Moon Landings or the Apollo Mission was a space program led by NASA, a US space agency, in the late ninety sixties and early seventies. Under this program, the first-ever manned spacecraft landed on the Moon. Two astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the lunar surface in 20th July 1969, in Apollo 11 Spacecraft.
It was one of the greatest technological feats of the 20th century. The mission was a result of “Space Race” between the then USSR and USA.
Rise of Moon landing conspiracy theories
Discussions on moon landing conspiracy began after a former US Navy officer self-published a book titled “We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle”. The author, however, did not have any knowledge about rockets or technical writing and held a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. Similarly, the discussions began rising again after Fox Television, in 2001, aired the documentary “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?”.
Opinion polls suggest 28% Russians, 20% Americans and 25% Britons still believe the Apollo missions to be a hoax. The reasons for conspiracy theories still thriving can be attributed to the following two points:
- The strangeness of video: Unlike earth, the video shot on the moon has slight different lighting and texture effects which requires proper knowledge of physics and photography to fully comprehend. Similarly, much misinformation surrounding videotapes, photos and flags exist.
- Extrapolation of true events: the event of NASA losing the original videotapes, disposing of the technology used, and no moon landings in the past 50 years have been extrapolated to fit the narrative of conspiracy theorists.
Why Moon landings could not have been faked
1. Hard to Fake
The Saturn V rocket did launch in front of thousands of people from Kennedy Space Center on July 16. People argue that the rest of the part was filmed in a studio. However, the lighting system on the moon is not the same as on earth. The sunlight is reflected from the moon surface, earth, and mountains and irregularities. Studios cannot recreate this lighting. They would require thousands of lasers costing astronomical price at that time. Not to mention the studio would have to pump out the air to create a vacuum and create artificial lunar gravity to simulate lunar dust. Yes, these effects could be possible to create with CGI but CGI of that feat was only developed in early 21st century.
They could not have filmed it on the desert as heatwaves would have been seen in the video. Similarly, the gravity would not be possible to fake and slowing down the footage was a technical feat yet not possible during that time. Similarly, since the live broadcast didn’t have any cuts, all the recorded video would have to be on the same tape. Tapes of such storage capacity simply didn’t exist at that time.
Faking lunar return samples, returning signals from orbit for various ground stations around the world, and a variety of other things requires a lot of deceptions, too. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of man-hours went to researching, creating blueprints, expensive rocket parts.
Needless to say, NASA would have to make sure that everybody from the studio crew and about 4000 of its employees would keep this secret. NASA’s employees would definitely know if they were technically capable to go to the moon. Thus, it would just be easier to go to the moon then fake it.
2. Third-party proofs
The lunar landing mission was viewed with great interest by the countries all around the globe. The rocket and crew were tracked by 15 independent trackers all around the globe including the USSR. They tracked the Apollo 11 crew using radar all the way to moon and back. The Apollo 11 crew had also set up retro reflectors on the moon which reflected laser shots fired from various independent space observatories like Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur, McDonald, Apache Point, and Haleakala observatories. The retro-reflector placed by Apollo 11 was detected on August 1, 1969, by Lick Observatory. McDonald Observatory detected the retro-reflector placed by Apollo 14 the same day it was placed on February 5, 1971.
Similarly, SELENE spacecraft on May 20, 2008, by Japan and Chandrayan 1 on September 10, 2009, by India were successful in capturing the photos of landing sites of Apollo rockets. China on May 2, 2013, released a high definition map of the moon. Currently, high definitions photos of all Apollo moon landings exist.
3. Evidence backed by modern probes/rovers
Though manned-flights have not been made, a significant number of probes have been deployed in this span of 50 years. They have brought high-quality images of the lunar landing site and remainings of spacecraft. NASA had published a detailed report of the composition of rocks brought by the Apollo crew from moon landing mission. Those detail and reports all accurately match up with results and reports from rocks sample returned by the independent Soviet Luna programme.
Similarly, photos taken with Ultraviolet Spectrograph showing Earth with starts from Capricornus and Aquarius constellations were taken by Apollo 16. The European Space Research Organization’s TD-1A satellite scanned and found a close match with the Apollo 16 photographs.
4. Incentives for rival countries
The Apollo 11 mission was at the peak of “Space Race” between USSR and USA. Soviet had everything to gain by proving the Apollo mission as Fake. Soviet, at their Space Transmission Corps, used the latest intelligence and space surveillance technology to monitor the Apollo missions. Vasily Mishin, leader of the soviet space mission, in an interview for the article “The Moon Programme That Faltered”, said the Soviet Moon programme dwindled after the Apollo landing.
Along with the Soviet Union, Japan, China, and India have the capability to disprove NASA’s claims as they have their own space program, own space probes which are launched on their own launch vehicles, and have their own deep space communication network. But not a single evidence has come forward during these 50 years.
Thus, unless NASA developed CGI decades ahead of time in secrecy, shut mouths of its thousand competent engineers, negotiated with several nations along with its rivals to keep secret even 50 years after, there is no chance it would have been fake. Not to mention they would have to do it five more times as 12 astronauts in 6 missions landed on the moon during 1969 and 1972. Wouldn’t it be easier for NASA to cut the budget and trouble in half and just go to the moon?
Refutation of claims
In discussions during the last 50 years, not a single strong evidence has been provided to prove the landings to be fake. Almost all claims put forward by conspiracy theorists have been refuted in detail by experts. Some of the most popular claims include:
1. Strangeness of photo/video
- Fluttering flag: Flag didn’t flutter as there is no atmosphere on the moon. The flag would not have stood erect so it was fastened by Г-shaped rod. Ripple effect on the flag can be seen as it was being unfolded and once straightened, it swings like a pendulum for while before remaining still. TODO pic gif (caption)
- No stars in pictures: All landing happened during lunar daytime. Cameras were adjusted for daylight exposure. Since stars cannot provide enough exposure for visible images, they were outshone by sunlight from the sun and reflected sunlight. TODO earth pic(This also happens in the earth)
- Strange shadows: As explained earlier, lighting conditions are little different on the lunar surface. Shadows are complicated due to uneven surfaces, reflected lights from the moon, earth, lunar rover, astronauts, etc. Furthermore, Light from these sources is scattered by lunar dust in various directions, including into shadows. Shadows have appeared longer, shorter, and distorted as it fell into craters and hills.
- Communication: As sound cannot propagate on the moon. There are no noises such as engine sound. How did astronaut communicate then? Radio waves were used to communicate the video feed and voice of astronauts. The waves were received by antenna setup at different Observatories. Similarly, audio delay of about 2-3 seconds can be noticed in original tapes.
2. Van Allen belt
Van Allen belt is a triple-layered radiation belt between earth and moon which was thought to be challenging to pass for humans because of radiation poisoning. Various special measures were taken for navigating through the belt. The inner belt which is the most dangerous was crossed by astronauts in a matter of minutes and the outer layer was traversed in the span of about one and a half-hour. Similarly, the spacecraft’s hulls were covered by aluminium to shield from radiation and the orbital trajectory of spacecraft was chosen to lessen exposure to radiation.
James Van Allen, who discovered the belt, has also clarified that the belt wasn’t too harmful to deem Apollo mission impossible.
3. Disposal of technology and lost tapes
Lost Tapes: Conspiracy theorists have extrapolated the event of NASA losing the original tapes containing telemetry video data to claim that they never existed in the first place. However, various television across countries broadcasted the moon landing at 15 minutes delay and those tapes still exist. Since televisions were relayed the live data from NASA, the quality was compromised during transmission and only NASA had the highest quality tapes. The tapes were reused to cut cost and some are believed to be lost. Though, it was careless handling from NASA’s side for failing to preserve those tapes, claim of the whole landing to have been faked based on this sole event is simply illogical.
Disposal of technology: NASA developed and deployed the technology for moon mission for a total of 6 lunar landings. After space race was over, the moon mission ceased to be feasible. With the technology field rapidly evolving during the late 19th century (rendering NASA’s current tech incompatible) and no moon missions planned, NASA disposed of its moon landing related technology.
4. No moon missions in last 50 years
A common question that people believing in the conspiracy ask is “Why haven’t we gone again since 1972?”. The technology and manpower have vastly improved since the early seventies, but there have been no moon landings since 1972. There are various reasons why there were no missions.
First, the US won the space race with USSR, lifting the political pressure. After five more moon landings, moon missions were no longer seemed justifiable. The cost of a single mission was too high even for the US. The original purpose of landing on the moon first was complete. The moon no longer remained a mystery and unconquered land. The funding to NASA started to dwindle as the US began channelling funds to other projects.
There was little to gain for NASA, all the innovation and inventions had already been made in the first few trials. NASA landed six total times and had collected various samples and information about the moon. There seemed no way for NASA to make repeated moon visits profitable. Similarly, unmanned probes could be sent to explore other parts of space than to waste budget on the manned missions.
The lives of astronauts were at stake during the missions. Due to political pressure during cold wars, NASA had to cut corners in order to outperform Soviet. If we were to plan the moon landing now, we have to guarantee total safety. Multiple tests missions have to be conducted. The technology has to be reinvented and reiterated. All this cost is hardly justified compared to return on investment by landing on the moon even today.
4.1 Hope for revival of moon programs
With the emergence of commercial space agency since 2010, substantial improvements have been made in the field. The cost of rocket launches have reduced significantly due to reusable rockets and space tourism has signalled towards economic feasibility of such missions.
NASA, recently unveiled the Artemis project, announcing plans to send manned missions to the moon. NASA is building the most powerful rocket to date named “Space Launch System” or SLS and a modern spacecraft named “Orion”. An orbiting platform similar to ISS named “Gateway” will be built on the moon’s orbit. Long term human presence on and around the moon will be established for research and preparations for the Mars landing project.
Similarly, commercial agencies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are also collaborating with NASA and have set their eyes to the moon and the mars.