I had been aware (in a somewhat disinterested way) of the theory that “NASA faked the moon landings” for decades. Last year, two Fox Channel programs gave credence to the hoax charges, and spawned dozens of hoax-search blogs (not to mention thousands of calls to Art Bell). Last night, The History Channel aired a fascinating look at the theories—and along the way, answered every one of the questions raised by the patchwork-quilt fallacies of a NASA conspiracy.
On the conspiracy-theory side, we met Ralph Rene, a document technician and “self-taught engineer” from New Jersey. Rene gave a series of talks to fellow Mensans in Florida, in which he documented the problems he found in believing that man had walked on the moon. This lecture series formed the basis of his self-published book NASA Mooned America. Author Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy), Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and scientists from Jodrell Banks and other tracking stations all helped the History Channel respond to this lunacy.
How can the flag flutter when there’s no wind on the moon? Video from the on-board camera shows the bottom edge of the flag continuing to flutter after the flag-pole is released. Every conspiracy theorist points to this as one of the strongest supports for the theory that the “landings” were filmed on Earth.
The top edge of the flag and the pole were made of flexible aluminum. During re-creation of this scene in the desert location, the flag flapped as the springy poles continued to flex after the actors released them. In the lack of air resistance on the moon, this motion would have continued until the vibrations in the poles ceased.
Why can’t we see stars in the moon-landing pictures? Rene believes that photos were retouched to remove stars (or taken inside, under a blackened roof) to eliminate the chance of astronomers not in on the hoax identifying the false location by the star positions shown.
In fact, the unfiltered human eye can see stars in the night sky only in the absence of washes of brilliant light. Photos of the Las Vegas skyline taken with NASA cameras during the recreation scenes illustrate this.
The pictures are so perfect, each one would have taken a slick advertising agency days to put them together. Also, the NASA cameras had no light meters or view finders. So the astronauts achieved this feat without being able to see what they were doing. The still photos were stunning. The astronauts took thousands of pictures, each one “perfectly exposed and sharply focused,” according to Rene. “Not one was badly composed or even blurred.”
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin answered this charge in the documentary, pointing out that all the astronauts were given identical cameras, and encouraged to use them to take family photos, vacation snapshots, and casual pictures. “We took plenty of bad photographs at first,” he said. “Gradually, we all got very… accomplished at using the cameras.”
Film stock was unaffected by powerful cosmic radiation on the Moon, under conditions that should have made it useless. In fact, claim conspiracy theorists, lethal radiation is prevalent throughout deep space, and not only film, but astronauts and delicate electronic equipment would have been fried by it.
Satellites and explorer craft have all succeeded in surviving this “lethal radiation” and taking photographs or transmitting information. The documentary notes that the radiation levels found in the Van Allen belts, often cited as a barrier to manned space travel, would not have been lethal to astronauts for the brief periods in which they were exposed.
How was lighting used in the Apollo photographs if no lighting equipment was taken to the moon? Because of the lighting, award-winning British photographer David Passer is also convinced the pictures are fake. Shadows shown could only have been created with multiple light sources and, in particular, powerful spotlights, says Passer. But the only light source on the Moon is the sun. Also, converging shadows, shadows that form angles, and brightly lit shadowed areas should not have been illuminated without an additional light source.
The documentary recreates the landing scene in the night-time desert on a moonless night. The only source of light is a single very powerful lamp. Yet shadows run at angles, according to the lie of the land, and shaded areas of the shot are illuminated by reflected light. The American flag appears to glow on the side that would be “in shadow” because light goes straight through the translucent material.
Why does one of the rocks have a “C” clearly engraved on it? Conspiracy theorists point to this as a mistake in stage setting.
Blogger Steve Troy did the homework required to uncover the real source of the mark. A hair or fiber on the enlarger lens was included in the image before it was scanned for the NASA archives. The original negative does not show the mark.
While attending the Cape Canaveral premiere of the Imax version of Apollo 13 in November 1995, director Tom Hanks said the film industry has a responsibility to promote historical literacy. He took a jab at the 1978 movie Capricorn One, which had NASA’s first manned mission to Mars being faked on a sound stage. “We live in a society where there is no law in making money in the promulgation of ignorance,” said Hanks about this movie, “Or, in some cases, stupidity.”
Definitive answers to most of the hoax-theorists’ issues can be found at Bad Astronomy and RedZero.