The Fascinating Mystery of the Mysterious Music Heard on the Moon
Image Credits: USAToday-Apollo-10-Crew
Just a few months before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic landing on the moon, three NASA astronauts circled the moon as part of the Apollo 10 mission. They were Commander Thomas Stafford, Command Module Pilot John Young, and Lunar Module Pilot Eugene Cernan.
As part of the mission, their job was to test the technology that allowed the spacecraft’s lunar lander module to detach and re-attach to the command module. It was a dress rehearsal to the Apollo 11 moon landing mission later and as far as most people knew, it went smoothly without any hiccups.
Except that, it wasn’t that smooth.
It was during the separation when the Apollo 10 spacecraft was on the dark side of the moon and out of contact with mission control when the astronauts heard the eerie ‘outer space music’ as Eugene Cernan calls it according to a transcript of the mission.
“You hear that? Boy, that sure is weird music.”
Hearing weird sounds like this should have been reported by the astronauts but instead, they chose to downplay it as this would have raised questions on their mental strength and any ‘crack’ found in their resolve would have derailed their careers indefinitely. They weren’t sure what to do, or whether to tell NASA. So they just ignored it. As Cernan said in a statement.
“I don’t remember that incident exciting me enough to take it seriously. Had we thought it was something other than that we would have briefed everyone after the flight. We never gave it another thought.”
The mysterious music on the moon
One hundred and two hours and 12 minutes after leaving the Earth, the crew of Apollo 10 was on the dark side of the Moon.
Commander Tom Stafford and lunar module pilot Gene Cernan were in the lunar module named Snoopy while John Young, command module pilot was in his spacecraft. As part of the test procedure, the two spacecraft were traveling separately and later would reattach together as part of the simulated lunar lift-off to be done as a dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 moon landing mission later.
Being on the dark side of the Moon meant that telecommunication signals could not reach the crew since the Moon stood between the lunar module and Earth. They had no communication with mission control in Houston for approximately two hours.
It was during that time of silence as they went ahead with their flight plan and also had a bit of a snack in between, an eerie sound began buzzing in the astronauts’ headphones creating panic and confusion within them. It was later described by them as a ‘whistling’ or ‘whooooo’ sound with a periodic howling of sorts that lasted almost an hour during the time the capsule was orbiting the far side of the moon.
Cernan even tried to lighten the situation by calling it some kind of ‘space-type music’. But it did not help much as the astronauts were spooked up according to a transcript of the mission.
Cernan: “Boy, that sure is weird music.”
Cernan: “You know that was funny.”
Cernan:” That’s just like something from outer space, really. Who’s going to believe it?”
Young: “Nobody. Shall we tell them about it?”
Cernan: “I don’t know. We ought to think about it sometime.”
When astronauts reached back to Earth, and NASA heard the recording of the ‘space music’, it shelved the recording and transcripts as classified. The ‘eerie music incident’ did not even get a mention in John Young’s memoirs ‘Forever Young’ later.
NASA finally released the recording and the transcripts in 2008 but it does make us wonder as to why it was kept classified for more than five decades.
Over the years, a lot of theories have been put forward to explain the strange music.
One possible explanation is that sounds were static sounds generated by a magnetic field or the atmospheric interference with the radios. However, the idea was rejected as the moon neither has a magnetic field nor has an atmosphere to interfere with the lunar radios.
Another explanation given was moonquakes happening on the moon at that instant that caused the crust to move, resulting in the ‘whistling’ sound. Since the moon is dry and rigid, any moonquake would cause it to ring like a tuning fork. This theory was also dismissed as no quakes were recorded at that time.
NASA’s explanation was straightforward. The radios on the command and lunar modules were interfering with each other, causing a strange sound to occur same as when holding a mobile near a speaker.
But not everybody bought it. As astronaut Alfred Worden said later.
“Logic tells me that if there was something recorded on there, then there’s something there.”
Ironically, any astronaut should know the difference between radio interference and music having worked in the field for so many years. And the very fact the astronauts were silent or downplaying the incident meant that there might be something more out there other than just radio interference.
The space over our earth is already choked up with mysteries and this incident of the ‘space music’ reminds us starkly of how little we still know about space despite the incredible progress being made over the years.
About the author-:
Mythili is a programmer by passion and a connoisseur of fine arts like painting, calligraphy, and pottery. She writes in the twilight between relationships, creativity, and human behavior.