May 25, 2017

Apollo 11 40 Years Later: Did We Really go to the Moon?

Lunar Landscape or Hollywood Set? Read On...(Credit: NASA).

Lunar Landscape or Hollywood Set? Read On...(Credit: NASA).

As the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing rolls around this month, its time to address the inevitable. Every so often at a star party, someone asks me if you can see the flag(s) we left on the Moon. When I explain that even the largest pieces of hardware, the base of the lunar landers, were only a scant seven meters across, far below the resolution power of my 8″ reflector, someone inevitably pipes up in the dark; “because we never did go there, that’s really why!”

Of course, I already know that no amount of reasoning will dissuade some people; the outlook is “the government hides everything,” and that tends to be the ultimate answer for any conspiracy. Still, this one urban myth just won’t die. What good evidence is there that we did if fact visit the Moon? Is there any merit to counter even the strongest arguments against it?

Sometimes, its daunting to see so called “serious” science channels swallow the hype on this, as well. I believe the legend persists because after the whirlwind days of Apollo, everyone expected manned solar system exploration would be soon to follow. We were supposed to have hover cars and air locks on our houses by now. Of course, some sci-fi prophecies did come true; we have more computing power on our Iphones than Apollo ever dreamed of, and everything is made of plastic. Still, the Apollo missions stand out as a singular achievement that we just didn’t have the will to follow up on.

So, just what are the best arguments the Moon hoaxers have? And what proofs are there, if any, that we did in fact go?

The Cons:

You don’t see any stars in Moon photos: This old saw can be blamed on sci-fi TV and movies; film directors love a star-dappled sky. Plus, we’re always told that the reason we don’t see stars on the Earth in the day time is the fact that our atmosphere scatters light… so why don’t you see stars on the Moon? The reality is that glare still exists, even in a vacuum. Where as the human eye in complete darkness operates roughly at about 1/20th shutter speed exposure, much shorter exposures were used in the bright daylight that saturated the lunar surface. And don’t forget, despite its bright night time appearance, the Moon is actually a very gray place! Long time exposures would be necessary to create a bright star spangled lunar background.

The radiation would have killed the astronauts: Solar flares. Cosmic rays. The Earth’s own Van Allen radiation belts. True, space is a nasty place that is not very conducive to life as we know it. And the skin of the crew compartment of the Lunar Excursion Module was thin… scarcely more than triple aluminum foil…could the astronauts have survived this “lethal bath?” Firstly, these missions were all of a short duration. The longest was Apollo 17 of only 3 days duration on the lunar surface. There was indeed a risk of radiation exposure, and all the astronauts did in fact receive a higher than the typical Earthbound dose. In fact, almost all of the Apollo astronauts have since developed early stage cataracts, consistent with radiation exposure during their lunar journey. Nearly all also reported occasional optical “flashes” that were no doubt the result of the occasional cosmic ray passing through their retinas. The radiation was part of the risk involved. Astronaut Jack Swigert of Apollo 13 fame died of cancer, which is suggestive but not confirmed to have been caused by his trip to the Moon. Also, insertion into lunar orbit was devised in such a way that it path minimized the astronauts’ radiation exposure during passage through the Earth’s radiation belts. Most types of radiation, such as alpha and beta particles, can be easily stopped by a thin sheet of metal. Gamma radiation is the nasty stuff, and fortunately, these high energy particles are much more rare. A big solar flare was indeed a threat, more so after 1970, as the Sun approached solar maximum. Still, a large Coronal Mass Ejection would have to hit the Earth Moon system just right to be lethal, and it  generally takes the heavy particles take days to reach Earth, which would have given Moon-ward bound astronauts plenty of time to abort.

Can you spot the Landing indicators? (Credit: NASA).

Can you spot the Landing indicators? (Credit: NASA).

There is no “blast crater” to be seen at the landing sites: Moon hoaxers will point out that no evidence of exhaust blast exists in photographs of the LEM. Shouldn’t there be a crater, like in the 50′s Disney animations depicting a sleek, cigar-shaped rocket landing on its tail? In pesky reality, of course, the engine bell of the LEM produced a broad exhaust plume. Flying a vertical decent craft is not easy; try balancing a pencil on the tip of your finger sometime. What you want is a fan shaped, as opposed to a sharp pointed exhaust. And don’t forget, the engines were actually cut-off as they hovered about a meter over the surface; remember those wires you see dangling form the LEM as it separates from the command module? Those signal contact with the surface, telling the pilot to cut the engines. The last few feet is just a free fall drop!

The flag “flutters” in the vacuum: No, it wasn’t the “MTV” logo on the American flag the astronauts planted on the Moon… in the past few years, a big “flap” (pun intended) has been made over the fact that the flag appears to move in the airless vacuum of the lunar surface. How, might you ask, is this possible? Firstly, the flag had a deployable truss rod that held it out straight. But just because there is no air to move the flag doesn’t mean that the material doesn’t have inertia of its own, or that it won’t absorb the influence of the astronaut that planted it. For further proof, check out this vid…

The infamous photograph “hot spots”: OK, there are many variants of the “weird camera angle” theory, but they all seem to trace back to this theme. Several photos taken by the astronauts show a glow off to the side or around the shadows or the astronauts themselves. Cinematographers are familiar with this spot lighting effect and generally try to avoid it. Was there a spot light on that lunar set? Guess what; there was… the Sun! All missions landed in daylight on the lunar near side… the white suits and reflective visors also acted as a good reflector of sunlight. Finally, spheroids in Moon-dust can also act as good reflectors, creating a focusing effect known as Heilgenschein. Patient observers on Earth can also note this effect out a passenger plane window as the shadow of the aircraft dances over the cloud tops.

Why don’t large telescopes spot lunar hardware? :Again, I hear this one a lot at star parties… its tough to break down resolution power, magnification, distance, and atmospheric turbulence into a 10 second sound bite… remember, the base of the lunar lander is tiny, scarcely bigger than that Hummer in the garage…even at “only” 240,000 odd miles, that’s a tough target.

Keep in mind: these are just a selection of some of the best objections that conspiracy theorists can muster… most other details quibbled over are merely permutations of the same.

So beyond defending hundreds of individual photographs, what evidence is there that we actually went? Right off the top of my head, I can think of a simple few;

Lots of folks actually witnessed the launches: If you live nearly anywhere along the mid-Florida peninsula, you know that a space-shot is not a hidden or secret affair; a typical Shuttle or Apollo launch can be seen over 100 miles away! We typically bear witness to this here at Astroguyz HQ in Hudson, Florida just north of Tampa…and millions were on hand to witness the Apollo 11 launch! That’s a big fireworks show to fake… of course, there exists a sub-species of hoaxer that would maintain the Apollo missions merely went into low Earth orbit and stayed there. Trust me, independent satellite spotters (remember Project Moonwatch?), not to mention our then arch enemies, the Soviets, would have picked up on this trick and exploited it. Believe me, the government has attempted to cover up classified launches by stating the satellite failed on launch, only for amateur spotters to report it as alive and well…this trick isn’t very effective. Plus, when Apollo13 ran into trouble, professionals actually recruited amateur astronomers to verify the command modules’ exact position, on its way to the Moon.

There is hard scientific proof that we had a presence there: How about those reflectors we bounce lasers off of? The discarded boosters spotted in solar orbit? The Clementine pics of the landing sites? And now with LRO/LCROSS in lunar orbit, expect even more highly resolved on-site pictures…

Simply too many people were involved in the Apollo program for a large cover up to be plausible: The scale of the Apollo program was huge, one of the biggest projects that man has ever undertaken. And think of how rich the program was. Way bigger than the biggest Hollywood blockbuster. Spin offs included Tang!, Microwave ovens, Velcro… (OK, maybe the Vulcans did invent that…) None of which would dissuade your average true believer, but let’s apply Occam’s Razor; which scenario seems simpler and more likely; that we have the technical know how to go to the Moon, or that millions of people were involved in a huge cover-up?

Of course, perhaps the weight of evidence still doesn’t seem convincing to a true believer. Its like trying to prove the existence of China to someone that is convinced the country doesn’t exist. I could point out tangible evidence, such as the flood of Chinese takeouts and cheap goods at Walmart, but you could simply through up contrived notions at how they could be faked. In skepticism, this is known as the “moving the goal post” fallacy. Scientists are known for modifying ideas as more evidence comes to light; an unwillingness to flex should be a sure sign that something is amiss.

Please note that I didn’t glorify any conspiracy theorists with links to their site, but they do abound in the wilds that are the Internet. For an exhaustive analysis of their quackery instead check here.

Ultimately, actually returning to the Moon may be the only good solution to this modern day myth. As things slide back into history, crazy ideas are allowed to creep in to everything from Pearl Harbor to the JFK assassination to the Moon landings. 9/11 may be the latest event to fall prey to folks looking to make a fast publishing buck. The answer? Lets go back to the Moon, this time for good. After all, I’d love to take my grand kids out to tour the Apollo 11 landing site…will there be a Starbucks in place by then?


  1. Cyrust says:

    “Simply too many people were involved in the Apollo program for a large cover up to be plausible” Enough said!

    Thanks Guyz, nice read.

  2. Interesting says:

    “Simply too many people were involved in the Apollo program for a large cover up to be plausible”? Well first all, I don’t think that most of the people involved in the process knew what was going on beyond the scope of their part of the project. A cover up could be done.


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