Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories: An Investigation
Almost 50 years ago, on July 20, 1969, the spacecraft Apollo 11 safely landed astronauts on the moon’s surface for the first time. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent over 21 hours on the moon collecting lunar samples, installing equipment, taking photos and erecting an American flag. By 1970, NASA would send five more manned missions and 10 more astronauts to the moon’s surface.
Most historians agree that the Apollo 11 moon landing was one of civilization’s greatest achievements. However, there are many who are skeptical that the moon landing ever happened. Let’s explore a few of moon landing conspiracy theories, why they’re still so popular, and the evidence that’s commonly used to support them.
What Exactly Do Moon Landing Conspiracy Theorists Believe?
Moon landing conspiracy theorists believe that the Apollo 11 mission was staged from start to finish and that no US astronauts have ever stepped foot on the moon. The evidence they cite is shaky at best — irregular shadows, the absence of stars in photos taken on the moon, a lunar rock that looks like a prop, and footprints that shouldn’t be possible.
The Origins of Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories
Bill Kaysing, an employee of the aerospace company Rocketdyne, is considered the originator of moon landing conspiracy theories. Kaysing claimed that during his time with Rocketdyne, he had access to documents that discredited the possibility of a manned mission to the moon.
In the book, Kaysing points to the absence of stars in photographs taken during the Moon landing as evidence that the photographs weren’t actually taken on the Moon. Kaysing also questions the fact that the lunar module jets didn’t create a visible crater when landing on the moon’s surface.
The Kubrick Connection
One of the more outlandish beliefs held by moon landing hoax conspiracy theorists has to do with director Stanley Kubrick (of all people). Conspiracy theorists believe that footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing was filmed by Kubrick in a production studio in Huntsville, Alabama. They claim that Kubrick spent 16 months filming a fake moon landing after meeting with NASA officials in 1968.
Why Is This Theory Still so Popular?
While Kaysing’s claims have been solidly debunked, his ideas are still cited by moon landing conspiracy theorists today. In fact, the conspiracy has only grown in popularity since the 1970s. A 1999, Gallup poll revealed that 6% of Americans doubted the legitimacy of the moon landing, but research suggests that this percentage has increased in recent years.
Whoopi Goldberg and Marion Cotillard Have Doubts
Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and Marion Cotillard have expressed doubt that the moon landing actually happened. On the 40th anniversary of the historic event, Whoopi Goldberg asked her co-hosts on “The View,” “Why is the flag rippling? There’s no air. Who shot the footage?”
Steph Curry Questions the Moon Landings
In 2018, Steph Curry appeared on a podcast hosted by NBA players Vince Carter and Kent Bazemore where he voiced skepticism about the moon landing. Curry first asked everyone, “We ever been to the moon?” before saying: “They’re going to come get us. Sorry, I don’t want to start conspiracies.”
The Evidence of a Staged Moon Landing
So how does the evidence stack up? Although people who believe that the moon landing was staged often claim they have ample evidence to prove it, the truth is, the vast majority of this evidence has been debunked.
Radiation from the Van Allen Belts
A common argument that conspiracy theorists use to support their position has to do with the Van Allen radiation belts. These belts surround our Earth with a layer of radiation. Theorists claim it would be impossible for the astronauts to pass through the Van Allen belts without being hit by a lethal amount of radiation.
The American Flag
Another popular piece of evidence has to do with the American flag that Armstrong and Aldrin “supposedly” planted on the moon. Conspiracy theorists point out that because there’s no atmosphere on the moon, the flag wouldn’t be able to sway or move in the wind, as it appears to do in photos.
Why Are There No Stars?
Another point of contention has to do with the fact that there are no visible stars in photos from the moon landing. If there’s no atmosphere on the moon to block the view, shouldn’t the stars be even more brilliant than they appear from Earth?
Irregular Shadows on the Moon’s Surface
Many moon landing hoax conspiracy theorists have pointed to strange shadows in photos as evidence that the scene was staged. If light is coming from one source (the sun), shouldn’t all shadows fall at the same angle?
What About the Other Lighting Anomalies?
Still, conspiracy theorists point to other anomalies within the photos to argue that the landing must have been staged. In some photos from the Apollo 11 mission, the astronauts appear to be lit from multiple angles.
Is that Rock a Prop?
Much has been made by conspiracy theorists about a rock that appears to be labeled with the letter C. In movie production, props are often labeled with letters or numbers that correspond to where the prop should be placed within the scene. After seeing photos from the Apollo 16 mission in which a rock appeared to have the letter C on it, conspiracy theorists assumed that the photograph included a prop.
The Film Should Have Fried
In full sunlight, the moon’s surface can reach temperatures of up to 280 degrees Fahrenheit. Conspiracy theorists assert that there’s no way Aldrin and Armstrong would have been able to move around the moon’s surface in this high heat — let alone take photographs. At that temperature, the film in their cameras would have melted immediately.
But Who Took the Photos?
Conspiracy theorists have argued that there’s no way all the photos of the moon landing could have been taken by Aldrin and Armstrong. Who took the photos of Armstrong coming down the steps of the lunar module? Who took the photos of Armstrong and Aldrin together on the moon? (Selfie sticks weren’t a thing back then.) What about the ones of the lunar module as it departed from the Moon’s surface?
Many conspiracy theorists believe that it would have been impossible for the astronauts to leave footprints on the moon’s surface. While footprints are clearly visible in photos from the landing, a popular argument among hoax theorists is that moisture is needed to produce a footprint. Because there’s no water on the moon, there’s no way their footprints should be visible.
Wouldn’t the Astronauts Be Hit by Micrometeorites?
Outer space is full of tiny, fast-moving particles called micrometeorites. These particles travel (on average) at a speed of 22,500 mph and can cause significant damage to anything in their path. Wouldn’t it be impossible for a spacecraft to travel any significant distance through space without being hit by one of these deadly pieces of space dust? Wouldn’t the astronauts be exposed to them while on the moon’s surface?
The Moon Buggy Was Too Big
Starting with the Apollo 15 mission, astronauts were able to travel around the moon’s surface using a lunar rover, colloquially called a “Moon Buggy.” Astronauts Jim Irwin and Dave Scott used the Moon Buggy to collect geological samples, driving over 17.5 miles across the moon’s surface. The Moon Buggy was used again during the Apollo 16 and 17 missions. But...how did such a large vehicle fit into the lunar module? Moon landing hoax conspiracists argue that the Moon Buggy was far too bulky to be transported.
Why Is There No Crater Below the Lunar Module?
Many moon landing conspiracy theorists assume that there should be a crater under the lunar module, a product of the force exerted by the thrusters as they lowered the module down to the surface. Surely the thrusters were powerful enough to blast the sediment from the moon’s surface out of the way as they approached, right?
Proof of the Moon Landing
It can be easy to get caught up in the arguments supporting moon landing conspiracy theories. Maybe you think the evidence presented is compelling, and the counterarguments seem flimsy to you. However, it’s important to remember that the bulk of evidence solidly supports that it did in fact happen. While many people believe that the landings were staged, there’s much more evidence to corroborate the moon landing than there is to dispute it.
Corroborating Images of the Apollo 15 Landing Site
In 2008, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched a lunar probe called SELENE as part of their KAGUYA mission. The goals of the lunar probe were to “obtain scientific data of the lunar origin and evolution and to develop the technology for future lunar exploration.” SELENE took photos of the moon’s topography and stitched them together to create a 3-D visualization of the terrain.
Visible Astronaut Footprints on the Moon’s Surface
Thanks to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we can actually see satellite photos of the Apollo landing sites. The Orbiter has been in a low orbit around the moon since 2009, taking satellite images and collecting information about the moon’s surface and environment.
We Can Also See Tracks From the Lunar Rover
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was also able to capture satellite images from other Apollo missions, including ones where the lunar rover was used. In the image below this paragraph of the Apollo 15 landing site, tracks from the lunar rover are clearly visible to the right of the Descent Stage.
Scientific Equipment Is Stored on the Moon
When the astronauts left the moon’s surface, they didn’t take everything with them. Armstrong and Aldrin left over 100 items on the moon when they departed, including tools and a commemorative plaque that read, "we came in peace for all mankind."
Astronauts Brought Home Moon Rocks
One of the more tangible pieces of proof that man walked the moon is in the geological samples brought back to Earth. Over 800 lbs of moon rocks have been brought back to Earth from the Apollo missions.
Apollo Missions Were Tracked Around the World
Need more proof? How about the fact that the Apollo missions were tracked in real time by a number of organizations and individuals, many of which were not affiliated with NASA. The Apollo 11 mission was tracked by the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK as well as by Larry Baysinger, a radio operator in Kentucky.
Will Moon Landing Conspiracies Ever Die?
Since Bill Kaysing’s moon landing hoax theory emerged in 1976, the debate about irregular shadows, unreliable engines, radiation levels and micrometeoroids has persisted. Despite the evidence stacked against them, it appears that moon landing hoax conspiracies are here to stay.