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It’s been over 40 years since Pink Floyd famously released “Dark Side of the Moon,” forever stamping into our mainstream lexicon the common knowledge that the moon, indeed, has a dark side. Well, sort of.
During the final verse of the album’s momentous closer, “Eclipse,” the band claims that there is no single dark side–that in fact, it’s “all dark.” This may seem pretty mysterious and unnerving.
Well, Roger Waters’ lyrics can be up for interpretation—it was the ‘70s, so we all know how that creative process probably went down. According to more empirically inclined thinkers and astronomers, the dark side of the moon is a term that refers to the half of the moon that will never face the earth.
To be more specific, the moon’s rotation is slowed down due to Earth’s tidal forces, a phenomenon called “tidal locking.” This makes it so that the moon we look to every night in the starry sky is only half of the picture.
Back in the day, the dark side of the moon was only faintly theorized and never actually seen by human eyes.
Everyone knows about the first trip to the moon, the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. Everyone has that famous Armstrong quote memorized: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” They may have been the first humans to set foot on the moon, but they were not the first to see the far side of the moon.
It wasn’t until the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, with Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr., and William Anders, that humans were able to truly experience firsthand what the dark side of the moon was like. Back then, it must’ve felt like a sci-fi film.
Eugene Cernan, Thomas Stafford, and John Young piloted and commanded the trip. Their task was nearly identical to the Apollo 11 mission that was to be conducted a few months later, but without landing. They were the first crew to have a colored television camera installed inside the spacecraft broadcasting live transmissions while orbiting and traveling towards the moon.
This past February, NASA released the audio recording of a peculiar conversation the astronauts of Apollo 10 had during their trip past the dark side of the moon. It’s module pilots Cernan and Young heard a noise.
“Did you hear that whistling sound too?” Young asks. “Yes. Sounds like, you know, outer-space-type music,” Cernan responds.
When listening back to the recording, what is audible is a whooshing sound with a high-pitched whistle in the background. Many experts in the field are skeptical of the sound—saying it was simply radio interference and nothing more.
William P. Barry, NASA Chief Historian, is certain that the noise was caused by technical difficulties and has nothing to do with “space sounds.”
“I’ve listened to the tapes myself and the crew was clearly having some interference between the radios on the Lunar Module and the Command Module,” he tells BTRtoday. “Since there isn’t any air, or at least not enough to carry sounds in space, there really isn’t any ‘sound’ in space.”
He shines light on the fact that this mission was the first time NASA flew an entire spacecraft configuration, the Lunar Module and Command Module together in lunar orbit, so some bugs were to be expected.
“Before our modern electronic tuners and built-in filters, these sorts of ‘weird’ sounds would have been familiar to average folks who had to tune their radios and deal with the interference that is now all filtered out automatically,” Barry explains.
However, according to the Science Channel’s series “NASA’s Unexplained Files,” the Apollo 10 crew was so spooked that they debated whether or not to mention the strange frequencies to their superiors at NASA in fear that it would affect the decision for future spaceflight missions. Years later in his book “Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey,” Apollo 11 mission astronaut and the first man to fly around the moon alone Michael Collins also confirmed hearing strange noises in his headset.
Both the men from the Apollo 10 and Apollo 11 missions described the sound as whooshing and high-pitched. Was it interference, some alien frequency from a different fold of space and time, or an unexplainable sound that humanity will never understand? Maybe Pink Floyd was onto something!
Well, unfortunately, it’s most likely radio interference.
Collins later describes in his book that the radio technicians had warned him of the possibility of interference between the two modules and between the radio transitions between them and Earth. NASA also released a statement following the Science Channel episode with Cernan saying, “I don’t remember that incident exciting me enough to take it seriously. It was probably just radio interference. Had we thought it was something other than that we would have briefed everyone after the flight. We never gave it another thought.”
However, in the recording you can hear Cernan saying, “Boy, that sure is weird music,” and Young responding by saying, “We’re going to have to find out about that—nobody will believe us.” Also, astronaut Al Worden from the Apollo 15 mission says on the same Science Chanel episode, “logic tells me that if there was something recorded on there, then there’s something there.”
Who knows? Maybe it was radio interference or maybe it was something else that the government just doesn’t want the public to know about! (But it was probably interference…sorry, Mulder).