Bubbles, Reflections and Space Walks… Did China Really Fake It?

Tracks of seven objects during Chinese space walk. Red tracks are the visual 'start' and 'finish' of the objects, blue tracks are lines drawn back to possible origin. Object number and time in video included. Scene frozen at 26 seconds into video when object 1 is seen (CCTV)
Tracks of seven objects during Chinese space walk. Red tracks are the visual 'start' and 'finish' of the objects, blue tracks are lines drawn back to possible origin. Object number and time in video included. Scene frozen at 26 seconds into video when object 1 is seen (CCTV)

China successfully launched three taikonauts into Earth orbit and, on September 27th, the first Chinese national (41 year old fighter pilot Zhai Zhigang) walked in space. The space walk lasted a total of 15 minutes, enough time to retrieve some solid lubricant from the outer hull of the Shenzhou-7 module and to give the brand new “Feitian” space suit a trial run. The launch, orbital insertion, space walk, re-entry and landing were all executed perfectly, securing China as only the third nation to successfully carry out an extra-vehicular activity (EVA).

It can therefore be expected, as with space flight achievements by the US and Russia before, there will be some conspiracy theories out there…

OK, Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy beat me to the punch on this one, but I thought I’d contribute my 2c worth. First, let’s have a look at the video montage I used as a reference (primarily because this YouTube video had a “high quality” version):

At first I was more than a little intrigued by this video. After discussing this with Captain Jack over at Paranormal Radio in last week’s regular show on October 3rd (listen to the recording), I began to replay the video over and over to watch for the anomalies. Unfortunately the version I used (above), has some rather annoying commentary with it.

There have been a few websites now pointing the finger at this “faked” Chinese space walk, primarily anti-government websites (such as the Epoch Times, who provides no references to the “Chinese bloggers” they cite), plus pro-Taiwanese commenters. Of course there is a searing discontent toward China, after all this regime is responsible for human rights breaches, suppression of freedom and control of information. The western world has it’s problems, but at least we’re not controlled by the state (at least we think we’re not… are we?). Insofar as China’s efforts in space, they needed to be sure that they were 100% authentic and transparent with the world. Unfortunately, they were already fighting a losing battle even before the rocket launched.

A few hours before the launch of the Shenzhou spacecraft, the state-controlled news website Xinhuanet published an article documenting the successful orbital insertion of the three-man crew. A transcript of the future conversation between mission control and the Shenzhou 7 module appeared online due to a “technical error.” (A pretty big error if you ask me.) Even before the engines had ignited the conspiracy theories were on fire! And rightly so. Who’s to say this transcript wouldn’t have been issued regardless of mission success or failure? So, China was already on its back-foot, the launch was viewed with utmost suspicion.

Bubbles

Tracks of seven objects during Chinese space walk. Object number and time in video included (CCTV)
Tracks of seven objects during Chinese space walk. Object number and time in video included (CCTV)

After a whole evening devoted to scrutinizing floating Chinese astronauts, I’m convinced that the China space walk is authentic, although I’m not prepared to dismiss the conspiracy claims out of hand. Pretty much all of the claims can be explained easily (of which I’ll give a rundown later), but the one thing I have been intrigued by are the alleged “bubbles.”

The theory goes a little like this: In an effort to direct attention away from the baby milk scandal, China rushed the launch of the Long-March II-F rocket to bring their successful EVA forward by a few days. Alas, the Chinese authorities had no intention to send a costly mission into space. So, just like the faked visuals in the Beijing Olympics, they put together a Capricorn One-style faked space mission to wow the world.

So how did they do this? They shot the whole EVA in a massive water tank; the rotating Earth was pasted in by digital-visual experts. What do you get in water? Bubbles. And by the looks of things, there are plenty of bubbles in the video!

Actually, although I was curious at first (and I’ll explain why in a moment), those objects you see are not bubbles, it’s pieces of debris being released from inside the spaceship and from the activities of the taikonauts. If you have a look at the image above, I decided to trace the paths taken by our “bubbles” in an attempt to see where they originated. Although I was using the highly scientific method of pausing a YouTube video and hitting the “Prt Sc” button, I think I was able to capture seven “bubbles” pretty nicely. Then, using Photoshop (like that’s never been used in space-related propaganda before) I traced the track made by the “bubbles” (red line) and then traced its direction back to a possible origin (blue line) – all are straight lines. I would have liked to have captured more of these “bubbles” but even the “high quality” version of the video wasn’t great, so I had to make do with seven.

As pointed out by the anti-conspiracy theorists out there, bubbles tend to float upward. Well, this is true, but I was concerned that these “bubbles” could still be “bubbles” even though they look as if they are travelling in “random” directions. After all, if weightless conditions had been replicated in a huge water tank, why would it matter which way up the “mocked” spaceship was orientated? I was concerned that we may be looking at a full-scale mock-up of the Shenzhou-7 dangling down, or tilted, so the camera is at the top, looking toward the bottom of the tank. Therefore, any “bubbles” produced float upward, toward and then away from the camera. At first, this might give the impression the “bubbles” are travelling in random directions… but there would be a flaw to this plan…

The 2004 Perseid meteor shower - example of meteors originating from a common point, the radiant (© Fred Bruenjes)
The 2004 Perseid meteor shower - example of meteors originating from a common point, the radiant (© Fred Bruenjes)

If we are able to track the paths of each of the “bubbles”, given enough bubbles, we should see a statistical trend toward a radiant pattern, much like a meteor radiant (pictured left). After all, given enough travel time, all bubbles in a deep tank will float upward, in a straight-ish line, each tracing back to a more-or-less common radial point.

So what do we see? “Bubbles” numbered 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 seem to appear from a common point.

Hah! Proof that these are bubbles!

Woah, hold on just a minute. There are another two “bubble tracks” that don’t follow this pattern. The renegade “bubbles” (numbered 3 and 5) seem to not fit this trend, plus they are travelling in straight lines, no curvature or turbulent behaviour to suggest they were being disturbed. For my theory to be correct, all the bubbles would need to be travelling from the same radial point. Unless they are being blown around by some underwater fan system; my radiant theory was getting weak.

So I looked back to the official explanation as to what these “bubbles” were: debris from inside the Shenzhou module were being released into space – the pressure gradient from inside (the capsule’s pressure will have been “equalized” with the vacuum of space, it wouldn’t be a perfect vacuum) to outside caused the fast velocities of the debris.

With this in mind, I looked to where “bubbles” 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 came from. Tracing back along the blue lines, they do indeed originate from the open hatch. Still, they might have still been bubbles, but that didn’t explain “bubbles” 3 and 5. 3 and 5 originated from the activity of Zhai Zhigang during the EVA and appeared to fire away in completely different directions to the other five “bubbles”. Also, on reviewing each of the moving objects, they appear to very un-bubble-like shapes. Some look like tumbling pieces of ice or other flake-like pieces of debris.

Alas, there is one thing I cannot very explain convincingly. At 3:03 minutes into the video, you will notice a strange bubble-like object appear near Zhai’s visor. This is one of the key elements to the space walk conspiracy. It looks like a bubble has been released, it travels around the bulbous helmet and then released upwards (following line number 3 in my diagram), much like what you’d expect from a diver’s mask. I actually think this is a piece of debris travelling toward the camera, giving the impression it is an expanding bubble travelling upwards. There is probably a contributing reflection in the visor that makes it look as if the debris is travelling around the visor, when it is actually travelling on a linear path away from Zhai. I’ll leave that oddity for you to decide.

We must also remember, if this was shot in a massive tank of water, there would be a lot more bubbles in the water. Unless they were digitally removed (in which case, why leave the obvious seven bubbles for us all to see?), this definitely was not an underwater scene. Other underwater phenomena like turbulence, cavitation and nucleation are also not present.

Reflections of an array of studio lights

Two screenshots of the video. Left: The reflection in Zhai's visor shows a three-row array attached to the spacecraft. Right: The reflection from Zhai's wrist mirror shows the same array, only closer. They are not studio lights (CCTV)
Two screenshots of the video. Left: The reflection in Zhai's visor shows a three-row array attached to the spacecraft. Right: The reflection from Zhai's wrist mirror shows the same array, only closer. They are not studio lights (CCTV)

This is another “key” piece of evidence that the space walk was faked – the reflection in Zhai’s wrist mirror. The mirror is used by the taikonaut to see beyond his field of view; at the end of the day, it is hard to turn your head in a space helmet, so Zhai had to employ the use of a handy little mirror on his wrist.

But, if this scene was filmed underwater, in a studio, surely any reflective objects in the scene will pick out things like… I don’t know… studio lights? According to the theory, at 5:23 minutes into the video, a rapid wrist movement appears to flash three rows of a studio light array.

I’ll make this one quick and painless

Wind back the video to 1:18 minutes, when Zhai crawls out of the hatch. Look in his visor. There is a wide-angle view of the hull of the spaceship. What do you see? There is an obvious three-row array of some kind of lighting system or some other spaceship equipment. It is not studio lighting you can see in Zhai’s wrist reflection, it is a reflection of some equipment (possibly a small light array for the camera) attached to the hull. I cannot find the blueprints of the Shenzhou-7 module, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say the “studio lights” are in fact a small lighting system for the hull-mounted camera.

Alas, the Chinese DID get into orbit…

The main conspiracy theories are the “bubbles” proving this space walk was filmed in a water tank, and the reflection proving it was shot in a studio. For the reasons given above, neither are a possibility. There are also some other theories such as:

  • There are no stars. Correct, many orbital images and video do not contain stars. This is because the Earth is usually the brightest thing (by several orders of magnitude) in shot. If there is a bright object (i.e. a white spacesuit, or bright terrestrial clouds), the camera’s aperture will close down. This has the effect of removing any faint objects from the shot. Stars will blend in with the black of space so the details of the spacewalk and Earth’s globe can be seen. If the camera aperture were to be opened, the brightness of the Earth will appear “burned out”, appearing as a bright white blob. There are measures that can be taken to decrease the contrast with the background of space, thereby picking out the pinpoints of starlight, but streaming video from space isn’t typically of the highest quality, especially if the system is automated.
  • The flag looks funny. Actually it doesn’t. This is a classic piece of evidence for the Moon hoaxers, saying that the Apollo flags implanted in the lunar surface “wave” as if blown around. The same theory appears to be aired when Zhai enthusiastically waves his red Chinese flag around. Admittedly, the flag was probably made out of a stiffer material than fabric (to ensure the whole flag can be seen on camera, rather than folding into a useless knot), but there is no indication that this flag is waving underwater. It is waving an a vacuum, there’s no evidence to the contrary.

So, we are presented with two options. Either, China went into space and performed a flawless 15-minute EVA, or the mother of all space hoaxes has just been carried out. So which one do you think it is? I’m betting that China did indeed get into space. The “bubbles” are in fact space debris, the reflection of “studio lights” is in fact a reflection of some equipment on the Shenzhou-7 hull, and everything else is simply hard to believe.

Whether you like it or not, China is indeed the third country in history to carry out a successful space walk…

Historic spacewalks (from left-to-right): March 18th 1965, Russia - Alexei Leonov. June 3rd 1965, USA - Ed White. September 27th 2008, China - Zhai Zhigang.
Historic spacewalks (from left-to-right): March 18th 1965, Russia - Alexei Leonov. June 3rd 1965, USA - Ed White. September 27th 2008, China - Zhai Zhigang.

100 thoughts on “Bubbles, Reflections and Space Walks… Did China Really Fake It?”

  1. OMG, always a conspiracy! Gimme a break. The US thinks everyone else is DUMB when in fact, its the US that is DUMB. Case in point, the $700 BILLION hand out that didnt do anything but make the fat cats of Wall street richer.

    Jiff
    http://www.privacy.de.tc

    1. We need to stop blaming the Government for everything, yes we are very dumb if we weren't we would here right now trying to find a way to improve our status and it s always the government fault. Just my 2 cents

  2. So they went into space.. big deal? It was done long ago when technology hadn’t advanced as far as it has today. Hell theres even been people on the moon. So why should anyone be exited about this? I would feel ashamed. Space is really a waste of money. 🙂

  3. Come on go do something productive, you are collecting visitors to this place with brainless facts.

    I can make a website 9/11 is faked so I can drag 10000 of clicks.

    Pathetic.

  4. Brainless facts? Why bother commenting on a site you have so much contempt for? Thank you for your click, I only have another 9,999 to go. Meh.

    (PS. Next time, please read the article…)

  5. how about the atmosphere that i’m supposd to be seeing near the surface of the earth….
    the blue aura kidna thing?

    1. Yeah the blue aura is pretty amazing. We had a large discussion about this atmosphere last spring break in a holiday place we go every year with my college students. It’s pretty crazy if real. The next Spring Break 2012 date will be in march 2012 and then I see those students again, interested to see if they changed their minds.

  6. Hi Jason.

    This is another one of those problems with automatic cameras. You’ll find, even with NASA spacewalk images, that the Earth is a bright globe, overwhelming any dim hue from the atmosphere (overwhelming the stars too). In the whole CCTV footage of the spacewalk, we eventually see the Sun set over the limb of the Earth. You’ll see the Sun turn orange as the sunlight has to travel through more atmosphere. At this point, when the light is significantly dimmer, you’ll briefly see the extended atmosphere.

    I was a little dubious about this at first (after all, you can fake a sunset!), but it is a very similar view in many NASA space walk video shoots (although still-camera images appear to pick out the atmosphere a lot better).

    Hope that helps a bit 🙂

    Cheers, Ian

  7. china went to space? yes.
    the footage is fake? yes.

    having lived in Beijing for 8 years and seen the chinese CGI opening ceremony fireworks, dub a little singers voice, paint the brown grass green for visiting officials, airbrush their passport photos, lie to their own people about SARS for months, block CNN and BBC web access in China…. etc etc
    I know how far china will go to prevent themselves from looking less than perfect.

    China has even blocked us here in beijing from being about to visit the youtube pages where the so called “conspiracy theories” are.

    Chinese exerts who worked for NASA are even saying this footage is fake check the interview by The Epoch Times with Dr. Qu Zheng.

    forget the bubbles, forget the reflections LOOK AT THE FLAG! He isnt even waving it and that thing is flapping around in the wave pool by itself.

    what about the verbal slip up? (i am assuming most of you dont speak mandarin, i do) the astronaut says “he has enteres the water”

    What about the cloud inconsistencies? one minute the ocean is covered in thick cloud cover, 2 seconds later its a clear day over the pacific?

    what about the lack of background noise and the clarity of the audio from “space”? the noise from manned space crafts is deafening, literally, astronauts wear earplugs and still come back to earth with lifelong hearing problems. Listen to audio from russian and american space walks then compare it to the hollow silent clear voices of the chinese astronauts.

    I am not saying china doesnt have the resources to go to space, all i am saying is that they pre-filmed this shiny happy perfect footage to make their country proud and distract the world from YET another food poisoning scandal, they werent ready to go to space but they needed to do something, so they did.

    dont underestimate china, they act first and think later, its the way things work here with everything from the daily running of a business to emergency space shuttle launches.

  8. A good debunk. I’m tired of people that jump on this conspiracy kids are dumb bandwagon. Some are far more intelligent than the immature idiots that insult and offer debunks that they probably stole from someone else who did all the work. Well done Ian rather than assume someone is stupid you have tried to question and given an intelligent and careful answer.

  9. Here is a good example from the otherside. It includes an underwater fan system in the conspiracy and I dont think that can be debunked. You have two polarised sides the debunkers and the conspiracy theorists. But if some of them teamed up these people would be close to knowing the truth about the universe we live in.

  10. then may I ask you, why does the earth in ths EVA video looked so curved? it should be more flatter right, since it’s only 340 km of altitute?

  11. After surveying of hundreds of site and videos ,i would like to conclude that chinas Shenzhou VII space walk is 100% fake.no matter what other believes about it but chinas space walk has failed to prove basic physics.there are many hints ,which suggests that it was fake.

  12. The trajectories of the “debris” looked random does not prove that this cannot happen underwater. Because the “astronaut” was moving, there must be water “jets” flowing at various directions.

  13. What about the launch of 7 shown on TV? The astronauts sat utterly steady and had no vibrations. The stuffs around them also utterly stable and no slice of vibrations detected. Pretty strange to a rocket launch with hundred thousands pounds of thrust behind them. Looks fake.

  14. Why don’t you guys ask specialists from NASA(by e-mail)? They will tell you whether it is real or not. You can also get the orbit data from NASA if Chinese really entered space. I think most of you who thought the clip is fake just you don’t like China. Don’t forget the fact, the first one said the clip was fake is the website of anti-China, not professional organizations such as NASA, ESA.

  15. Until I can gather more information on this, I am not going to settle on either side of the fence here. One thing that I have heard that interested me though, was the theory that yes, China launched something, and yes, this video is a fake. We know that China has faked numerous other things (like the fireworks you mentioned) in order to make themselves look good. I have heard a theory that postulates the mission having been successful, but them making this fake anyway, just in case something went wrong, or at least less than perfect. Just as a way to make themselves look better. My own feelings are that people who scream “FAKE!” are more than likely wrong, but it was an interesting look at the issue.

  16. To those who point that the “sound is too good”, ‘there are bubbles all about”, “the astronaut had a verbal slip-up”, “there could be seen stadium lights at a distance”, one question: if it was faked, why didn’t the Chinese: (a) Add some post-processing noise to the audio? (b) photoshopped away the bubbles? (c) Had the astronaut re-read his lines? And (d) take the damn mirror off the suit to begin with and why aren’t the lights visible in the helmet faceplate? The whole thing WAS shot in advance, wasn’t it?

  17. Something about the whole thing seems fake. Even the video of the Toikenauts floating their notebooks seems not quite right. I’ve watched a lot of film of the appolo missions and both space stations and those guys don’t seem to be in zero g. Why isn’t there any video of them floating around inside the spaceship ship? They seem glued to the floor… by gravity!!

  18. Conspiracy theorists make me laugh…the thing is I don’t think they even realize how outlandish and plain ridiculous they sound when they are rambling on. Has anyone seen the Zeitgeist – absolute rubbish, probably made by the same ppl that are now questioning China’s space walk.

  19. Let’s all take a moment and thank Bill Clinton. For it is the technology transfer he made possible which allowed the Chinese to achieve this and other goals.

    Google Bill Clinton Loral Corporation

  20. You can actually see the camera lights (claimed to be stadium lights) in the YouTube just momentarily (at 1:36 in some versions). There is a Toikenaut who is getting out of the way and the light comes into view for just a fraction of a second before the conspiracy theorist cuts the frame off. If you know where to look (from the prior reflection in the faceshield) you can spot it.

  21. While no nation other than Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United States, and China has launched a manned spacecraft, several other nations have sent people into space in cooperation with one of these countries.

  22. Apple’s approval process and guidelines should be such that they eliminate bad apps to begin with. Such like apps that don’t meet server load requirements, pool planning and poor security. In other words, the apps themselves should have development standards and guidelines for all developers to follow and have to meet in order for Apple to accept them.…AND yes, Apple should streamline the app update process by automating an App Scan that checks for the guidelines in both code and load. I 100% agree that a major issue with software development is roll-out time but planning (measure twice and cut once) is the key to better long term positive success for both the apps and the consumers that use them.kamagra acne

  23. funny that this writer didn't elaborate at all into the CGI Earth in the background, with clouds moving at a whopping 1000km/h and more. does this in any way compromise Astroengine.com?

  24. well this is another one of those problems with automatic cameras. You'll find, even with NASA spacewalk images, that the Earth is a bright globe, overwhelming any dim hue from the atmosphere (overwhelming the stars too). In the whole CCTV footage of the spacewalk, we eventually see the Sun set over the limb of the Earth. You'll see the Sun turn orange as the sunlight has to travel through more atmosphere. At this point, when the light is significantly dimmer, you'll briefly see the extended atmosphere.the Mario Games expert.

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