In the teaser trailer released last week for the upcoming film "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," director Michael Bay rewrites the history of the first moon landing. Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are sent on a mission that takes "a giant leap" beyond collecting rocks and planting the American flag.
According to the preview for Bay's third film about "robots in disguise," while everyone thought the astronauts were exploring the moon "for all mankind," they were really off discovering a crashed alien spacecraft.
But that's not all Bay did to transform Apollo. Although the teaser is only about two and a half minutes long, it packs in a surprising number of changes to how the 1969 moon landing — and to quote the trailer, "a generation's greatest achievement" — was accomplished.
Where exactly was Tranquility Base?
Within seconds of touching down on the moon on July 20, 1969, Armstrong — the real Armstrong — gave the Apollo 11 landing site its name.
"Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed," radioed the Apollo 11 commander, borrowing "Tranquility" from Mare Tranquillitatis, or the Sea of Tranquility — the area on the moon where they landed.
Back on Earth however, flight controllers did not know exactly where the lunar module Eagle now rested. They tasked Michael Collins, who was orbiting the moon aboard the command module Columbia, to try to spot Eagle as he flew over but he was moving too fast and was unsuccessful.
It wasn't until the mission was over that the exact location of Tranquility Base was determined, based largely on the moonwalkers' description of the area, their photographs and their spacecraft's telemetry.
One thing that Mission Control could be certain of though, was that Apollo 11 was on the side of the moon facing the Earth. Had they landed on the far side — the side that always faces off into space due to a peculiarity about the moon's orbit — all communications between Earth and the astronauts would have been cut off.
There were no communications satellites orbiting the moon that could relay the moonwalkers' voices and television broadcasts once they were out of the line of sight with the Earth.
In Transformers, the location of Tranquility Base is even less clear.
Far side from reality
"Apollo 11 is on the far side of the moon," reports Walter Cronkite, in a CBS news clip replayed during the trailer.
"Neil, you are dark on the rock," radios an unidentified man from what appears to be a back room at Mission Control in Houston.
What follows is a scene showing Armstrong and Aldrin departing the vicinity of the Eagle lander, bounding over a boulder-strewn ledge of a crater to explore the crash site of a clearly alien spacecraft.
A wide shot reveals the Earth in the black sky above.
So where exactly were they? Did they secretly land on the far side of the moon? Or was Bay trying to depict a real nearby crater (though not as close as depicted)?
As Apollo 11 was the first attempt ever at landing men on the moon, NASA sought out an area that was geologically interesting but devoid of major obstacles like craters and boulders.
In reality, as Armstrong was piloting Eagle to a landing, he considered a site near the northeast slope of a large rocky crater, which they had dubbed West Crater during training. But the area was surrounded by a large boulder field and it would have required Armstrong to stop their approach short, neither situation ideal for a safe first landing.
Ultimately, Armstrong piloted Eagle over another, smaller crater (Little West Crater) before touching down at what would become Tranquility Base.
But what of the trailer's mention of the far side?
From what little it shows, that appears to be a cover story. A flick of a switch in a Mission Control back room seems to take Armstrong's and Aldrin's voice transmissions to an encrypted channel. Meanwhile, the rest of the world thinks there has been a loss of communications.
"We've now had confirmation of loss of signal from Apollo 11," reports Cronkite.
And how did Bay get Cronkite, who passed away in 2009, to help change history? Easy — he didn't.
The two clips from Cronkite's news reports did actually air in July 1969 but well before the landing as Columbia and Eagle passed behind the moon to enter lunar orbit.
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