I’m a little bit too young to remember the first moon landing. I was five years old on July 20, 1969. I remember a little bit about Apollo 13 being in trouble and more from the later missions as I got a bit older.
I remember getting to stay up late to watch the live television coverage of the dramatic night launch of Apollo 17 in December 1972.
According to official NASA records, about 500,000 people went to Cape Kennedy (which returned to the name Canaveral the following year) to watch the launch in person.
Millions more saw the launch of one or more of the Apollo missions from the cape or nearby.
The night launch of Apollo 17 was seen from nearly 500 miles away from the launch point as the spacecraft traveled overhead.
The Apollo program employed more than 400,000 people in the 1960s and early 1970s.
As a result, 12 Americans walked on the moon.
About 850 pounds of moon rocks and soil samples were returned to earth.
Thousands of photographs were taken on the missions.
So it came as a surprise to me when I discovered that some people believe it never happened.
I was working as a board operator at WOI-AM in Ames, sometime in the 1980s, when we ran a program that featured comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who said the moon landings had been faked. His proof was the lack of stars in the photographs taken on the moon’s surface.
It’s entirely true that the Apollo pictures don’t have any stars, but there is a very good reason for this.
Without an atmosphere, sunlight on the moon is even brighter than it is on the earth.
If you have a camera with manual settings, try setting it to take a good picture of anything out in the sun at noon – and then use those same settings at night. You’ll get nothing at all in the sky except for the moon itself, because it is bathed in sunlight.
Stars just don’t show up.
Polls conducted in the last 20 years have shown that about 5 percent of Americans believe the Apollo program was a hoax. That’s a pretty small number, but the online presence of hoax believers is large.
YouTube is chock full of moon hoax videos – though there are also many videos debunking the idea that it was a hoax.
The arguments for a moon landing hoax are all easily debunked, but that doesn’t keep them from popping up again and again.
Here are some of the other arguments and the simple explanations.
Hoax belief: The sun is so far away that all shadows on the moon should be parallel, but the shadows are not all parallel in Apollo photos from the lunar surface.
Answer: Take a picture standing between two telephone poles on a sunny day; the shadows will go left and right from your perspective. Only from directly above will the shadows appear to be parallel. The Apollo astronauts were taking pictures from the surface, not from directly above.
Hoax: The front of the lunar module was in shadow but still brightly lighted, even though there was no blue sky to diffuse the sunlight to the dark side of the spacecraft.
Answer: On a bright, sunny day at noon, the sun provides more than 10,000 footcandles (which is a lot of light) on earth – and even more on the surface of the moon. That light, bouncing off the moon’s surface near the lunar module, is what lighted the shadow-side of the lander.
Hoax: The moon’s surface has the same reflectivity as asphalt, yet appears bright gray (almost white) in the photographs.
Pop quiz: When you look at the full moon in the night sky, does it look like a bright gray (almost white) object? Yes. Yes it does. The sun is very bright. It really is.
Hoax: A flight to the moon was too complicated for 1960s technology.
Answer: Millions of people watched, with their own eyes, the launch of a 6.5 million pound rocket into the sky on a precise trajectory.
The spacecraft could be seen from the ground while in earth orbit – and disappeared from view when it left orbit to begin the journey to the moon.
Radar around the world tracked the missions and radio receivers in many countries listened in on communications that originated on the moon.
Hoax: The lunar module rocket engine didn’t blast a crater into the moon’s surface when landing, though that was depicted in a lot of artwork prior to the landings.
Answer: It turned out that the moon’s surface was a lot more compacted than had been thought. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could only pound the pole for the Flag of the United States about three inches into the ground because the lunar soil was so hard. Also, the lunar module engine, landing in 1/6 of Earth gravity on the moon, was not producing the high thrust needed on the earth.
Hoax: Film director Stanley Kubrick created the moon landing footage for NASA.
Answer: Gah. Stanley Kubrick got the moon all wrong in his film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” His moon is all jagged cliffs and hard edges. The surface of the real moon has been softened and smoothed by billions of years of micrometeoroid bombardment.
Hoax: NASA lost all the video of the moon landings, which is highly suspicious!
Answer: NASA lost the original recordings of the video transmitted from Apollo 11 – but copies of the transmissions remain. It would have been nice to have the original video, which was shot in a slow-scan format that was not compatible with video systems of the 1960s. To convert it, the images were shot with conventional video and film cameras from screens displaying the raw video. Because we’re only seeing the converted images, all of the video from Apollo 11 is of very low quality.
I could go on and on with reasons the hoax believers think the missions were faked, but the truth of it is that the Apollo program was one of the most thoroughly-documented voyages of discovery the world has ever seen.
Every step of the process, from the testing and manufacturing of each individual piece of the spacecraft, to the assembly and launch of each mission, was meticulously filmed and photographed.
Thousands of photographs were taken by the astronauts in space and on the moon.
What would be the logic of taking so many photographs of something fake?
Check out flickr.com/photos/projectapolloarchive/ where NASA currently has 15,382 Apollo mission photographs online.
NASA also has several other online repositories of Apollo photographs and documents.
Check them out and spend some time marveling at what this country did 50 years ago next month.