The Titan submersible disaster is being used to sow doubt about US President Richard Nixon’s famous 1969 telephone call to astronauts on the Moon.
This is misleading. The late president didn’t make a direct landline call to Apollo 11, and experts told AAP FactCheck that submarines are much harder to contact than spacecraft. The Titan submersible was also uncontactable because it had imploded.
The Titan had five people on board when it lost communications with its surface vessel an hour and 45 minutes after starting its descent towards the wreck of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean, on June 18.
Nothing was heard from the vessel again, until a debris field containing pieces of the Titan was found near the Titanic on June 22. The discovery led to the conclusion the Titan had suffered a catastrophic implosion.
“They can’t contact a submarine from 12,000 feet in 2023. But apparently, they called the moon from a landline in 1969,” the post says.
In a comment below their post, the user adds: “The point was that we barely can make things work with the technology we have on land and in the oceans so how did they make phones work well on the moon.”
The claim hints at the long-running conspiracy (debunked here and here) that the Moon landing was faked because President Nixon’s famous landline phone call from The White House to the Apollo 11 astronauts was impossible.
But Nixon didn’t call the moon directly from a landline. The Nixon Foundation website explains here, Nixon’s telephoned NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, where capsule communicator (CapCom) Bruce McCandless II routed the president through to the Apollo 11 crew.
The company NASA used to facilitate that communication, AT&T, said that the call travelled an estimated 290,000 miles (466,709km) one way, with millions listening in on radio and television.
It’s also misleading to compare that 1969 call with the inability of authorities to contact the Titan submarine in 2023 with experts explaining that underwater communications are much more difficult than those in space.
Scott Bainbridge, team leader of technology development at the Australian Institute of Marine Science said radio waves in general are absorbed by water, “so normal radio comms don’t work underwater but do in space”.
“So yes, using radio waves it is far easier to talk to the moon than to a sub,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email.
Mr Bainbridge said long-wave, high-power radio waves can propagate underwater but they require extensive infrastructure, which can’t be installed in the open ocean.
“You can use acoustics to communicate but this is slow and limited so they would have had some comms but slow and limited,” he added.
“However, the underwater wireless technology (underwater acoustic communications) is very limited in both data rates (several kilobytes or less) and reliability,” Dr Song told AAP FactCheck in an email.
“Assuming there is a top unit at the sea surface to call the submersible, we need to use the vertical channel, meaning that the top unit should be directly above the submersible for reliable communications. Only limited information can be exchanged between the top unit and the submersible because of the characteristics of acoustic wave propagation in the ocean.”
It’s extremely difficult to communicate with deep submarines, but not impossible as the post claims, unless, as in the Titan’s case, the vessel has been destroyed.
The claim that apparently humans called the Moon from a landline phone in 1969, but can’t even contact a submarine in 2023 is misleading.
US President Richard Nixon did not directly call Apollo 11 astronauts on the Moon from a landline as his call was routed through Mission Control.
Experts told AAP FactCheck that communicating with submersibles underwater is far more difficult than communicating with spacecraft. The Titan submersible wasn’t contactable because it had imploded.
Misleading – The claim is accurate in parts but information has also been presented incorrectly, out of context or omitted.