Silver-level articleMoon landing hoax

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Not to be confused with the Great Moon Hoax,[wp] which was in fact a hoax.
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Some dare call it

Conspiracy

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Secrets revealed!
The revealers

The Moon landing hoax refers to the belief of a small,[1] but persistent, percentage of people who think that the Apollo Moon landings of the late 60s and early 70s were propaganda films produced by NASA in pursuit of humiliating the USSR in the Cold War.

Some believe that humans never went to space at all, save for perhaps low orbital flights, while others think we may have eventually succeeded, but the original claims dating to July 20, 1969 of a Moon landing were false.

While there are small evidences that they claim makes their case, these are easily explained, and overwhelmed by the body of evidence that we have, indeed, been to space and left trash on the Moon just as at the top of Everest.

In the US, the Moon landing hoax claim was originated by libertarian writer Bill Kaysing with his 1976 book We Never Went to the Moon: America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle. It is a shame Kaysing is mostly remembered for that, because he also wrote some great books on sustainable living, privacy, hot springs, homelessness and other topics. It has since reached the level of being a pop-culture meme, much in the way JFK assassination theories are, and has been referenced in a number of works, from a Rammstein music video to a Red Bull TV commercial. Nevertheless, true believers are limited to the ranks of die-hard conspiracy theorists, and, outside the US, belief in it is usually correlated with general anti-US sentiment.

Contents

Basic facts

A surprising number of people are not terribly well informed about something that happened over 40 years ago. So, let's get some facts straight first:

  • The US Moon landing program was started by JFK in response to the Soviet Union's early successes in space exploration, just in case the world decided that those Commies were right and Communism was the way to go. (See also the whole Cold War thing.) Unsurprisingly, this is the thing most people Americans seem able to remember...
  • There have been SIX landings on the Moon, between 1969 and 1972:[2] the historic Apollo 11 (1969), Apollo 12 (1969), Apollo 14 (1971), Apollo 15 (1971), Apollo 16 (1972) and Apollo 17 (1972). Each landing delivered two astronauts to the surface, with a third one waiting for them in lunar orbit.
  • There have been three more flights to the Moon: the first ever lunar fly-by of Apollo 8 in 1968 to beat the Russians, the Apollo 10 "general rehearsal" of a landing without actually landing (1969) and the "successful failure" Apollo 13 (1970) which was badly damaged by an explosion during the flight, but managed to get the astronauts back to Earth alive. (There is a mostly accurate movie with Tom Hanks about it.)
  • Each of the last three flights, 15, 16 and 17, carried the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), an electric car frame with wheels which allowed astronauts to get several miles away from the landing site.
  • Three more flights were originally planned (18, 19 and 20), but they were canceled when the public decided that the US had more pressing concerns than "Whitey on the Moon", such as the Vietnam War, and the politicians pulled the plug. The extra spacecraft were used for the Skylab space station (occupied 1973-1974) and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (1975, Americans meeting Russians in orbit for a few shots of vodka). The Apollo/Saturn combination was supposed to be replaced by a more versatile, safer and cheaper system known as the Space Shuttle...
  • The footage of Neil Armstrong going down the ladder and saying the "small step" line was shot by a TV camera cunningly attached to the side of the lander and deployed by pulling a cord.[3]
  • The footage of the Lunar Module lifting off was shot by the lunar rover's TV camera that could be operated remotely from Earth. There are actually three attempts to film the ascent: on Apollo 15 the camera broke, on Apollo 16 the operator was too late and the LM flew out of the frame, on Apollo 17 he nailed it.
  • The Soviets did have a manned lunar program, but it started in earnest three years later (1964) and never managed to get anywhere due to a variety of problems (political, financial and technical, including all four test flights of their heavy launch rocket ending in massive explosions). Like the other Soviet space programs, the project was secret unless it succeeded (or failed really badly), which allowed the Russians to pretend that they never intended to go, claiming that the Moon could be explored by robots instead of risking human lives. The Lunokhod[wp] program was hastily developed and managed to land and operate two remotely-controlled rovers on the lunar surface (in 1970 and 1973), scoring another Soviet first. After the US successes, the support for a Moon landing mission evaporated and the Soviet space program focused on orbital stations.

If you want to know more, you can start by reading the Wikipedia article on the Apollo program. If you really want to know more, you can read the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, a collection of transcripts, photos, videos and other information about the landings. (See also the #External links section below.)

Variety of conspiracy beliefs.

There is, in fact, no single Moon landing conspiracy narrative. There are several depending on the believers' gullibility or desire to believe. The following is only a brief summary

Flat Earth belief

Obviously faked!

Flat earthers believe space travel to be impossible, so the astronauts never left the Earth and the whole thing was filmed on the ground. Charles K. Johnson, president of the Flat Earth Society described the Space Shuttle as "a joke", claiming that he has observed bits falling off it in testing which prove that it can't really go into space.[4] Presumably, he thinks the same of high altitude airliners such as Concorde, from which people could also see the curvature of the Earth.

Vedic fundamentalist belief

Members of the Hare Krishna movement refuse to accept the landings, because it would contradict with what their holy texts say about the Moon (for example, that it is further away than the Sun). This attitude dates back to the founder of the movement and the time of the landings themselves.[5]

No orbit belief

A number of people are silent on the shape of the Earth but nevertheless believe that no people ever went into Earth orbit. An example is Jared Lee Loughner, who apparently believed that the Space Shuttle carried no crew (or that it did, but didn't reach orbit).

Only orbit belief

This group believes that the astronauts only went into Earth orbit. This is usually connected to the claim that the space outside low Earth orbit is filled with deadly radiation.[6] It seems not to have occurred to these theorists to check the actual facts, such as what kinds of ionizing radiation exist in space, what are their sources, what are the expected radiation levels and what protective measures are taken against them. An extreme version is the claim that radiation in the Van Allen belts would melt the spacecraft.[7]

Moon orbit belief

Obviously not faked!

This group believes that that NASA went to the moon but only to orbit it. Why NASA would stop there and fake the rest is anyone's guess — the final landing, while complex and difficult, would not have been impossible for such a large, well prepared organization.

Landed, but later belief

These people believe that the earlier landings were faked, but that NASA finally managed to get there some time in the seventies. They assert that the United States faked reports of the original landing to thwart the Soviet Union's attempts during the space race of the Cold War.

Moon alien belief

See also: Richard Hoagland, Mars Anomaly Research and a number of other pareidolia aficionados.

This group accepts that NASA went to the moon, and — with unmanned probes — the rest of the Solar System; however, the things they saw were so incredible they had to doctor the photographs to hide the evidence of alien civilizations (or Space Nazis). As usual with this kind of conspiracy theory, a logical reason has never been given for anyone wanting to conceal such a profitable discovery. Film maker Jose Escamilla takes the conspiracy one step further. He claims, after applying Earth hues to the Moon's surface, that it is simply swarming with life and bases and craft.[8] Having discovered this during the Apollo 11 mission, NASA never returned to the moon, but instead launched nuclear missiles into space, to defend us from the aliens.

A similar, but slightly less insane, subgroup of this postulates that the moon landings did happen, but the footage was so poor that it was re-recorded on Earth, thus explaining the "evidence" of forgery without the incredulous claims associated with a full hoax, such as the vast expense at faking the launches and keeping everyone quiet.[9]

Moon landing belief

ARRRRR, this picture be obviously not faked! (Note: Ninjas also landed on the moon, but we're still looking for hints on where they landed, as no sign of a pirate/ninja conflict has been found.)

This group swallowed hook, line, and sinker the low-quality, video footage propaganda released by NASA (and covered up by the U.S.S.R. in return for wheat subsidies) and actually thinks that men walked on the moon and returned to Earth unharmed. They bought all the "evidence" given by NASA as proof that a moon landing did, in fact, occur.[10] What gullible fools!

Moon landing hoax hoax

This group believes that the moon landing hoax was itself a hoax, to cover up the fact that Chinese filmmakers had successfully filmed a "moon landing" video before NASA. The CIA intercepted the video, dubbed it into English,[11] and broadcast it to the world.[12] There are rumors that this theory is itself a hoax, but the rumors have been dismissed as a hoax.[13]

Tito did it

At the start of 2012, someone spammed various websites with the trailer of a "documentary" claiming that the technology for the moon landing was in fact developed by Yugoslavia using writings of the Slovenian space exploration visionary/pioneer Herman "Noordung" Potočnik,[wp] (died 1929) and that it was sold later to the USA.[14] While it may be a fun semi-nationalist speculation (even the authors of the documentary say it's just a hypothesis), why Yugoslavia would hide such a space program remains a solid argument against it. Although, in all honesty, the documentary may turn out to be a perfect example of Poe's Law.[15] (In all cases, we'll find out in December 2012, unless the world ends before that. :))

Evidence for a conspiracy

The amount of drivel written about the Apollo landings could fill a separate wiki. Following is just a sample of kind of "evidence" and misinterpretations that are used to prop up the various conspiracy theories. However, none of it stands up to scrutiny. A lot of the arguments are different forms of argument from incredulity and exploit laypeople's ignorance and/or misconceptions about space, space travel or even more mundane things like photography.

Suppression

It is reported that Bill Kaysing, whose 1976 book started the madness, was originally requested by his publishers to write his book as a satire, but he somehow "lost the plot" and became convinced of the truth.[16] Kaysing alleged that his own publishers were in cahoots with NASA to suppress the book after he received a letter from his own editor saying that the manuscript wasn't good enough for publication. Kaysing then self-published both the book and the letter.

Stars

No, we're not referring to the video casting Hollywood A-listers. This is about actual stars, the burning nuclear fusion kind. Proponents of the hoax theory insist that there are no stars visible in any of the footage or photographs taken on the moon. This is very true. Take any image at night and you'll very rarely see stars in the sky. This is because stars are faint things, which is the very reason you can't see them during the day. It takes the human eye a good few minutes to an hour to adjust to seeing all the stars in the sky, even on a clear night with little light pollution, because our irises need to widen to let in enough light to view them.

Cameras have the same issue, but instead of opening the iris wider, they expose their shots for a certain length of time. During the day, when it's nice and bright, exposure can be short. But at night the exposure must be long. To see stars effectively, exposure times for the average camera need to be on the order of seconds (indeed, so long that even the shortest exposures can reveal motion in the stars), which is hardly conducive to video footage. Alternatively, the aperture can be increased to let more light into the exposure. This could work for the video footage BUT, it would over expose the rest of the footage—turning astronauts and the lunar surface into one big bright white blob of nothing. Lacking any nice HDR technology, the cameras used could see the astronauts nice and clearly, but not the stars. Consider that, on a clear night with a full moon, it reflects enough sunlight for a person on Earth to see their shadow. Imagine how bright it is on the surface! (Ever been on a snow-covered mountain slope in a bright sunny day without sunglasses?)

This isn't just a handwave to explain the moon landing photos, the exposure problem for observing stars exists on Earth and is very, very demonstrable.[17]

Prop C

One image purports to show the letter "C" on a rock. Conspiracy theorists say that this is a label for a prop piece and that the letter indicates which position it goes in for the shot. There are numerous problems with this, not least of which is the fact that the "letter" is clearly a case of pareidolia. Secondly, this is not seen anywhere else in any of the moon footage or photos. If people were dumb enough to put a prop the wrong way up, you'd expect it to be visible on most rocks, or the moon buggy, or the lander itself. Third, and most importantly, no one in film or television labels their set pieces like this precisely because such labels might be seen if the director picks a new angle to shoot from.

Cameras

Alan Bean, Apollo 12. Note the camera attached to his chest. The guy reflected in his visor is "Pete" Conrad.

If you look carefully in the reflection of Neil Armstrong's visor, it is possible to see Buzz Aldrin taking the photo... but wait! He isn't holding up a camera, so how could he be taking the picture. It must be fake! One would expect that, if it were fake, the visor would be reflecting a full film crew complete with their cameras. Of course, the simpler explanation is to look at the cameras used on the Apollo missions. Unlike technology we use down on Earth, NASA's equipment has to be specialized for use in space and for operation while wearing a space suit. So holding up a compact camera, peering through the viewfinder and snapping away like you're on a holiday just isn't a sensible option. The cameras used were attached to the chest of the suit. Despite the restricted ability to aim the cameras (shooting from the hip, as it were), it's still possible to take very good images, particularly once they had been selected, processed and cleaned up. This explains why we keep repeatedly seeing the same few "great shots" despite there being several thousand photos taken on the moon.

In fact, the sheer number of exposures taken on the moon has been used in the Gish Gallop of evidence in favour of a hoax. With the EVAs on the moon lasting 4834 minutes and 5771 photos taken, some people seem incredulous that the astronauts managed to do anything but take photos during their time on the lunar surface.[18] However, these figures are highly misleading, not least because the presence of two astronauts immediately doubles the amount of time spent on the moon. Next, ask any professional photographer and they'll tell you that if you get less than 5000 images from nearly 6000 minutes of their time you need to fire your photographer and get a new one.[19] It takes about 1 second to take a photo, many done in batches and also done while they were working. So it wasn't a case of traveling halfway across a lunar crater to take the snaps and then traveling all the way back to the other side to do the work. Really, this is beyond silly.

Take off video

When the lunar lander takes off again, a camera pans up to view it. Conspiracy nuts like to think this proves someone was there operating the camera but in reality it was remote controlled and operated very carefully by timing the delays between transmissions of the signal; the operator had to pan it up at a set speed several seconds before actual take-off in order to get it right. Does this make it awfully "convenient" that the camera operators just happened to get it right? No: the signal delay times and ascent rate of the lunar module are known, making the task actually quite trivial.

Shadows

Holy crap, this picture must be faked!

In some shots, astronaut shadows appear to be cast in different directions. Conspiracy buffs with little-to-zero understanding of how light works claim that this is proof of two light sources; if they were really on the moon there would only be one light source, the sun. However, anyone with even a vague knowledge of reality knows that multiple light sources create two shadows for each object and not one shadow that points in a different direction. The different orientations of the shadows are due to the angles of the background and perspective illusions.

Image bleed

For various purposes, photographs from the moon feature black crosshairs at regular intervals. In some images, the crosshairs appear behind parts of the image. This suggests, to the mind of the conspiracy hack, that the images have been tampered with, much in the style of Photoshop Disasters. However, careful examination of this shows that only very bright white areas seem to cover the crosshairs. This is a very well known optical and image processing phenomenon where the bright white areas bleed across the exposure, covering the crosshairs as the image was captured.

The flag

The US flag planted during the moon landing visibly shakes while it is being handled. This is claimed to be evidence of wind, and therefore proof that it was filmed on Earth on a soundstage, rather than in the vacuum of space.

In fact, and very counter-intuitively, the vacuum of space is exactly why you can see it wave the way it does. When surrounded by air, the flag would be subject to air resistance, and so, while it would flap in a strong wind, it would also settle down very quickly as the air buffers against its motion. In space, where there is no air to prevent this, any slight movement of the flag will continue until the friction of the material alone slows it down.[20] The US flag on the moon, on the other hand, can only be seen to wave and move while the astronauts are handling it directly. The motion comes not from any wind, but from their movements while positioning it. This gives the material a large kick of kinetic energy and, very importantly, there is no air resistance to slow it down. When on its own and not touched for a significant portion of time it doesn't move, as expected. This is seen with most flapping material on the moon footage, which is often cited as proof of a forgery, but in each case the material is reacting exactly how one would expect it to react in a near vacuum and with a fraction of the Earth's gravity. Oh, and if it was filmed on a soundstage, why would there be wind?

Mythbusters cleverly demonstrated the effect by waving a flag in a vacuum chamber, comparing motion with air around it and then under vacuum. This shows the exact behaviour of the material seen on the moon footage.[21] Cloth effects simulators used in computer graphics and animation specifically have functions to simulate air resistance in order to get a fully realistic motion from the simulation - otherwise the simulations spit out exactly the motion observed on the moon. There is also a slight bit of common sense at play here because we're used to living in a 1 atm environment, where flags move because some wind is blowing them about. No one, in their everyday lives at least, sees material waving in a vacuum without the air resistance so we don't have any experience to compare the moon footage to. So when the flag is seen moving in any way, it's attributed to the presence of air, not the lack of it, as is the case when the motion is examined more closely.

Arguments against a conspiracy

Basic reasoning

Tens of thousands of people worked on the Apollo project at NASA, as did a variety of contractors. There were also many people around the world working peripherally on the project, e.g. relay stations in Australia and Spain. Anyone who came forward to demonstrate it was a hoax would have become rich and famous. This has not happened.

The moon landings took place at the height of the Cold War, and transmissions came from the surface of the Moon. These were picked up all over the world, including by the Soviet Union, the party that had the largest possible interest in exposing a hoax. Had NASA faked it, the world would have known.

In an effort to counter this rather gaping hole in the conspiracy theory, hoax believers claim that the Soviets were bribed in secret with large grain shipments. But there are a number of reasons why this is obviously fallacious:

  1. It is difficult to believe that this bribe would have paid for 40+ years of silence.
  2. It is especially difficult to believe that the information would have remained secret after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  3. Grain supplies were stopped in 1980, and yet the Soviets still kept silent about the moon landings, even though it would have been a massive propaganda coup.
  4. It would seem patently absurd to secretly prop the Soviet Union up with vast amounts of free grain while at the same time spending even more money on a faked moon shot to publicly humiliate the same entity.
  5. The Soviets were not the only other nation which picked up the signals.

Direct evidence

It is frankly difficult to imagine a project for which there is more real evidence than there is for the landings.

  • We have a large quantity of lunar surface samples (rocks and regolith) that was brought back by the Apollo missions. Many international scientists have spent their entire careers studying the stuff. If they could prove it did not come from the Moon, they would be rich.
  • We have a vast number of photographs and video taken on the Moon.
    • Close up footage of dust being kicked up by the astronauts on the Moon or raised by the wheels of the lunar rover shows that the dust fell parabolically, as expected in a vacuum. If the landing footage was shot on Earth, the dust would float around in the air before falling to the ground.
    • There are other little tell-tale signs that the footage was shot over a large area with low gravity and near-perfect vacuum, such as the video of the "feather and hammer fall" demonstration, Armstrong's five foot jump up the ladder of the LM, etc.
  • We have the spacecraft which made the journey and returned, including parts of the Surveyor 3 robotic probe that were brought back by Apollo 12.
  • Many of the people who made the journey are still alive and able to testify to the fact along with the thousands of people who worked on the project.
  • Three sets of retroreflectors (mirrors that reflect incoming light in the direction it came from) were placed on the Moon by Apollo 11, 14 and 15 to be targets for ranging lasers. These retroreflectors have been used extensively by relatively independent parties. (See the Wikipedia article on Lunar Laser Ranging experiment.)

Photographic evidence from later missions

LRO image of the Apollo 11 landing site, November 2011, from 15 miles above the surface. The descent stage of the LM is visible, as well as the trails of regolith disturbed by the astronauts and the experiment packages they left on the surface. Resolution? 25 cm/pixel.

In 2007, the Japanese probe SELENE (a.k.a Kaguya) started mapping the lunar surface. The resolution of its cameras was not enough to image directly the leftover Apollo hardware, but it did spot an area of lighter regolith on an Apollo landing site that could have been caused by its engine.[22] Its data was used to create 3D reconstructions of lunar terrain that matched pictures made by the Apollo astronauts.[23][24]

In 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was sent to map the Moon's surface in unprecedented detail.[25] Even before the launch, it was pointed out that the resolution of its cameras would allow, for the first time, a spacecraft to image the Apollo landing sites in sufficient detail to see the descent stages of the Lunar Modules that were left behind. The LRO has imaged the landing sites at least two times:

  • The first images were taken in July 2009, shortly after the LRO reached Moon orbit, but before it had settled down in its proper mapping orbit.[26]
  • In 2009 the LRO imaged several human-made objects on the lunar surface, including both the Apollo missions and the Soviet rovers (including the Lunokhod 2 rover, which had been "lost" for thirty years). The debris left behind by the astronauts is visible and identifiable as clearly artificial. Also visible are the double tracks of the rovers, Soviet and American.[27]
  • On the 6th of September 2011, NASA released even higher quality photographs taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter after it had been lowered from 50 km above the moon's surface to just 25km.[28][29]

Conclusions

Given the overall context of the moon landings and that of the Space Race with the Soviet Union, there are many, many reasons why people would come forward to conclusively prove that the landings were faked: political gain, monetary gain, pure fame, and so on. Disproving the landings by a first hand account, or evidence (such as a sneaky photograph of the studio used or something more concrete) would be relatively simple. However, this still flies in the face of what is known. Man-made objects are still on the moon and transmissions came from the moon, there is no "faking" this.[30]

If we assume a conspiracy exists, we need to know what it involves. Given the number of people that would need to be paid off to stay silent, the effort required to pull the wool over the USSR's eyes, the ground based fakery - rockets, launches, control rooms - fakery such as moon rocks and the photography and video taken from the moon... wouldn't it seem more logical and far simpler to just go to the moon?

See also

External links

General information about the landings

Fox Network special responses

These are responding to Conspiracy Theory: Did We Go to the Moon? produced by Bruce Nash, which first aired on February 15, 2001.

Parodies

Footnotes

  1. 6% in the USA. according to a 1999 Gallup poll: Did Men Really Land on the Moon?
  2. You'll be surprised at the number of people who think that the first one was also the only one.
  3. How to troll space nerds: Ask them who filmed Neil Armstrong coming out if he was the first man on the Moon.
  4. The Flat-out Truth
  5. http://www.krishnaconsciousnessmovement.com/moonlanding.html
  6. An internet forum where this conspiracy "theory" is discussed
  7. Helium.com: Was the Apollo moon landing real or a hoax?
  8. Read this for a good laugh
  9. This is pretty much the most weak-ass conspiracy theory ever.
  10. See Occam's Razor
  11. Thus proving that the CIA are a bunch of posers. Real fans prefer the subtitled version.
  12. A webcomic said it, so it must be true.
  13. According to recent theories, the dismissal itself seems to be a hoax. However, these theories need closer investigation due to their highly dubious nature.
  14. Žurnal24 - Tito's Space Program
  15. "Houston, we have a problem!" (Yugoslavian space program), thread at the Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum, started 1 January 2012
  16. The Rough Guide To Conspiracy Theories by James McConnachie & Robin Tudge (2005). "The Apollo moon Landing", p.318
  17. Tower Bridge at night - look! No stars! Must be fake!
  18. Was the moon landing fake? - specifically this image if you can't be bothered to Ctrl-F your way through.
  19. For comparison, the average wedding photographer will take around 1,500 shots through the course of the day. Even assuming they work all day, that's 1,500 shots in about 400 minutes. Then the really expensive ones work as a duo and can take 4,000 shots without breaking sweat. And of course, anyone who has been to a sufficiently sized party will immediately notice a couple of hundred pop up on Facebook the next day, and it's not like everyone spent every second of the night posing for photos, right?
  20. Here's a video of how a flag waves in the breeze, there are notable differences in the motion compared to how the flag on the moon "flaps".
  21. Mythbusters Moon flag waving hoax
  22. http://wms.selene.jaxa.jp/selene_viewer/en/observation_mission/tc/tc_007.html
  23. http://wms.selene.jaxa.jp/selene_viewer/en/observation_mission/tc/tc_008.html
  24. http://wms.selene.jaxa.jp/selene_viewer/en/observation_mission/tc/tc_010.html
  25. See the Wikipedia article on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
  26. NASA: LRO Sees Apollo Landing Sites July 17, 2009
  27. NASA.gov - Apollo 16: Footsteps Under High Sun - LRO Gets Additional View of Apollo 11 Landing Site (obviously photoshopped...)
  28. NASA: NASA Spacecraft Images Offer Sharper Views of Apollo Landing Sites September 6, 2011
  29. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera: Skimming the Moon September 6, 2011
  30. Someone on the ATS forums tries to get across the absurdity of the scale of the fraud these people believe in.
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