compiling the data you have and bringing this problem to wider attention. It appears your efforts may even bear fruit in finally settling on a standard, world-recognized lunar coordinate system.
Thank you also for sharing your exact data with us and posting your saga and results on back2moon.
Good work, Michael!
-- Bryce Walden, Chairman, Lunar Base Research Team, Oregon L5 Society, chapter of National Space Society (U.S.)
Michael Stennecken * Greta-Buenichmann-Str. 3 * Tel. +49 251 131857 * D-48155 Muenster * Germany