Were the Moon landings faked?

A look at the conspiracy theories surrounding the Apollo Moon landings.

by John Jackson © 2004

President Kennedy set a challenge in 1961 for the USA to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. The fact that they managed this, is one of the greatest feats of mankind.Apollo launch photo Conspiracy theorists, however, claim that the USA did not actually put men on the Moon at all: they claim the entire mission was faked to affirm the USA's lead in the space race.

The critical question is: why would the USA risk its reputation by perpetrating a hoax that would be incredibly difficult to pull off?

The Soviet Union would have had the most to gain from exposing the hoax. With their involvement in the space race, they would be the best qualified to spot any cheating going on. Why then, with more motivation than anyone to expose a hoax, did they remain silent? The truth is that the USSR tracked the Americans all the way to the Moon and back. They had no doubt that the mission was successful.

There were six Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972, landing a total of twelve astronauts on to the lunar surface. If NASA had managed to pull off this hoax, why did they feel the need to carry out a further five hoax missions, each one increasing the likelihood of exposure?

Conspiracy theorists have a multitude of hypotheses regarding the "official" version of events, most conspiracies revolving around the Apollo 11 mission which first placed a man on the Moon. Here we will look at some of the more popular ones and offer explanations as to why they are not valid.

The first group of conspiracies question the feasibility of the mission:

  • The odds of a successful Moon landing were calculated to be 6000 to 1 against (or probability 0.000167).

    This figure of 6000 to 1 against a successful mission is put forward by Bill Kaysing, although it is unclear exactly how the figure was calculated or from which data.

    NASA and GEC did computer simulations involving every aspect the mission. The results consistently gave a projected success rate of over 90%.

  • The Lunar Module (LM) crashed in testing on Earth, yet worked perfectly six times in space.

    There were two types of training vehicle: the Lunar Landing Research Vehicles (LLRV); and the more advanced Lunar Landing Training Vehicles (LLTV). These vehicles were different to the actual LM, having jet engines to mimic the reduced weight of the LM in space, and rocket thrusters to simulate the LM's guidance thrusters.

    There is footage of Neil Armstrong ejecting from an LLRV after its steering guidance system failed. This is the evidence that conspiracy theorists focus on. In reality, hundreds of successful tests were completed.

    The actual LM was tested continuously also: its components on Earth; and its performance in space, notably during other Apollo missions. The only untested aspect of the LM was its ability to land on the Moon. Due to the extensive testing undergone, the LM landed safely on the Moon's surface using its computer controlled guidance and gyroscopic inertial control systems.

  • Apollo's computer system was not powerful enough for such a complex mission.

    It is true that by today's standards the computer system used on Apollo would be thought of as very basic. The misconception, however, is that too much emphasis is placed on the role of the computer in the missions. The onboard computer was only used for one purpose: guidance. A task for which it was perfectly adequate.

    The real computer work was done on Earth using mainframe computers. Results of complex calculations were transmitted to the onboard computer which could act upon them.

  • The Apollo craft never left Earth's orbit.

    This is not a very credible theory. Satellites in orbit are easily tracked by radar, and many are actually visible to the naked eye. The Apollo craft, being much larger than satellites, would have been the brightest object in orbit. It is inconceivable that it could have remained in orbit without being noticed by anyone.

  • The crew could not survive the journey through the Van Allen radiation belts.

    The Van Allen belts are two belts of radiation that surround the Earth and are held in place by the Earth's magnetic field. They are doughnut shaped and are more intense around the equator. High energy particles exist in these belts and can be a hazard to both humans and electronic equipment.

    There are two reasons why the radiation was considered to be of little risk:
  1. It only took one hour for the craft to pass through the radiation belts therefore reducing exposure time; and
  2. The spacecraft avoided the centre of the belts, and therefore the most intense radiation.

The astronauts received a radiation dose of less than 1% of that which is considered lethal.

The majority of conspiracy theories focus on the Moon landing itself:

There are many misconceptions that arise regarding the Moon landings. Many of these occur because people compare events in the Apollo pictures with how they would expect those events to occur on Earth. They fail to take into account the reduced gravity on the Moon and the fact that there is no atmosphere there.

  • The lunar module did not create a blast crater when landing.

    1. The lunar module did not hover for long over the landing site. There was no need for an enormous amount of thrust to be used due to the reduced gravity on the Moon, and the exhaust gasses were quickly dispersed into the vacuum; they could not cause disturbance of air molecules around them as they would on Earth.

    2. "Moon dust" is not the same as dust or sand on Earth. There is no weathering on the Moon and the particles are jagged in nature; when compressed they stick together. Any particles that were ejected from the lunar surface, by direct contact with exhaust gasses, would have simply have dropped back to the surface. Large clouds of dust cannot form on the Moon as there is no atmosphere in which to suspend the particles.

    3. There is evidence that where the module landed, most of the lunar dust was blown away by direct contact with exhaust gasses, revealing the rock below:

    blast crater photo

  • The astronauts made clear footprints in a totally dry medium

    This is because lunar dust is not like soil or sand on Earth. The dust, formed by meteorite impacts, remains in the same condition over time as there is no weathering or oxygen on the Moon. When compressed, the jagged shaped particles stick together because they can interlock, and they can form molecular bonds with each other as the bonding sites formed on creation were never filled by oxygen as they would be on Earth.

  • The American flag was waving in the breeze, yet the Moon is airless.

    This is one of the less serious theories. The only time the flag is seen waving is when it is being planted in the ground. As the astronaut is planting the flag he is twisting the pole back and forth. This induces quite a pronounced waving of the flag. This is because of the lack of an atmosphere. There is nothing to dampen the flag's motion.

    It is interesting to note that in other footage astronauts quickly move past the flag, something which could induce motion from disturbed air, yet the flag remains completely still.

Many conspiracy theorists believe that the Moon landings were faked in Area 51, in the Nevada desert, USA. To support this idea they look for inconsistencies in the video and photographic evidence shown by NASA.

  • The sky is black, yet no stars are visible in the photographs.

    This is an illusion caused by the lack of an atmosphere on the Moon. Although the sky, or lack of it, is black, it was still daytime on the lunar surface and the sun was very bright. Photographs taken had to be of short exposure time and the comparatively dim stars did not have time to be recorded on the film.

  • More than one light source was used, this is shown by unparallel shadows.

    This is an example:

    astronaut shadows photo

    The obvious answer is that if two light sources were used the astronauts would each have two shadows. This is clearly not the case.

    This anomaly is caused by perspective. The ground is not perfectly flat; different slopes will cause shadows of different lengths and angles to form. If the astronauts were viewed from above, then their shadows would be seen to be parallel.

  • There is a photograph of an astronaut standing on the lunar surface, saluting the flag, yet he casts no shadow.

    This is another much used photograph, produced to prove that the photographs were faked in some way:

    astronaut no shadows photo

    At first glance the photograph looks unconvincing. The astronaut, John Young, does not seem to be standing on the ground in a natural manner, and there is not a shadow where one would be expected.

    The answer, however, is very simple. The astronaut had jumped up from the surface. His shadow can be seen to his left, exactly where it would be expected to be. There is also a video of this event which confirms this simple explanation.

  • The same background appears from different locations.

    The implication here is that NASA used the same set for many of the fake photographs:

    same background photo

    In the left picture the lunar module is visible, in the right picture the foreground is different yet the background appears to be the same.

    Again the answer is simply one of perspective. On this mission, Apollo 15, the astronauts were collecting Moon rocks. The second photograph would only have to be taken a small distance to the side of the first one for the lunar module to be out of frame. As the hills in the background were approximately five kilometres in the distance they appear to move very little.

    This entirely natural effect is easily reproducible by anyone taking two photographs of a distant object from locations only 10-15 metres apart: the background will appear the same; the foreground will look different.

Conspiracy theorists can offer up many more examples of this type, however, there is nothing that can't be explained very easily.

For an in-depth explanation of photographic anomalies see: http://www.iangoddard.net/moon01.htm (opens in a new window).

Other conspiracy theories are based on a lack of scientific knowledge:

  • Moon rocks are just earth rocks.

    There are some unique properties of Moon rocks that could not be reproduced on Earth.

    Dr. David McKay, Chief Scientist for Planetary Science and Exploration at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC):

    "Just as meteoroids constantly bombard the Moon so do cosmic rays, and they leave their fingerprints on Moon rocks, too. There are isotopes in Moon rocks, isotopes we don't normally find on Earth, that were created by nuclear reactions with the highest-energy cosmic rays. Earth is spared from such radiation by our protective atmosphere and magnetosphere.

    Even if scientists wanted to make something like a Moon rock by, say, bombarding an Earth rock with high energy atomic nuclei, they couldn't. Earth's most powerful particle accelerators can't energize particles to match the most potent cosmic rays, which are themselves accelerated in supernova blastwaves and in the violent cores of galaxies.

    Indeed, faking a Moon rock well enough to hoodwink an international army of scientists might be more difficult than the Manhattan Project. It would be easier to just go to the Moon and get one."

    The Moon rocks have been shared with many countries throughout the world, including the former USSR. Not one scientist from any country has expressed the opinion that the Moon rocks are anything but genuine.

  • When the lunar module took off from the Moon, there was no exhaust flame.

    This is a question of chemistry. People are accustomed to seeing rockets taking off from Earth with a large flame coming out of the back of them.

    The visibility of the reacting exhaust gasses is dependant on the propellants used. The lunar module used nitrogen tetroxide and Aerozine 50 as its propellants. These compounds produce an almost invisible flame. Coupled with the fact that the lunar surface is very bright, that the exhaust gasses are dispersed into a vacuum and that the footage is of low resolution, it would be surprising to see the very little flame that existed.

A nail in the coffin of conspiracy theory

There is one fact that the conspiracy theorists tend to ignore: for good reason.

The Apollo 11 crew deployed a reflector array in the Sea of Tranquility, which is used to reflect laser beams sent from Earth. By beaming laser pulses at the reflector from Earth, scientists have been able to determine the round-trip travel time that gives the distance between the two bodies at any time to an accuracy of about 3 centimetres.

The original reflector, placed in 1969, is still working today. Other reflectors were added later by Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 missions.

It is a testable, and undeniable fact the these reflectors exist on the lunar surface.

See: Apollo 11 Laser Ranging Retroreflector Experiment.

The only answer that conspiracy theorists have, is that they were placed there by a mission employing robots. That mission would have been more complex than sending men there to do it, and the theory is not backed up by one piece of evidence.

The plain fact of the matter is that the reflectors were placed on the lunar surface by the Apollo missions. That is why conspiracy theorists conveniently forget to mention them.

Note: The Soviets also placed a reflecting device on the Moon in 1973, from a robotic probe. As a result, the Lunakhod 2 mirror produces a weaker laser echo than the smaller Apollo reflectors; devices that benefited from the personal attention of humans on the Moon.


Conspiracy theorists have looked for evidence of fakery in the Apollo missions. They have formulated many theories and raised many questions; however those theories and questions can all be answered.

Conspiracy theorists have not brought to light one single piece of evidence that cannot easily be explained.

For scientists, the Moon rocks with their unique composition will be proof in themselves; to historians the huge amount of consistent documentation offers proof; to the layperson, the fact that the lunar reflectors are still working today, is convincing evidence.

Were the Moon landings faked? No.