Subscribe and Save!

Join our email list and stay informed about our latest sales, events in space, and guides from our astronomy experts!

Subscribe and Save!

Join our email list and stay informed about our latest sales, events in space, and guides from our astronomy experts!

One Giant Leap or One Giant Lie? Guest Blogger and Sky-Watcher Ambassador HELENA COCHRANE Debunks Apollo Moon Hoax Claims

One Giant Leap or One Giant Lie? Guest Blogger and Sky-Watcher Ambassador HELENA COCHRANE Debunks Apollo Moon Hoax Claims


Lunar soil particles (called regolith) have sharp, jagged edges because there's
no erosion on the Moon from wind and rain.  This boot print could remain unchanged for thousands or millions of years. 

 On July 20th 1969 the world changed forever when Apollo 11 landed what was arguably NASA’S most ground breaking mission on the lunar surface. Everyone in the world put their lives on pause, watching in awe as man set foot on this foreign body. The landing broke the boundaries of what was possible, and since, mankind has never looked at the world the same. However, soon after the return of the astronauts, conspiracies started unfolding which made a minority question if it had happened at all. So did Neil Armstrong take his giant leap from Earth to the Moon, or was it all an undisclosed mission into the depths of a Hollywood film set?

In this cropped image from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter you can literally see
the Moon buggy tire tracks (the parallel ones) of Apollo 17

The largest argument against the crew making history on the lunar surface lies within the physics of the two ‘Van Allen’ radiation belts extending hundreds of miles beyond Earth. The innermost starting at an altitude of 600km-13,000km and the outermost starting at 13,500km to roughly 40,000km. How far they extended was dependent on solar activity and was subject to change frequently. Many doubters deemed it impossible for astronauts to make it past this obstacle unharmed. Surely the amount of exposure the astronauts would receive would be lethal and kill them then and there, no questions asked, right?

Wrong. Scientists were well aware of this issue way before the launch of Apollo 11 and strategically planned a route around the problem. The facts were set straight: the charged particles within the belts were highly damaging to any living body that passed through. There was no arguing with this, and no way to control the extent of radiation being emitted. Instead, NASA worked with what they could change to make it work: planning the trajectory carefully around harmful hotspots of the particles and minimizing the time exposed to them altogether. In the end the route took the astronauts away from the denser, inner belt and swiftly through the outer belt which contained a more sporadic lay out of the particles. Checks after the journey revealed that Neil, Michael, and Buzz only absorbed 0.38 (rad) which is the equivalent of the amount you’d be exposed to when receiving a CT scan of your brain.


A further question many believe shows that the mission to the Moon was deceiving is: ‘Why are there no stars visible in the pictures taken of the Moon landing?’ If the photos were taken in space, we should be able to identify stars in the sky – especially since there was no atmosphere to distort the images or clouds to disrupt the infinite view of space above. Deniers argue that the reason we don’t see any are because we didn’t go to the Moon. It would’ve been easier to film the landing in a studio than replicate the true beauty of the entire night sky in editing – something that is too vast and unique to fake…apparently.

However, scientists and even day to day photographers can effortlessly debunk this theory and to understand why it is wrong we need to appreciate the basic principles of how a camera works. If a scene is to be correctly exposed relative to the amount of light present, a photographer needs to consider the aperture and shutter speed of the camera. In basic terms, a smaller aperture and a faster shutter speed means less light hits the camera sensor. Imagine you are photographing a bright landscape scene during the day, with the bright rays from the Sun bursting into your camera frame. To compensate for the large amounts of light you’ll want to decrease your aperture and shutter speed until you see a correctly lit scene. Without doing so, the image will become ‘over exposed’ due to too much light hitting the sensor: resulting in a completely white image.

Now, let’s relate this analysis back to Apollo 11. Imagine one astronaut is photographing another on the lunar surface. Overall, the image will lack color, but the two most contrasting elements will be the dark sky with the light astronaut suit in the foreground. Therefore, to correctly expose for the astronaut and allow them to be visible, a small aperture will need to be used to let as little light in as possible. This means that the camera’s shutter won’t be open for long enough to capture stars in the sky, as they are too dim to be picked up with such a low aperture. So, why did the astronauts not take the time to setup and take these longer exposures of stars to look photogenic for the press, you ask? Simple. They were too busy exploring the Moon! I know I’d want to live in the moment if I was bouncing around in little to no gravity on another planet. The papers could wait!   


Apollo astronauts training with the infamous extend-o flag

Undoubtedly one of the most well-known photos taken after the landing is of Buzz Aldrin proudly saluting to the pitched flag of America, representing their win in the space race against the Soviet Union. Many disbelievers saw this photo and took to the heavens writing conspiracies about one very specific element of it – the flag itself. With their being no atmosphere on the Moon, there is no wind, and yet the flag still appears to be waving in a breeze in many photos that have been developed. What’s more, the ripple in the material suggests wind was present, making conspiracists think they were effects of warehouse air conditioning. Lastly, how come it’s upright and not laying on its side as it would on Earth if there was no wind present?

The solution is simple – and genius. NASA really did think of everything before this mission and placed a horizontal rod in the flags to keep them upright for photographs. Professor Ojha explains the reason for the creases in the material: “It’s literally been screwed up for four days on route to the Moon,” which makes sense when you think about how much gear the astronauts had to pack into a tight space. Moreover, the flagpole design was intuitively thought through by NASA engineers prior to lift off. It had a base that allowed it to sink easier into the lunar surface – and a red marking 18 inches from the end to help Neil know how far to pitch it. The flag was deployed at 4 days, 14 hours, and 9 minutes into the mission.


In the words of Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Have you really thought about what it would take to fake a Moon landing… seems to me to be way easier to just go to the Moon.” And he’s absolutely right. It would have been a much larger ordeal to keep a lie this huge under cover. From the Saturn V rocket blueprints to the lunar rock samples brought back to be identified in labs as lunar objects, the US would have had to work a lot harder to stop the cracks in their plan from showing. For crying out loud, people watched the rocket go up – that’s a primary source of evidence! If it went up took a little orbit around the planet and came straight back again forcing the astronauts to hide away for the duration of the trip…then explain to me re-entry. Apollo 11 will not go down in the history books as anything other than something that has changed the way we perceive the world; it was indeed “One small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind,” on July 20th 1969.

Editor's note: 

Debunking space conspiracies is fun and usually pretty easy. But here's some links to folks who went the extra mile for further proof of the Apollo Moon landings. Enjoy with some of your more incredulous friends and family members!

1. Modern filmmaker details the impossibility of faking the Moon landing with late 60's filmmaking technology

2. Video game and AI graphics experts NVIDIA reverse engineer the physics of light in the original Apollo images. 

3. All of the images of all six Apollo Moon landing sites from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. 


And follow Helena Cochrane's INSTAGRAM for awesome deep space astrophotography!

Previous article The What's Up? Webcast Webcast-A-Thon Xtreme
Next article Guest Blogger and Newly Minted Brand Ambassador FIONA MORRIS: Beginner Astroimaging with the Star Adventurer