In this installment of the moon landing myths (read Part 1), we talk about the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were faked by NASA, with Stanley Kubrick directing the whole thing here on Earth. For anyone who wants to look, there is plenty of empirical evidence to bust any of the hoax favourites, if you know where to look and do not limit yourself to unsubstantiated You Tube videos.
World War II saw the development of extensive technology, including fighter planes and rockets, especially by the US and the USSR. During the cold war and the space-race, this competition continued and the Saturn V rocket and all the ones before it were a part of this. The bottom line is that the technology existed to land on the moon, however, Hollywood was not so technologically advanced to have made a fake video of that landing.
Let’s talk about a few favourites. The shadows for example are due to the reflective surface of the moon, which was being hit by sunlight, reflected light from the Earth and even the light reflected off the astronauts’ suits. The fact that they are of different lengths even when the astronauts are standing close to each other is because of the rough, hilly, cratered surface. This same effect will happen on Earth as well.
The American flag is NOT flapping in the breeze. Because it already had knowledge of the atmosphere, NASA had made a special flag. A taut wire runs through the fabric at the top edge to ensure that it did not flop down and as the astronauts struggled to plant it, it gave the impression of movement.
The reason you cannot see stars in the photographs taken by the astronauts is the same as the lack of stars in the urban night sky on Earth. Sunlight striking the surface of the moon is too bright for any camera to capture distant stars. Even when standing on the moon, astronauts often were not able to see any stars unless they blocked out the landscape from their vision.
Apollo 11, 14 and 15, left behind retro-reflector arrays and anyone with appropriate laser and telescope system can bounce laser beams off them. In fact, this is exactly how scientists are able to tell that the moon is moving away from the Earth.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) sent back high resolution photos of the landing sites in 2009. These show the large descent stages of the six Apollo lunar modules left behind by the missions, the tracks of the lunar roving vehicles and even the paths of the astronauts who walked on the lunar surface.
Around 400,000 people were involved in the Apollo programme for almost 10 years. It would be a feat greater than landing on the moon itself to ensure that all of them, plus the 12 astronauts who landed on the moon and the 6 astronauts who accompanied them as command module pilots kept this secret – for over 50 years. To date no one from the state department or any other government body has come out to “spill the beans” so to speak.
Over 380 kg of moon rocks (most are more than 200 million years older than the oldest rocks on Earth) were brought back by the missions, some of which scientists have had access to and none of them have come out to rebut the claim that they are lunar rocks.
Because this was a result of the space race between the USSR and the US, the Soviet Union, with its extensive intelligence network and scientific community, kept a very close eye on the Apollo missions. It would have been extremely happy to point out that the whole thing was a hoax, especially since its own lunar programme had failed.
There is a lot of other third party evidence. The Japanese Space Agency’s (JAXA) SELENE lunar probe obtained photographs providing evidence of the lunar landing, such as matching terrain to the photos taken by the Apollo astronauts. India’s Chandrayaan 1 photographs also confirmed the disturbed terrain of the landing sites with photos and tracks of the rovers. China’s Chang’e 2 claims to have spotted traces of the landings.
The Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK was used to observe the mission, as it had been used before for Sputnik. There were a host of other independent observers, who have in one way or another, corroborated parts or all of the missions.
These are just some of the myths associated with the Apollo missions. There are many more related to the photographs, the Van Allen belts and the environment. All of these have been debunked.
For example, the Van Allen belt is a zone of energetic charged solar wind particles.These are captured by and held around a planet by its magnetic field and Earth has two such belts, the inner belt and the outer belt. Sometimes other belts may be temporarily created. The conspiracy theory says that the astronauts could not have survived the radiation from the Van Allen belts. The inner belt has more energetic particles, so is the more dangerous one, while the outer belt has less dangerous low energy ones. So, how did the astronauts survive this? 1) Apollo 11 passed through the inner belt in a matter of minutes and the outer belt in 1.5 hours. 2) The astronauts were shielded from the radiation by the aluminium hull of the spacecraft, specially designed and created for such a purpose. 3) The orbital trajectory of Apollo 11 from the Earth to the Moon was chosen specifically to lessen exposure to radiation. And finally 4) Dr. James Van Allen, who discovered the radiation belts absolutely rebutted the claims that the belts were harmful. Basically, the total radiation that the spacecraft and the astronauts were exposed to was the same as that allowed for for workers in the nuclear energy field for a year and the same as that received by Space Shuttle astronauts.
Only very credulous people or those who just like to indulge in conspiracy theories believe that this did not happen. Unfortunately, the age of the internet while providing us with immense benefits, has also ensured the resurfacing and renewed popularity of these conspiracy theories.
Thankfully, the rest of us are happy to move on from this and look forward to the next phase of lunar exploration: the Artemis missions and others.