Declassified audio of the Apollo 10 mission has brought attention to a moment when NASA astronauts heard strange “outer spacey” music during their trip around the Moon. While transcripts of these exchanges were released back in 2008, some of the new audio has made it into an upcoming episode of NASA’s Unexplained Files, a show on the Science Channel that features dramatized stories from the US space agency.
Unexplained Files is a bit like a space-themed version of Unsolved Mysteries. It takes small details pulled from agency documents or stories told by NASA astronauts and extrapolates them out into big, overreaching “what if?” kinds of stories. Also like Unsolved Mysteries, those stories should be taken with humongous grains of salt.
The story in question here seems to stem from an incident that did happen. Apollo 10 was the last mission before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon during Apollo 11. One of its main objectives was to practice the separation and re-docking of the lunar module (the Moon lander) and the command module (the orbiter). During the hours that the two craft were separated, all three astronauts intermittently discussed the sounds. “Boy, that sure is weird music,” lunar module pilot Eugene Cernan says at one point. “We’re going to have to find out about that,” command module pilot John Young responds.
Plenty of reasonable explanations, but the transcript is still a thrill to read
To Unexplained Files’ credit, the show gives some reasonable explanations for what caused the noise. Charged particles might have caused interference in the radio communications, something that is a common enough experience that the Cassini spacecraft noticed this phenomenon near Saturn. (Though the source of these particles couldn’t have been the Moon, since it has no atmosphere.) The noises might have also been a simple result of hiccups in the radio communications between the two lunar spacecraft.
The thing is, no matter how prepared you might be for a trip into outer space, the smallest things can weigh heavily on your mind. And when you consider that the Apollo 10 astronauts were, at the time, the farthest point away from the Earth (about 220,820 nautical miles, a record that stands to this day), it’s not hard to imagine why the reacted the way they did.
It’s also not surprising that it took so long for the story to surface. This was the “right stuff” era. Many astronauts and test pilots adopted a “lie to fly” policy, knowing that the slightest crack in their steely demeanor might be enough for NASA to ground them forever.
You can even see this mentality show up in the full transcript — at different points, both Cernan and Young say that “no one will believe us.” With all this in mind, the entire transcript of the back-and-forth is really fun to peruse. You can read the whole thing right here: