10 proofs the Moon Landing was real, debunking conspiracy theories
For more than 20 hours on July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the lunar surface by foot while Michael Collins piloted the NASA Apollo 11 orbiter around the Moon. That is the history we continue to celebrate today, more than 50 years since the accomplishment – apart from those who believe it was faked. True to the 1970’s political style, it wasn’t long before the Moon Landing was painted as a hoax staged to win the Space Race with the Soviet Union. And although these conspiracy theories are false and easily debunked, they have persisted more than a half-century later. This kind of skepticism can be damaging to future expeditions and modern science as we know it, so here’s a breakdown of the wildest claims – and why there’s no evidence to support them.
- The Moon Landing is fake because the American flag is seen flapping in the wind. One of the most popular “proofs” to support the conspiracy theory concerns the flag on the Moon. From photos and videos, it appears to be flapping in the wind – but if there’s no wind on the Moon, how can that be possible?
The truth is that the flag isn’t flapping. What photographs fail to illustrate is the horizontal rod projecting from the top of the pole designed to hold the flag unfurled. The flag was disturbed as it was planted into the ground, and it kept this bent shape because of the lack of strong gravity on the Moon. And in video footage of the flag being planted into the Moon’s surface, it also appears to wave back and forth. This is because when the astronauts were planting it, they rotated it back and forth to better dig into the lunar soil, which of course made the flag ripple as it swung like a pendulum, without a breeze. Additionally, there is a huge amount of footage in which the flag stayed in exactly the same position.
Supporting reference: Express “NASA Moon Landing: Why Did the Apollo 11 Flag Wave and Flap in Space?”
*Note to editors, suggested image(s): https://thumbor.forbes.com/thumbor/711×435/https://blogs-images.forbes.com/kionasmith/files/2019/07/moonflag.jpg?width=960
- The Moon Landing is fake because you don’t see any stars. Speaking of photographs, it’s often pointed out that there are no stars to be seen in the background… So where did the stars go? This is actually a feature common to photographs taken in space, where the contrast between light and dark is extreme. The surface of the Moon reflects the strong sunlight and appears very bright in photographs, so bright that it drowns out the relatively dim light from stars in the dark sky, akin to how car headlights can drown out the fainter light from nearby objects.
The human eye can adjust and pick out the stars, but unless it’s set to the right settings, a camera struggles with the contrast. Astronauts on the International Space Station today regularly take photographs of the Earth that show a completely starless background, but it’s the same problem of contrasts at work.
Supporting reference: Discovery “Why Aren’t There Stars in the Moon Landing Photos?”
*Note to editors, suggested image(s): https://www.history.com/.image/t_share/MTY0Njg3NjYyNjY0Mzk0NTIz/apollo11_moon_landing_4.jpg
- The Moon Landing is fake because the shadows don’t line up accurately. If the Sun is the only source of light, why do some shadows in Apollo photographs appear to point in multiple directions? For example, the astronaut’s shadow matches up with the lander’s, but there seems to be another shadow from the lander foot pointing towards the astronaut. Surely this means it was filmed in a studio, right? Not exactly.
A rough, uneven surface can cause all sorts of shadows at different angles, even with a single light source like the Sun. This something that can be easily experimented with at home. You can watch the Mythbusters gang try this out (and explore many other Moon landing myths) in their NASA Moon Landing episode.
Supporting reference: Mythbusters “Was the Moon Landing Faked?”
- The Moon Landing is fake because there’s a labeled studio prop. Movie props are often numbered and lettered so that stagehands know where to place them. The theory goes that this rock is a prop that someone must have accidentally placed facing the wrong way.
But in fact, the label simply isn’t there. The image of the rock is taken from a much larger shot of the Moon’s surface, and if you look at the original image, the marking isn’t there. Either a small hair or piece of thread must have got caught in the machine while it was being copied.
Supporting reference: Moon Landing Hoax “The ‘C’ Rock”
*Note to editors, suggested image(s): https://spacecentre.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Apollo16CRock-1200×0-c-default.jpg & https://nebula.wsimg.com/ddf8831b7331b34a2915e0210ba2d2f4?AccessKeyId=05ABD6C2674C50E57A9E&disposition=0&alloworigin=1
- The Moon Landing is fake because the Van Allen belts would cook them. One of the most popular theories has to do with something called the Van Allen Radiation belts. These are two huge belts of radiation that surround the Earth, shaped by Earth’s magnetic field and pounded with high-energy particles from the Sun’s wind. While these belts do exist, it’s been claimed that humans couldn’t have passed through them without being fried with lethal doses of radiation, but that’s just not totally accurate.
In fact, the international scientific community was aware of the Van Allen belts thanks to the Explorer, Pioneer, and Luna missions in the 1950s. The timings of the Apollo launches were such that the Van Allen belts were at their lowest intensity, which fluctuates with the Sun’s activity. Radiation sickness occurs when you have been exposed to around 200 to 1000 ‘rads’ of radiation within a few hours. The Apollo 11 crew were within the belts for less than two hours during their journey to the Moon, and so would have only been exposed to an estimated 18 rads – well within the safe limit. There can still be some adverse effects from even this level of radiation, so NASA made sure that the Apollo 11 spacecraft was well-insulated such that the average dose of radiation over the 12-day mission was just 0.18 rads, or similar to the radiation dosage from a chest X-ray.
Supporting reference: NASA “The Deadly Van Allen Belts?”
- The Moon Landing is fake because they didn’t bring home enough rocks. We have the proof in the form of Moon rocks – 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of Moon rocks that were brought back by the Apollo crew, to be more specific. Glass rocks are produced two key ways: in explosive volcanic activity and by high-speed meteorite impacts that melt and vaporize rock. In either case, the rock needs time to cool and crystallize slowly. On Earth, these elements quickly break down any volcanically-produced glass. But in space, they remain nearly pristine, and we’ve found them in both meteorites that have fallen to Earth and in the Moon rocks returned from the Apollo missions – proving that the Apollo crew were indeed space travelers.
When the first rocks were returned from the Apollo 11 mission, samples were given to 135 different countries around the world as a gesture of goodwill. These rocks have withstood every possible geology test from labs around the world, and these have confirmed they are indeed of lunar origin. No other space mission, manned or unmanned, has been capable of returning such quantities of rock. The Soviet Union’s Luna program did bring back some rocks in the 1970s, but only a third of one kilogram. These rocks have also been shared with international scientists and match the characteristics of the Apollo Moon rocks.
Supporting reference: Space.com “The Moon on Earth: Where are NASA’s Apollo Lunar Rocks Now?”
- The Moon Landing is fake because it can be easily recreated in a studio. The Moon landing film has been recreated in a studio, and they admittedly look fairly compelling – but these have been recent attempts, using modern technology. The truth is that it would have been harder to fake the landing on Earth than it would have been to actually go to the Moon. In fact, in 1969, it would have been impossible.
The only way to recreate this on Earth would be to light the scene with millions of super-bright lasers. Lasers were incredibly expensive in 1969, and the only color they came in was red. In modern times, we could just change the color with CGI, but back then, altering images with computers simply wasn’t possible.
Supporting reference: Live Science “Moon Landing Footage Would Have Been Impossible to Fake. Here’s Why.”
- The Moon Landing is fake because you can’t trust the government. Even if NASA had secretly staged the Moon landing, forged Moon rocks, and funneled $25.4 billion USD – the organization would have had to keep 400,000 employees from spilling the beans. And rocket scientists aren’t exactly easy to “play dumb” with, so whether conspirists believe NASA had hundreds of thousands of scientists fooled, or that they knew and just didn’t care – either way would certainly be quite a stretch.
Supporting reference: Science Magazine “To Fake a Moon Landing, You’d Need 400,000 Conspirators.”
- The Moon Landing is fake because we can’t see the remains of the mission. No telescope on Earth can see Apollo evidence, nor can even the great Hubble Telescope discern human-sized materials. But we can see the spacecraft and even as much as the foot-trails left behind by the Apollo astronauts, thanks to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which can dip as low as 31 miles (43 meters) to the lunar surface. This spacecraft has captured recent photographs of all Apollo landing sites, which show the Apollo gear in exactly the right locations, and amazingly, even capture distinct trails left in the moon’s thin soil when the astronauts exited the lunar modules and explored on foot.
These landing sites have also been independently spotted by a variety of other spacecraft from China, India, and Japan. Take for example the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s SELENE lunar probe, which reconstructed images taken by its terrain camera and 3D projected to the same viewpoint as Apollo photos, recreating the scenery by a match within 10 meters. India’s Chandrayaan-1 independently recorded evidence of lighter, disturbed soil around the Apollo 15 site, and China’s Chang’e-2 spotted traces of the Apollo landings and Rover (although the relevant imagery has not been publicly shared).
Supporting reference: Depleted Cranium “Apollo 15: Confirmed Times Three.”
*Note to editors, suggested image(s): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/news/apollo-sites.html
- The Moon Landing is fake because the U.S. had reason to fake it to beat Russia. Even if NASA successfully staged the Moon landing, one must ask oneself – why? What would have been the purpose? The obvious answer is to defeat Russia in the Space Race. The era of the Apollo mission was a turning point in aerospace technology, and many nations wanted to be “the first” in various accomplishments – several of which Russia won, and the US failed runner-up.
Russia beat the US when they sent the first-ever satellite, Sputnik-1, into space. Russia also beat the US when they sent the first human, Yuri Gagarin, out of Earth’s atmosphere and into space. In order to compete, the US needed to go big or go home, and that made landing on the Moon a great opportunity. Knowing this, it makes sense to believe that in a dishonest world, NASA may have taken the easy way out and staged the Moon landing for bragging rights.
But this is where we come to what is arguably the most compelling proof of evidence against the conspiracy theories: Russia monitored the entire Apollo mission and confirms the Moon landing, and even backs it up with their own evidence, using their own space program, particularly at at their Space Transmissions Corps which was “fully equipped with the latest intelligence-gathering and surveillance equipment,” as told by Alexei Leonov, a Soviet intelligence expert on the team who monitored the crew’s travel. If America didn’t send a ship to the Moon, it would have been extremely easy for Russia to detect the missing ship and go public with irrefutable proof. In doing so, Russia would have maintained their championship title, and put an end to the competition claiming “victory” without even trying. Given that Russia supports the Apollo evidence, it makes no sense to believe NASA had any other motive to stage the Moon landing.
It’s commendable that we as humans have a duty to “question everything” as in the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, because sometimes, science does get it wrong – for example, we once prescribed meth to treat asthma, and had reason to believe the Earth is flat. But other times, skepticism becomes science-denial and we take it too far, particularly when politics are involved. Research suggests that feeding into a conspiracy theory has no obvious beneficiary, apart from social points. And under the right circumstances, many people are susceptible to their allure.
According to one study conducted in Germany, “Conspiracy theories supply a seductive ego boost. Believers often consider themselves part of a select “in” group that, unlike the ‘deluded masses,’ has figured out what’s really going on,” as if they have been let in on some major secret. “Conspiracy theories were stronger among people who said they wanted to stand out from the crowd.”
It’s tempting to dismiss conspiracy theorists as oddballs in tinfoil hats, but the theories should be taken seriously for their effects on political and social discourse. Making an impression on young children that “anti-science” is trendy steers future generations away from pursuing the field themselves. It sets back decades of hard work and progression, ironically at a time where we have more technological power at our hands than ever before. It also has the potential to cause direct harm – for example, the irreversible effects of climate change, or deadly illness not countered by vaccines.
Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that even in the heat of a dispute, conspiracy theorists and scientists alike share the common concern for the future of society. The best we could do is remain open-minded, whether it’s analyzing current studies, or working on the next mission that sends humans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond – like Artemis, which is set to reunite humans with the Moon in the year 2024.
And ultimately, we don’t foresee much true evolution for the hard-core conspirists, anyway. As put by Uscinski, all pun intended: “they’re living in a different world.”