Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Apollo moon landing hoax accusations
Controversy surrounds the allegation that the Apollo program landings were faked by NASA with possible CIA support. Although some 6% of the population of the U.S. believe the claim (according to a 1999 Gallup poll), nearly all interested scientists have rejected the claim, considering it to be a baseless conspiracy theory.
The landing hoax proponents believe that the Moon landings of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969 and subsequent missions never happened, but were faked on Earth. The theory grew significantly in popularity after the release of the movie Capricorn One (1978), which portrays a NASA attempt to fake a landing on Mars. It is possible that a brief sequence in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever (1971) which appears to show a Moon landing being simulated may coincide with some of the first suggestions of the landings being faked.
A more subtle version of the theory is that although the Apollo missions were not faked, some of the photographs were doctored. According to this theory the U.S. government feared the humiliation that would occur if the mission failed and fake photographs were prepared on Earth "just in case." By this account, although the mission was a success, some of these fake photographs were so impressive that it was decided to release them anyway for propaganda purposes.
The first published presentation of the claims was Bill Kaysing 's We Never Went to the Moon in 1974, although perhaps the best known is NASA Mooned America by Ralph Rene .
Persons alleging that the Apollo landings were faked are subscribing to a type of conspiracy theory - a belief that conspirators in the possession of secret knowledge are misleading or have misled the public in pursuit of a hidden agenda. While conspiracy theories vary widely in their plausibility - and some may prove true - common standards of assessment can be applied to all:
- Occam's razor - is the alternative story more, or less, probable than the mainstream story?
- Psychology - does the alternative story satisfy an identifiable psychological need for the believer?
- Falsifiability - are the 'proofs' offered for the alternative story constructed according to a scientifically sound method?
- Whistleblowers - how many people - and what kind of people - would have to remain loyal conspirators?
Several motives have been suggested for the U.S. government to fake the moon landings - some of the recurrent elements are:
- Distraction - The U.S. government benefitted from a popular distraction to take attention away from the Vietnam war. Landing skeptics point out that lunar activities abruptly stopped around the same time that the Vietnam War ended.
- Cold War Prestige - The U.S. government considered it vital that the U.S. win the space race with the USSR. Going to the Moon, if it was possible, would have been risky and expensive. It would have been much easier to fake the landing, thereby ensuring success.
- Money - NASA raised approximately 30 billion dollars pretending to go to the moon. This could have been used to pay off a large number of people, providing significant motivation for complicity. In variations of this theory, the space industry is characterized as a political economy, much like the military industrial complex, creating fertile ground for its own survival.
- Risk - The available technology at the time was such that there was a good chance that the landing might fail if genuinely attempted.
Skeptics of the hoax point out that the Soviets would have cried foul if the USA tried to fake a Moon landing. Theorist Ralph Rene responds that shortly after the alleged Moon landings, the USA silently started shipping hundreds of thousands of tons of grain as humanitarian aid to the allegedly starving USSR. He views this as prima facie evidence of a cover-up, the grain being the price of silence. (The Soviet Union in fact had its own Moon program).
Proponents of the Apollo hoax suggest that the Soviet Union, and latterly Russia, and the United States were allied in the exploration of space, during the Cold war and after. The United States and the former Soviet Union today routinely engage in cooperative space ventures, as do many other nations that are popularly believed to be enemies. However, this suggestion is challenged by the impression of intense international competition that was under way during the Cold War and is not supported by the accounts of participants on either side of the Iron Curtain. Many argue that the fact that the Soviet Union and other Communist bloc countries, eager to discredit the United States, have not produced any contrary evidence to be the single most significant argument against such a hoax. Soviet involvement might also implausibly multiply the scale of the conspiracy, to include hundreds of thousands of conspirators of uncertain loyalty.
Issues of photographs
Those skeptical that the landings took place have alleged various issues with photographs claimed to have been taken on the Moon.
- Crosshairs on some photos appear to be behind objects, rather than in front of them where they should be, as if the photos were altered.
- Quality implausibly high.
- There are no stars in any of the photos, and astronauts never report seeing any stars from the capsule windows.
- The color and angle of shadows and light.
- Identical backgrounds in photos that are listed as taken miles apart.
- In photography, the light white color (the object behind the crosshair) makes the black object (the crosshair) invisible due to saturation effects in the film emulsion.
- Hoax proponents claim that the images were too perfect. NASA selected only the best for release to the public and the popular press selected only the best from these. There are many badly exposed and badly focused images amongst the thousands of photos that were taken by the Apollo Astronauts. Many of these images can be seen at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal
- There are also no stars seen in Space Shuttle, Mir, International Space Station and Earth observation photos. Cameras used for imaging these things are set for quick shutter speeds in order not to over-expose the film for the brightly lit daylight scenes. The dim light of the stars simply doesn't have a chance to expose the film. (Science fiction movies and television shows confuse this issue by inaccurately depicting the stars as visible in space under all lighting conditions.) Stars were easily seen by every Apollo mission crew except for the ill-fated Apollo 13 (they couldn't see the stars due to the fact that oxygen and water vapor created a haze around the spacecraft). Stars were used for navigation purposes and were occasionally also seen through cabin windows when the conditions allowed.
- Shadows on the Moon are complicated because there are several light sources; the Sun, Earth and the Moon itself. Light from these sources is scattered by lunar dust in many different directions, including into shadows. Additionally, the Moon's surface is not flat and shadows falling into craters and hills appear longer, shorter and distorted from the simple expectations of the hoax believers. More significantly, perspective comes into play. This effect leads to non-parallel shadows even on objects which are extremely close to each other, and can be observed easily on Earth wherever fences or trees are found.
- Detailed comparison of the backgrounds claimed to be identical in fact show significant changes in the relative positions of the hills that are consistent with the claimed locations that the images were taken from. Parallax effects clearly demonstrate that the images were taken from widely different locations around the landing sites. Claims that the appearance of the background is identical while the foreground changes (for example, from a boulder strewn crater to the Lunar Module) are trivially explained when the images were taken from nearby locations, akin to seeing distant mountains appearing the same on Earth from locations that are hundreds of feet apart showing different foreground items.
Issues of radiation
- The astronauts could not have survived the trip because of exposure to radiation from the Van Allen radiation belt and galactic ambient radiation.
- Film in the cameras would have been fogged by this radiation.
- The Moon is ten times higher than the van Allen radiation belts, and the astronauts were protected by very sophisticated spacesuits. The spacecraft moved through the belts in just 30 minutes, and the astronauts were protected from the ionizing radiation by the metal hulls of the spacecraft. Dr. James Van Allen, the discoverer of the Van Allen radiation belts, has even rebuked the claims that radiation levels were too dangerous for the Apollo missions.
- The film was kept in metal containers that prevented radiation from fogging the film's emulsion.
- The lack of a more than 2 second delay in two way communications at a distance of a 250,000 miles (400,000 km)
- Typical delays in communication were on the order of half a second
- Better signal supposedly received at Parkes Observatory when the Moon was on the opposite side of the planet
- The Parkes Observatory in Australia was billed to the world for weeks as the site that would be relaying communications from the Moon, then five hours before transmission they were told to stand down
- Parkes supposedly provided the clearest video feed from the Moon, but Australian media and all other known sources ran a live feed from the United States.
- The round trip light travel time of more than 2 seconds is apparent in all the real-time recordings of the lunar audio. There may be some documentary films where the delay has been edited out. Principal motivations for editing the audio would likely come in response to time constraints or in the interest of clarity.
- Claims that the delays were only on the order of half a second are unsubstantiated by an examination of the actual recordings.
- This claim is not supported by the detailed evidence.
- The timing of the first Moonwalk was moved up after landing.
- The transmissions from the Moon would have needed to be decoded by NASA facilities prior to their distribution to the media for broadcast to the public. The first raw signals from the NASA ground station at Honeysuckle Creek in the Australian Capital Territory would have been unintelligible by local stations, as they were Slow-scan television. Later images of the descent to the surface were normal television signals, and were received at Parkes.
- The lack of a blast crater from the landing
- That the launch rocket produced no visible flame
- The rocks brought back from the Moon are identical to rocks collected by scientific expeditions to Antarctica
- The presence of deep dust around the module; given the blast from the landing engine, this should not be present
- The flapping flag
- Exhaust from the propulsion system was throttled low during the final stages of low gravity descent and the lack of air-pressure on the Moon causes those exhaust gases to rapidly expand well beyond the landing site. Therefore there was in fact little pressure right below the landing site. Expectations that a blast crater should have been present is not supported by the physics involved. However, photographs actually show slightly disturbed dust beneath the rocket's outlet from what little pressure was present. Also, the lander altered its course prior to descent, reducing the amount of potential disturbance. Additionally, the compacting of the dust into a rock-like material beyond the first few inches would make it virtually impossible for the engine to blast out a "crater".
- Hydrazine (a fuel) and dinitrogen tetroxide (an oxidizer) were used as the propellants. These two chemicals ignite hypergolically - upon contact - producing a transparent jet of particles. They simply produced an equal and opposite motive force, pushing the rocket. See Newton's laws of motion. This combination has also been used on the American Titan, Russian Proton and Chinese Long March launchers. Further, the Moon's lack of atmosphere would not allow visible oxidation as seen on Earth.
- Chemical analysis of the rocks confirms a different oxygen isotopic composition and a surprising lack of volatile elements. There are only a few 'identical' rocks, and those few fell as meteorites after being ejected from the Moon during impact cratering events. The number and amount of these 'Lunar Meteorites' is small compared to the more than 840 lb (380 kg) of lunar samples returned by Apollo. Also the Apollo lunar soil samples chemically matched the Russian luna space probe’s lunar soil samples.
- The dust around the module is called regolith and is created by ejecta from asteroid and meteoroid impacts. This dust was several inches thick at the Apollo 11 landing site. The regolith was estimated to be several meters thick and is highly compacted with depth. In an atmosphere, we would expect a rocket engine to blast all the surface dust off the ground for tens of meters. However, dust was only removed from the area directly beneath the Apollo landing engine. The important observation here is "atmosphere". Powerful engines set up turbulence in air which lifts and carries dust readily, far beyond the engine itself. However, in a vacuum, there is no air to disturb. Only the actual engine exhaust's direct pressure on the dust can move it.
- The astronauts were moving the flag into position, causing motion. Since there is no air on the Moon to provide friction, these movements caused a long-lasting undulating movement seen in the flag. There was a rod extending from the top of the flagpole to hold the flag out for proper display. The fabric's rippled appearance was due to its having been folded during flight and gave it an appearance which could be mistaken for motion in a still photograph.
Landing believers claim that rocks brought back from the Moon prove that the landings took place; however, hoax believers raise concerns about ex-Nazi and NASA's chief rocket scientist Wernher von Braun's trip to Antarctica two years prior to Apollo missions. They contend that no credible explanation for the trip was ever offered, and that he would have been susceptible to pressure to agree to the conspiracy in order to protect himself from recriminations for his Nazi past. A few meteorites found in Antarctica bear close resemblance to moonrocks. However, the first Antarctic meteorite discovery was made in 1969 by a Japanese team. The first United States led team began searches in the mid to late 1970s and the first meteorite identified as a lunar meteorite was not found until 1981 and identified as such by its similarity with the lunar samples returned by Apollo which in turn are similar to the few grams of material returned from the Moon by Soviet sample return missions. The total collection of identified Antarctic lunar meteorites presently in the collection at JSC amounts to only about 2.5 kilograms, less than 1% of the 381 kilograms of moonrocks and soil returned by Apollo.
The claim that the rocks are the same as ones found on Earth does carry some weight in the scientific community, but only in context of meteorites found on Earth. It is believed that rocks dislodged from the Moon by meteoric impacts occasionally land on Earth. The physics of this process is well understood. A handful of rocks believed to be from Mars have also been found in Antarctica. There are only a few of these objects in our collections and the rest of the rocks collected on Earth are entirely different in composition and in their detailed structures from those found and returned from the Moon. Furthermore, detailed analysis of the lunar rocks show no evidence of their having been on Earth prior to their return during Apollo. They are also entirely consistent with our understanding of the environment that they existed in on the Lunar surface since their formation many billions of years ago and with the detailed geological context that they were documented to have been sampled from. They are almost entirely composed of heavily shocked rocks consistent with the meteoroid environment on the Moon's surface. Many of them are older than any rocks found to date on Earth.
Landing skeptics allege that in early 1968 (while 2001: A Space Odyssey, which includes scenes taking place on the Moon, was in post-production), NASA secretly approached Kubrick to direct the first three Moon landings. Hoax believers claim NASA convinced him using a combination of carrot and stick; exclusive access to the alien artifacts and autopsy footage from the alleged Roswell UFO crash site, and threats to publicly reveal Raul's (Kubrick's younger brother) links with the American Communist Party. Kubrick is alleged to have spent sixteen months working on the project with a special effects team led by Douglas Trumbull on a sound stage in Huntsville, Alabama, with the Apollo 11 mission being staged in July of 1969. Hoax believers may accept that a Saturn V rocket was launched into low Earth orbit with astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. But they argue that it remained there while Kubrick's footage of the 'landing' was released to the press. The return to Earth and splashdown were therefore real.
During the mission, however, the supposedly Earth orbiting spacecraft was never noticed during the time it was supposed to be hiding in orbit and the actual spacecraft was seen during its trans-Lunar coast by observers on Earth. Amateur astronomers were able to sight the Apollo spacecraft, exactly where they should have been, during the trans-Lunar coast and amateur radio operators were able to listen-in on the command module in Lunar orbit . The explosion of Apollo 13 was caught on video tape by an amateur astronomer. Russia and radio telescope observatories not owned or controlled by the USA also tracked the Apollo spacecrafts and transmissions. Finally, it seems inconsistent with this theory that in the Kubrick film 2001, the moon has soft, curving features, as if they have been smoothed by wind. In reality (as in the Apollo footage) the moon's surface has sharp features and harsh craters, because there is no wind or force to smooth them.
In 2002, William Karel released a spoof documentary film, Dark Side of the Moon, 'exposing' how Kubrick was recruited to fake the Moon landings, and featured interviews with, among others, Kubrick's widow and a swag of American statesmen including Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld. It was an elaborate joke: interviews and other footage were presented out of context and in some cases completely staged, with actors playing interviewees who had never existed (and in many cases named after characters from Kubrick's films, just one of many clues included to reveal the joke to the alert viewer). 
Deaths of key people involved with the Apollo program
Hoax believers allege that the deaths of 10 astronauts and others related to the program were part of a cover-up, and that NASA or other U.S. government agencies were disposing of people who they feared would 'blow the whistle'. However, given that many tens (or hundreds) of thousands of individuals, often with US Air Force-related careers, were involved in the Apollo program, it is perhaps unsurprising that some individuals have died in the intervening decades.
- Ed Givens (car accident)
- Ted Freeman (T-38 crash)
- C. C. Williams (T-38 accident)
- Elliott See and Charlie Bassett (T-38 accident)
- Virgil "Gus" Grissom (supposedly an outspoken critic of the Space Program) (Apollo 1 fire)
- Ed White (Apollo 1 fire)
- Roger Chaffee (Apollo 1 fire)
- X-15 pilot Mike Adams (the only X-15 pilot killed during the X-15 flight test program - not a NASA astronaut, but had flown X-15 above 50 miles).
- Robert Lawrence , scheduled to be an Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory pilot who died in a jet crash shortly after reporting for duty to that (later cancelled) program.
- NASA worker Thomas Baron (claimed to be a coverup of a 500 page report on the Apollo 1 accident).
- Lee Gelvani claims to have almost convinced James Irwin, an Apollo 15 astronaut whom Gelvani referred to as an "informant", to confess about a cover-up having occurred. Irwin was supposedly going to ring Kaysing about it; however he died of a heart attack before any such telephone call occurred.
The landing believers point out that spacecraft testing and flying high performance jet aircraft can be dangerous, and that all but one of the astronaut deaths (Irwin's) were directly related to their rather hazardous job. The hoax believers include two non-astronauts in their collection of 10 'astronauts' – (Mike Adams was only considered an astronaut because he had flown the X-15 above 50 miles altitude, but was not associated otherwise with manned spaceflight. Robert Lawrence died in a jet crash shortly before reporting to the Air Forces Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, not NASA's space program). Astronaut James Irwin had suffered several heart attacks in the years prior to his death. Gelvani's claim that Irwin was about to come forward would be difficult to confirm and must be considered as hearsay.
The moon hoax accusation may be falsifiable. Observations could be made – through powerful telescopes or via new Moon landings – of the physical evidence (for example landing bases, equipment and footprints) that would prove or disprove the theory. Hoax believers, however, might immediately subject such new observations to the same scepticism they level at the existing observational record.
For example, the Apollo astronauts reportedly left reflectors on the Moon, during Apollo missions 11, 14, and 15, which scientists routinely use to very precisely measure the distance between Earth and the Moon (see Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment). Skeptics contend that those data could also be faked, or that reflectors, if they exist, could more easily have been placed by robot missions (such as the French-built mirror on the Soviet Lunokhod 2) and do not prove a human landing. However, Apollo believers claim that the Apollo retroreflectors are "more accurate" than the Lunokhod mirror - they claim that this was only possible through manned placement.
It is possible for unmanned spacecraft in orbit around the Moon to produce high resolution images of the Apollo sites. NASDA's SELENE, for example, will carry instruments that are capable of detecting leftover Apollo hardware. However, since the mission is primarily intended for geological study, there is uncertainty as to whether or not SELENE will photograph the Apollo landing sites. ESA's SMART-1 might also be able to photograph the Apollo with its AMIE camera, but, like SELENE, considering (1) the fact that SMART-1 is a purely scientific mission and (2) the camera's resolution and altitude, such an opportunity is unlikely. The possibility of a NASDA or ESA press photo of Apollo hardware is not an impossibility, however. A private company also plans to send a spacecraft into Lunar orbit. Unlike the SELENE and SMART-1, this mission is purely commercial and these people plan to return high resolution photographs of the Apollo hardware which should serve as evidence (or disproof) of the landings.
Other factors must be taken into account as well: The above-mentioned missions are costly scientific endeavours with little spare time for geologically irrelevant snapshots. Moreover, the planners of the SMART-1 and SELENE missions would probably dismiss all requests by conspiracy fans as frivolous.
Buzz Aldrin assault incident
In September 2002, Bart Sibrel's repeated demands (over several years) that astronaut Buzz Aldrin swear an oath on the Bible that he had walked on the Moon, or admit that it was all a hoax, came to a head. Aldrin had repeatedly refused to take this oath, and Sibrel's tactics with Aldrin and several other Apollo astronauts have been confrontational. Sibrel gained access to the astronauts by approaching them in public places, using questionable credentials while not revealing his identity or in the case of Ed Mitchell , Alan Bean and Eugene Cernan, paying cash for an interview. When he approached Aldrin and a young female relative in September 2002, Aldrin punched Sibrel (see link to movie clip below), claiming that he felt forced to defend himself and his companion when Sibrel cornered them. The Beverly Hills D.A. declined to charge Aldrin for the alleged assault, and Sibrel did not file a civil suit against Aldrin within the statutory period. Some question the truth of such an incident, perhaps brought on by sarcasm and irony, and possibly the review of the event by the Daily Show citing comically that the video evidence of Aldrin’s assault could have been faked and the witnesses bought.
NASA's rebuttal cancelled
In early November 2002 NASA announced that it was cancelling publication of a manuscript by Jim Oberg that was intended to refute the claims that the Moon landings were a hoax. NASA said that this decision was based on the possibility of an outcry raised by people who felt such a book would "legitimize" the claims of landing skeptics.
Use of the Very Large Telescope
European scientists announced in 2002 that they intend to use the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope to obtain images of the Moon landing sites, which they expect to show the Moon lander bases still in place. No firm date has been given when the telescope will be used for this purpose, or when the results will be released. In any event, as with mirror-ranging evidence, pictures of the lander remains would only prove that a mechanical mission arrived.
Arguing that the landings took place
- BadAstronomy website is run by a self-proclaimed "battle-axe of Science", Phil Plait
- Point by point rebuttal of hoax theories
- Clavius website established to debunk the hoax theories
- Lunar reflection analysis supporting the presence of retroreflectors
- A rebuttal to one typical moonlanding hoax webpage
- Humans Walked on the Moon
- Did We Land On the Moon?
Arguing that the landings were a hoax
- Links to a number of space conspiracy sites
- Ralph Rene is author of "NASA Mooned America," the most popular book on the moon hoax.
- Bart Sibrel is the producer of "Astronauts Gone Wild," a documentary confronting nine Apollo astronauts with the theory that the moon landings were not authentic. Includes footage of the assault by Mr. Aldrin.
- The Apollo Hoax Presents a large selection of evidence including videos to prove the theory.
- The Apollo 11 Hoax Conspiracy Evidence, Motives and photos to argue that the landings were faked.
No point of view
- About the lunar retroreflector experiment
- McDonald Laser Ranging Station that bounces light signals off the retroreflectors
- Telescope to challenge moon doubters
- BBC news report: Nasa pulls Moon hoax book
- Clip of Aldrin punching Sibrel
- The Project Apollo Archive – Collection of publicly released Apollo photography
- The Apollo Image Atlas at The Lunar and Planetary Institute – Thumbnails of images taken during the Apollo Saturn missions
- Description by ground station engineers at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station of receiving images from Apollo 11 from the Moon
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