Home / From the Loony-Bin: Mooning America—The Moon Landing Myth

From the Loony-Bin: Mooning America—The Moon Landing Myth

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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&#8212and 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.

John Young salutes U.S. Flag at Descartes Moon landing site
Young salutes flag on Moon. Photo courtesy NASA.

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.

c-rock.gif (30390 bytes)
The “C” rock. Photo courtesy Steve Troy.

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.

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About DrPat

  • I saw this post on the main page and thought, “Oh, god….” Glad to see you’re on the side of good, DrPat.

    Ad astra!

  • It seems to me that faking a moon landing would be more strenuously difficult than actually landing on the moon!

  • By the way, I like the way you sub-categoried that as ‘Books: Fantasy’. Very accurate.

  • Leoniceno hits it on the head. The conspiracy theorists seem to believe that NASA is so clever that they managed to fake enormously complicated moon landings in a way that fooled millions, and yet so inept that they couldn’t turn a “rock” around or arrange the lighting a little better.

    Fantasy, indeed. Great review, Dr Pat.

  • One of the main points made in the documentary was just that, Phillip – the cost of creating and maintaining such an enormous lie would be 10 times that of simply carrying out the moon shots.

    Aside from that, as the “losers” in the space race, the Russians would not likely have let such a lie stand if there were any credible evidence to the contrary.

  • Mike, I usually find such theories about as interesting as flat-Earth and grassy-knoll ideas (not to mention Halliburton…). The documentary caught my attention because I’d just been rereading Mike Shermer’s great essay on the “Holocaust Hoax” (in the book I linked, Why People Believe Wierd Things).

  • Carl Wilting

    It’s really sad that there are still people in the 21st Century that believe in the Man on the Moon. Learn something about real Spaceflight, it seems all you really know how to do is waste Billions crashing and burning. Getting clowns like you to believe whatever you are told to is pathetically easy, flying to the Moon is simply beyond your comprehension. Dream on , your fantasies have nothing to do with the real World, which all around you.

  • Cathy

    I thought I’d add that there is a new novel about faking the lunar landings – The Loony by Christopher Wunderlee. Its a narrative about an astrophysicist who aids NASA pull of the Apollo missions. Anyways, according to Amazon.com and other book-sites, its supposed to be very well written. Just thought I’d let those interested know. I’m waiting for my copy.

  • Real spaceflight needs crystals from Atlantis. Everybody knows that. That’s why the Apollo “moon” landings are so obviously fake. Show us the Atlantis crystals you NASA frauds!

    Meanwhile, back on Earth: thanks for debunking these stupid conspiracy theories so effectively, DrPat.

  • Cathy, as long as it is clear the book is fiction, I doubt it belongs in this category. There are lots of people who sincerely believe that no man has ever stepped on the Moon. The sad thing is, they point at fiction like Capricorn One and The Loony to support their contentions.

    They played this documentary last night on National Geographic channel, and will air it again Monday, May 2nd (tomorrow), Saturday May 7th and Thursday June 2nd. Check your local listings for the correct time, or go to the online schedule and search for “Conspiracy Moon Landing”.

  • Cathy

    According to what I’ve read about the book – The Loony – you are correct. I don’t think it’s necessarily another conspiracy book. From what they are saying on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, it’s a very literary novel that just so happens to deal with the issue. I think possibly the writer just thought the idea was an interesting aspect of developing a story. From what I can tell, the main character is “The Loony,” so I think it is safe to say, he’s probably not sane, which is probably the author’s way of detailing the psychology of a particular person in a unique way. We’ll see. I still haven’t received my copy.

  • RJ

    I live in the NASA heartland. In fact, I make my money by being a wonderful host to those brilliant minds who work for the Space Program.

    These last few non-flight years have been difficult for us all. Let’s hope everything works wonderfully in July!

  • trailmixx

    The moon landings sucked billions of tax payers money into the pockets of the elitist con-men (and women)!

  • one

    yes so off base. but why do so many take this theory as an attack on themselves? is it fear that they may find that they can be had?

  • Ryo Saeba

    Hello, my opinion about all of this
    NASA did a great job in inventing technology including rocketing to deploy satellite
    btw did NASA also maintain all the spy satellite?

    And for the MOON LANDER, I do believe there is still no man succeded in send an object through earth atmosphere…

    Actually rather easy making this conspiracy than land in the moon and failed

  • There’s one item no one seems to mention that proves conclusely of the moon landings, that any basic astronomy student knows.

    While on the moon, the astronauts set up a mirror for bouncing a lasar off of so that scientists can determine the exact distance from the earth to the moon and also the rate that it’s receded away from us.

    Any major telescope site can demonstrate it to you without a doubt.

  • You missed the only really apparently compelling evidence – the apparent duplication of immediate environment from different missions.

    I always assumed that was simply that the PR boys played a bit fast and loose getting out good pictures.

  • nuffsaid420

    This show was fun to watch. People have been so misinformed. IT’s funny. We did go to the moon, we just found stuff we werent supposed to, so hence the misinformation machine goes to work. Instead of focusing on whether or not we actually landed on the moon, lets assume we did goto the moon. Now what happened to the Apollo Tapes? What were the objects they found there that were alien? No one talks about this. Everyone is too busy thinking this moon landing was a hoax.

  • Nuffsaid – let me get this straight…

    You say NASA is covering up what the astronauts found on the Moon. You don’t know what it actually is that they’re covering up because they didn’t tell us about it, but they must be covering something up because they didn’t tell us about it. Right?

    Am I making sense?

    Am I making about as much sense as my affirming that Elvis is sitting right next to you right now, and that my definite proof of this is that you’re not telling me he’s there?

  • STM

    He’s here Doc, not there. But he’s leaving the building as we speak.

  • Dana

    I think we did land on the moon. Why don’t we take pictures of the stuff we left up there with the Hubble? That would show everyone we had been there!

  • Dana, we can go one better. Here are some photos of the Apollo landing sites taken earlier this month from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. You can make out the lunar modules, science instruments and even the astronauts’ footprint trails. Pretty cool.

  • mike

    What about the radiation from the Van Allen Belts? Scientists estimate that it would take six feet of lead to shield those levels of radiation found in the Van Allen Belts normally.

  • kat

    this stinck u guys shou8ld work for nasa

  • Nunster

    Look under the back right of lander towards the ground. Is that a hand?