The brilliant movie Interstellar imagines a future in which school textbooks will be updated with the ‘corrected’ accounts of the Apollo missions to the moon – that they were faked to bankrupt the Soviets. That spurred me to do my own investigation into whether we did or did not make it to the moon in the late 60s…
One of America’s most popular and widespread conspiracy theories is that the Apollo missions were huge NASA deceptions. Polls conducted in 2012 suggest that 20% of Americans still believe the US has never landed on the moon. That’s a LOT of people. Mass paranoia? Or are these people onto something?
Was the footage of the moon landings faked?
The conspiracy theorists argue that the scenes broadcast on television of the six manned Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972 were actually recorded on a film set. Some argue that Stanley Kubrick directed the scenes. Let’s look at a few of the alleged clues…
1. Wind on the moon?
There’s no air on the moon, therefore no wind. So how come the American flag placed on the surface by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the Apollo 11 mission fluttered and waved? Conspiracists argue that it’s because the film was shot on Earth and a breeze rippled the flag.
But this has been refuted numerous times, it seems. Firstly, the flag was fastened to an r-shaped rod so that it wouldn’t hang downwards, and it only appeared to flutter as the astronauts were placing it in the ground. The clip below shows Aldrin and Armstrong placing the flag in the ground. You’ll see that it flutters a lot as they’re touching it, but when they move away, the flag stays in a curved position – like it’s caught in the vacuum of space. Perhaps because it, urm, is?
Then of course we have the Apollo 15 ‘Hammer Versus Feather’ test. One of the astronauts dropped a hammer and a feather to see if they would land at the same time. On Earth, the feather would fall slower because of the air resistance, but if there’s no air on the moon, they should fall at the same speed.
And they did, not only falling at the same rate, but both at a slower rate than they would in normal Earth gravity. This proved that at least during the Apollo 15 mission, those astronauts were inside an airless vacuum in a lower-gravity environment.
Well, alright, unless you believe the footage was slowed down, the hammer was made of polystyrene or the feather was digitally inserted. Or something.
2. Suspect shadows
The moon has one light source and that’s the sun, therefore all shadows should fall in the same direction and at the same angle. Not so in the photo below from the Apollo 11 mission. Conspiracists say that this is because there are often multiple light sources on a film set, which is exactly where Armstrong and Aldrin were.
This claim has been refuted too, but slightly less convincingly. NASA have said that the moon’s uneven surface, the effect of perspective on angled ground and subtle distortions by the wide angle lens used are to blame for the strange shadows. However, conspiracists argue that this cannot explain such major directional differences.
3. Where are all the stars?
No stars appear in any of the photos from the Apollo missions and Armstrong and Aldrin have said that they don’t remember seeing any. Given that the moon has no clouds or atmosphere like the Earth, we should be able to see them even more clearly than we can from Earth.
The argument is that the hoaxers decided not to put stars in the background because it would have been too difficult to map their proper positions and depict them accurately. Astronomers would have seen straight through the deception.
But NASA’s explanation is that the missions took place during the lunar daytime. Therefore the stars were outshone by the sun and couldn’t be seen by the astronauts or the cameras, which were set for daylight exposure. They liken it to us not being able to see stars in a black sky when standing in a floodlit car park.
4. Studio lights
Many have alleged that certain ‘hot spots’ in the Apollo photos are evidence that film studio spotlights were used, such as this one below…
However, the official explanation goes like this. Firstly, pits in the moon’s uneven surface focus and reflect the sunlight like dewdrops on grass. Secondly, the above photo published in 1969 was a higher-contrast copy than the original photo, thereby emphasizing the ‘spotlight effect’. The original photo, below, was published years later and the spotlight effect is much less obvious. Conspiracists reject this, arguing that NASA altered the photo to hide the discrepancy.
Here are multiple photos taken of one of the astronauts from the Apollo 12 mission. In them you’ll see a strange object reflected in the top right corner of the astronaut’s helmet. Conspiracists argue that this is an overhead spotlight, which has accidentally made its way into the shot.
Debunkers argue that it is far too big to be a studio light and doesn’t actually resemble one, and that it wouldn’t show up like this against a dark background if it was switched off. They surmise that the anomaly is nothing more than a mark or smudge on the helmet, not an object in the background.
I’m not sure I buy the smudge theory – it certainly looks like a reflection of ‘something’ in the background. But what?
5. Duplicate backdrops
These two photographs show identical backdrops despite different foregrounds, with the Apollo 15 Lunar Module in one, but not the other. These photographs are confirmed by NASA to have been taken 1.4km apart and the Lunar Module did not move from where it landed during the course of the mission. Conspiracists say this shows that NASA accidentally used the same fake scenery for two different ‘scenes’.
On first glance, these look dodgy and I confess to being a little uncertain about NASA’s explanation. Firstly they say that if you look closely, the backdrops are not completely identical, but they are akin to having a similar view of hills or mountains in two Earth locations hundreds of feet apart. But then they say that the horizon is much nearer on the moon because it’s a lot smaller than Earth. This surely means there is less scope for the backdrops to look the same in different locations? Colour me confused.
For me, this claim fails for another more obvious reason – because there’s photographic evidence of the astronauts walking all over this ‘fake backdrop’, proving them to be real three-dimensional mountains.
6. Oops – a prop
Now this is a weird one. This photo shows a rock photographed on the moon with the letter ‘C’ etched on it, which can hardly be natural. Conspiracists say this shows that the rock is a studio prop, that the ‘C’ is a continuity marker, and that it was accidentally placed on set with the marker facing up.
NASA’s explanation for this is decidedly less conclusive than some of the others. They argue that it’s merely a film imperfection, or perhaps a stray hair that made it into the developing process. Mmmm.
Did Hollywood inspire the conspiracists?
The conspiracists make other claims about the film footage, including the allegation that slow-motion photography was used to create the illusion of the astronauts being on the moon. Now where have I heard that before?
Ah, yes. NASA techies in the 1978 movie Capricorn One do exactly this to create the illusion of an astronaut jumping onto the surface of Mars. The thing is, the popularity of moon landing conspiracy theories grew after the release of this movie, which depicted NASA faking a Mars landing mission using a film set. Funny, that. It seems to me that the conspiracists’ desperation to poke holes in the photos and footage – despite being debunked left, right and centre – is because Hollywood showed us how it might be done in Capricorn One.
What’s more is that Capricorn One was made with the full cooperation of NASA. Do we really think NASA would be willing to be involved in such a film if they really had faked the moon landings?
They’re probably regretting it anyway, given that the film caused a huge spike in conspiracy theories about the moon.
Was there a cover-up?
A Fox TV show called Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land On The Moon? cited a dozen freak deaths of NASA personnel as evidence of a cover-up. Bill Kaysing, a moon hoax investigator, argued that “to keep something that’s a lie wrapped up and covered over, you’ve got to eliminate all of the people that can talk about it.”
However, all the people mentioned in the show died before the Apollo 11 flight. There’s no mention of anyone having died in mysterious circumstances afterwards, and most of the Apollo astronauts are still alive. And NASA’s argument is that about 750,000 people were either directly or indirectly involved in the Apollo programme. If the programme was hoaxed, it would be impossible for this many people to keep the secret.
Conspiracists reject this, arguing that most NASA employees didn’t have a clue what was going on, and that only a handful really knew. While I’m not sure I buy NASA’s improbably high number, I certainly don’t buy the conspiracists’ ‘handful’ argument.
Firstly we have the 12 astronauts. Then we would need a team of executives to orchestrate the hoax, including science advisors to make sure they get it right. Then we would also need a bunch of people to create the lengthy hoax footage. How many directors, cameramen, set builders, prop makers, model makers, editors, sound and special effects technicians would it take to create all that footage? You only need to look at the credits of any movie or TV show. More than a handful.
Professor James Longuski argues that rather than trying to generate a conspiracy of this magnitude, it would actually be easier just to land on the moon.
Is the moon a hoax?
There are some people out there who don’t believe we ever walked on the moon, but for a different reason. It’s not that NASA faked the landings to win the Space Race with the Soviets. It’s that NASA faked the landings to perpetuate the biggest lie of our time.
The moon does not exist.
Yes, some conspiracy theorists believe that the moon is nothing more than a convincing hologram being projected into the sky. The rather entertaining YouTube video below purports to capture a glitch in the hologram – recorded evidence of the almighty hoax that is the moon itself.
My personal belief is that the moon exists, but it’s not really a moon – it’s an egg. With a moon-sized, winged creature inside that takes millions and millions of years to hatch. And when it does finally hatch, the moon will explode.
Oh no, wait. That’s Doctor Who.
Next week: There Men and a… Ghost?