Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ken Johnston - the Life & Times

        Ken Johnston, the so-called "NASA whistleblower", popped up on Youtube a couple of weeks ago, interviewed for nearly two hours by Janet Kira Lessin & Dr. Sasha Lessin. The original interview was from what is variously known as Revolution Radio, Aquarian Radio, and Sacred Matrix -- and was first podcast on, 30 August.

        Rather curiously, I thought, Janet Lessin introduced Johnston by reading verbatim from the RationalWiki article about him. Johnston didn't demur, other than correcting his birthplace from Hart TX to Corpus Christie. So the rational wiki is authenticated up to a point, and any readers who have NFI who this gentleman is can follow the above link and read.

        Among the many topics that came up for discussion was Johnston's story about the Apollo 11 astronauts being greeted by alien creatures on the Moon. He said, quite rightly, that he had been challenged on this story by space historian James Oberg. Oberg has been associated with this blog since the very beginning, and he now gives me permission to reproduce an open letter from him to Ken Johnston originally written on 17 November 2014. Here it is in toto:


Dear Ken: 
I was glad for the chance to express my admiration for the way you have inspired many different groups of young people in space and aviation careers, and to repeat my admonition that us geezers need to have a lot of slack cut for embellishment and exaggeration. And in reminiscing over our bldg 4 conversations in 1977-80 or so, I'm  glad for the chance to dispel your recollections about any Masters thesis I was working on about media propaganda - there was no such thesis, no such Masters program, so there could never have been such a discussion.

In discussing the way we both give credit to space pioneers, I think we should focus on factual differences of what we recall. Specifically, I asked you about how you learned of your story of Armstrong's secret Apollo-11 UFO report, which you told me you'd heard from your former LM buddies. That doesn't make sense to me, let me explain why.
Here's how you gave the story on the Syfy channel. (At 00:32:52, crawler "Ken Johnston;  label "FMR. NASA PHOTO MANAGER")
"There have been a lot of rumors about what actually took place during the lunar mission. while Neil and Buzz were on the lunar surface. Back at the Johnson Space Center [sic! Wasn't named that until years later] during a couple of minutes of broken communications, Neil switched over to the medical channel to speak directly to the chief medical officer of the mission. And at that, the comment was, he says , 'They're here, they're parked around the rim of the crater and they're watching us. "
Since you have described how you watched Apollo-11 from the home of your wife's family in New Jersey, while on terminal leave after being laid off, I also deduced that Grumman couldn't have rated your "LM test pilot" experience all that highly, since as I recall it, ALL those real test pilots were on duty during the landing to run test procedures for contingencies. How was it possible, if you were really the crew's ALSEP trainer as you have claimed, that you weren't there on duty for the mission you had trained them for? All of the real trainers were, every one. But by your own disclosure, YOU weren't.

Now about that secret conversation you attested to in front of a world audience. I can't see how that could be authentic, since the original version of the secret communication had been published in a grocery store tabloid newspaper a few months later, and it's easy to see that the terminology used was clearly fictional since it didn't follow normal NASA space-to-ground protocols that both of us were familiar with.

[left, myth of meeting moon aliens; right, Johnston on opening sequence of Kiviat's "Alien Bases on the Moon", July 2014.]

I had written up this very hoax "secret transcript" in my 1982 book "UFOs and Outer Space Mysteries", and that section is reproduced here. It includes an alleged quotation, "I'm telling you, there are other spacecraft out there. They're lined up in ranks on the far side of the crater edge...." along with a torrent of gobbledegook meant to SOUND outer-spacey to the tabloid's readership:

The speakers use the call sign "Mission Control", but as you know, this was never a phrase used [by] astronauts, who instead referred always to "Houston." Technical-sounding gibberish such as "field distortion," "orbit scanned," "625 to the fifth," "auto-relays," etc. were never found in real transcripts.

The speakers call out "Repeat, repeat" but that is never used on the radio; instead, astronauts and Mission Control use the phrase "Say Again." They refer to "three of us"...actually, only two men were on the lunar surface.

So way back in 1982 I had concluded, "The unavoidable conclusion is that [the tabloid] either fabricated the fake "transcript" himself or used very poor judgment in allowing himself to be victimized by somebody else's fake. … Fortunately, the hoax was so rickety that it collapses under its own weight."

Also, there's no attempt to reconcile these claimed transcripts with the thorough documentation at "The Apollo 11 Flight Journal"  which have been annotated by the crew and by Mission Control veterans - and has become the authoritative chronicle of what was said on the Moon.

[Sep 11, 1979] 

[Sep 9, 1979 London 'Sunday Mirror']

But thirty years later, 45 years after the original event, a recognizable mutation of this original hoax came out of your mouth on cable TV.
So I asked you why you thought it was true. "Darn those guys," you shook your head when I explained it, "They must have been teasing me." Glad to see you agreed the story was bogus.

The more important point I should have made then was that how could you possibly have fallen for the story to begin with -- because what you SHOULD have known as a trained LM expert would have exposed the story's fatal flaw.

Armstrong didn't HAVE a secret "medical channel" to switch to, as the story claimed. He could NOT have 'switched' to it.

As I'm sure you realize, during Apollo, whenever an astronaut requested a private medical conference, the request was made over the open loop and approved in Mission Control. The voice loops in the MCC building were then physically reconnected at a plug board so the voice link was transferred to and only to the Flight Surgeon console and back room. Everyone else heard nothing but they were still aware a private conference was in progress.

The Apollo crew did not have a switch selector or any other control over communications privacy, it all was controlled from within the Mission Control Center. But there's no record on the public loop of ever requesting a private loop, and no time gap in the on-going air-to-ground chatter heard live by hundreds of journalists in Houston.

Whereever the downlink audio was routed to in Houston, the actual comm transmission would have continued unencrypted [as a LM expert you would have known there was no voice encryption on the actual signal]. However, the completeness and authenticity of the released air-to-ground was independently verified by one talented amateur named Larry Baysinger who listened in to a long segment of the VHF transmission [see]

A recent retrospective article included a relevant paragraph:

I asked Baysinger whether he found anything that NASA edited out - comments about things going wrong, the astronauts being loose with their language or exclamations about meeting space aliens. He said no - absolutely everything was transmitted to the public on TV. In fact he said, "that was kind of disappointing." Part of the idea of the project was to hear the unedited "real story," and it turned out there was nothing edited. Indeed, Rutherford's story makes no mention of hearing anything unusual.

 Now, if there really had been a dedicated private channel selectable by the Apollo crew, that would go a long way towards authenticating the basic premise of the story that you told on national television. It would disprove what I think is a refutation of it. I'm open to persuasion when shown documentation, so please give it a try.

Technical specs of the LM comm system can be found here: & 

Apollo Operations Handbook Lunar Module (LM 11 and Subsequent) Vol. 2 Operational Procedures
Apollo experience report: Lunar module communications system // Sep 01, 1972,

That would be very helpful, if you want to argue the authenticity of the story [which maybe you don't]. From other comments you've made over the years, I can see no indications that you originally recalled awareness of any credible evidence of the crew encountering landed UFOs at their own touchdown point. I consider an alternate possibility that you read a version of the secret conversation years later, and gradually amalgamated it into your own stories and, eventually, into your memory itself. Like my imaginary MS thesis, for example.

Second issue of fact - the smoking alien base on the moon's back side. You have described seeing a film of an alien moon base altered to remove the sighting, apparently under command of astronomer Thornton Page. I had prepared for our discussion of this by studying the image manifest of the mission you named, Apollo-14, and borrowing a DVD of the 16-mm "Reel B" that contained the only from-orbit imaging of the surface.

[right photo by Antonio Huneeus, who did a fine interview with Page at ; left, Page and Oberg lighter moment.]

Here's how you had first told it on the July 20 SYFY "Alien Bases on the Moon" program, about 34 minutes into the show:
Narrator: Yet another NASA mission, the one ET believer Edgar Mitchell was on, might have filmed the definitive evidence of aliens on the moon.
KJ: "The Apollo-14 mission was a really pivotal mission. Most people don't realize that only two of the astronauts actually were, walked on the surface, the other one stayed on board in the command module and continued to circle around and around the moon, and taking filmstrips and photographs completely covering all of the backside of the moon.
Narrator: Back on Earth, the film was shown to one of NASA's top astronomers… During the viewing, an extraordinary sequence came on screen.
KJ   The Command Module was coming around the back side of the Moon, the cameras rolling, and there's a cluster of five little domes with a light shining inside, and there was one with something looked like a column of steam or something [gestures with hand going up and down] projected up from the top. So, there was something really there, I guaranty, it was certainly something that was not natural. On the surface of the moon."
Narrator: "But when the footage was played again the next day for NASA engineers the key section, with the mysterious domes, had somehow disappeared.
KJ: "I took the film out [mimes holding strip in both hands level], and there were no splices, there were no cuts, and all the holes lined up. That means that within twenty four hours they had to have taken the film out, cut the portion out, made a copy, airbrushed it out, spliced it back in, and then made a duplicate of it, and had it available for me. "
Well, Ken, I showed you the only Apollo-14 16-mm cine of the lunar surface, a 6-minute sequence of landmark tracking exercises through the sextant, with craters and rilles and mountains zooming by. But you quickly said you didn't recognize it as the film you had shown Page and the others. "That reel came from the Service Module," you told me.
"That's impossible," I replied, "There wasn't any imaging hardware back there on Apollo-14, the observation package wasn't installed until Apollo-15, 16, and 17. All the Apollo-14 cine surface imaging was part of landmark tracking tests through the Command Module sextant"
You paused to ponder, then shrugged: "Maybe I'm misremembering the mission number." That was it. 

The problem now is that the cameras in the "SIM bay" on subsequent missions don't seem to have been taking the 'gun camera' mode motion views you described. Here's the Apollo-15 press kit that describes them.

24-inch Panoramic Camera (SM orbital photo task): Gathers stereo and high-resolution [l meter) photographs of the lunar surface from orbit. The camera produces an image size of 15 x 180 nm with a field of view 1l° downtrack and 108° cross track. The rotating lens system can be stowed face-inward to avoid contamination during effluent dumps and thruster firings. The 72-pound film cassette of 1,650 frames will be retrieved by the command module pilot during a transearth coast EVA. The 24-inch camera works in conjunction with the 3-inch mapping camera and the laser altimeter to gain data to construct a comprehensive map of the lunar surface ground track flown by this mission---about 1.16 million square miles, or 8 percent of the lunar surface. 

3-inch Mapping Camera: Combines 20-meter resolution terrain manning photography on five-inch film with 3-inch focal length lens with stellar camera shooting the star field on 35mm firm simultaneously at 96° from the surface camera optical axis. The stellar photos allow accurate correlation of mapping photography postflight by comparing simultaneous star field photos with lunar surface photos of the nadir (straight down). Additionally, the stellar camera provides pointing vectors for the laser altimeter during darkside passes. The 3-inch f4.5 mapping camera metric lens covers a 74° square field of view, or 92x92 nm from 60 nm altitude. The stellar camera is fitted with a +inch f/2.8 lens covering a 24° field with cone flats. The 23-pound film cassette containing mapping camera film (3,600) frames) and the stellar camera film will be retrieved during the same EVA described in the panorama camera discussion. The Apollo Orbital Science Photographic Team is headed by Frederick J. Doyle of the U.S. Geological Survey, McLean, VA
So there's no record of any camera in the SM instrument bay capable of taking the type of full-motion scenes you claim to have seen. There aren't ANY such sequences of ANY other regions on ANY of the released imagery from all three of those later missions.

[Oberg and Johnston viewing Apollo-14 lunar backside video, Aug 10, 2014]

The crater name just seems more confusing to me, first you said Tsiolkovskiy, then you told me last month that it was actually a nearby crater with another Russian name you wanted to misreport to protect your sources, or something. Can you name the crater now, and also check on the following chart [to see if even was scanned by any of the last three Apollo missions?

Whatever else that map shows, it also shows you again seriously misremembered the photography mission when you stated these missions were "taking filmstrips and photographs completely covering all of the backside of the moon." [Most of the backside was in shadow anyway, and thus unphotographable, because our guys wanted daylight on the front side for landing visibility].

Red = Apollo 15; Yellow = Apollo 16; Blue = Apollo 17]

 And that issue brings up an even more serious problem with your story - both the Lunar Orbiter-4 and -5 missions and decades later, mapping missions by European Space Agency, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian probes, plus several new NASA probes [and maybe Clementine?], mapped and re-mapped these regions at much higher resolutions than the Apollo missions, and none of their images show anything where you seem to say you saw [and then didn't see, after it was supposedly removed] something artificial-looking. 

If you're going to seriously expect anyone to believe your story, you'll need better explanations for decades of contrary imaging. Especially now that you're no longer even sure what year and what mission your lone glance occurred on.

I don't want to quibble over job titles and personal experiences, Ken, but statements by you that put you in the position of accusing other program participants [such as Neil Armstrong or Thornton Page] of deception and fraud really need more solid, error-free testimony, as well as independent corroboration. Otherwise, as you already know, I think such comments are a disservice to the history of space exploration and without more firmly based substantiation, put all the rest of your tales of Apollo lessons in doubt.

You have had such distinguished and honorable service during a challenging period of history, and I'm proud of you, and of us all who played our parts. Your future prospects are exciting and I wish you success and satisfaction in however far your dream leads you.

Jim Oberg


        Ken Johnston replied briefly on 20 November. Since I don't have his permission, and the text is not in the public domain, I won't reproduce it verbatim. His suggestion was that, since Oberg still lives in the Houston area, he might like to go to JSC and search the archives for confirmation of the Thornton Page story. Oberg thought that task would be more appropriately assigned to Johnston himself.


Binaryspellbook said...

Outstanding post Expat.
Poor Ken. Utterly exposed as a liar.

jim oberg said...

Ken has doubled-down on his Apollo stories, in an August 30, 2015 2-hour radio interview: