Why Do Some People Believe the Moon Landings Were a Hoax?

Some people think the United States didn't really land on the moon. How come? See more pictures of the moon.
Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ever since NASA broadcast its visits to the moon between 1969 and 1972 to millions of people around Earth, conspiracy theorists have debated endlessly over ph­otographs and video of the journey. Judging by the dedication some have to the cause, the subject of whether or not the moon landings were a hoax rivals only the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the presence of Area 51 in popularity. The Fox Network even aired a television special in 2001, nearly 30 years after the last Apollo mission, titled "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?"

Poring over every single detail for inconsistencies and potential government tampering, people who buy the moon landing conspiracy theory strive to prove NASA never went to the moon -- instead, they believe the organization filmed a series of fake moon landings in a studio, complete with props, astronaut costumes and intricate lighting setups.


But why would NASA and the U.S. government pull off such a strange stunt? The moon landings took place during the Cold War and a tense point in the nuclear arms race, an era in which the two world superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union (or what is now Russia), competed for technological superiority. Some believe that because sending astronauts into outer space and onto the moon would be incredibly expensive, the U.S. didn't have enough money to complete the project. According to the conspiracy theorists, faking the moon landings would be much cheaper -- if it were convincing enough, it could still send a message to Russia that the United States had the better technology.

What are some of the claims by the moon landing conspiracy theorists? What have they pointed out, and do their arguments have any validity? And what do scientists have to say about these conspiracy theories? To get answers to these questions and more, put on your tin foil hats and read the next page.


The Moon Landing Hoax Evidence

Astronaut James Irwin salutes in front of the landing module of the Apollo 15 on the moon. But why aren't there any stars in the background?
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

So what sort of evidence have conspiracy theorists gathered that might suggest the whole event was a fake? Some 50 years of research has given them some interesting points:

1. There aren't any stars in the background.


One detail doubters often point to is the background of many of the NASA photos. In pictures of the moon's landscapes, there aren't any stars in the sky -- it just looks like a big, black void of space. Since the moon has no atmosphere, shouldn't there be millions of stars dotting the background of these photos? If the landings were faked on a studio stage, did the photographers make a huge mistake and just forget to "turn on" the stars?

Unfortunately for conspiracy theorists, the nature of photography strikes down their argument. The light from the sun hitting the surface of the moon is too bright for any camera to capture something in the distance -- it would wash out any light coming from distant stars in the sky. Even if you were standing on the surface of the moon yourself, you would have to block the landscape from your vision to see any notable points of light. This happens for the same reason that stars are harder to see in big cities than in wide open fields -- there's a lot more light bouncing around from street lamps in the city, so the stars are hidden from view. Your best bet to see the countless numbers of stars in space would be to travel to the dark side of the moon.

2. The "C" rock

One of the most famous photos shows a stray moon rock that appears to have the letter "C" written or stamped on it. This gives off the impression that most of the larger moon rocks seen in pictures from the moon landing are simply props -- a set designer could have labeled this stray moon rock with a letter and accidentally left it turned over for the camera to see.

Scientists and representatives from NASA claim the "C" is just a photographic glitch -- a stray hair that found its way into the developing process -- or a hoax in itself. There's a possibility someone took the original, untouched photo and added the "C" in afterward.

For more conspiracy theories on the moon landing, see the next page.


More Fake Moon Landing Evidence

Some people think that different shadow lengths in the Apollo moon landing photos suggest artificial lighting.
Image courtesy NASA

3. Different shadow lengths

Some people point out that some of the shadows given off by the astronauts are different in length, even though they might be standing close to each other. This might suggest that a faulty lighting system was set up on a stage somewhere, and NASA failed to notice any inconsistencies.


Scientists argue that the photos were taken on rough, hilly landscapes, which are bound to produce all kinds of wacky shadow lengths no matter where you stand. If you take a picture on a snow-covered hill, for instance, the same kind of effect will likely take place.

4. The American flags appear to "flap" in the breeze.

In video footage of the astronauts hoisting up American flags and planting them in the ground, a slight breeze appears to life up the fabric. The moon, however, shouldn't have such types of weather -- there isn't an atmosphere on the moon, so there isn't any air to blow around and ruffle the flags. Was the flag scene filmed in a drafty studio or outside? If it were a hoax, were the filmmakers just too lazy to redo the shot?

The flag was constructed specially for the moon's surface. A taut wire runs through the fabric along its top, allowing it to stand erect like a windswept flag on Earth. Without the wire, the flag would droop like any other flag hanging in space. The astronauts simply cause the flapping themselves by struggling to plant the flagpole into the ground and bumping it around.

A 16mm film frame of astronaut John Young driving around the surface of the moon. Did NASA slow down footage of the moon landings to simulate weightlessness?
Image courtesy NASA

5. Slow-motion film and wires

Some have pointed out the possibility that in order to create the effect of weak gravity on the moon, the astronauts were carried by thin wires and filmed jumping around. NASA then slowed down the film, according to the conspiracy theorists, in order to make it look like they were floating through the air. Doubters have gone far enough to construct their own wiring systems, film themselves and slow down the footage to compare it to NASA's video.

Scientists refute this claim because of the dust kicked around by the astronauts as they jump around the moon's surface. If NASA filmed the video on Earth, the dust would gather into clouds because of air in the atmosphere. Instead, the dust is kicked up and falls right back to the ground without collecting or floating around. NASA would have had to build an entire studio and suck all of the air out to create a vacuum, something that would be incredibly difficult even by today's standards.

So are these points enough to prove that the moon landings were just fakes? Dr. David McKay, Chief Scientist for Planetary Science and Exploration at NASA's Johnson Space Center, noted after Fox's conspiracy theory television spot that faking the moon landing and duping thousands of scientists around the world would probably be more difficult than keeping the secrets of the Manhattan Project. And on Sept. 3, 2006, the European Space Agency's (ESA) SMART-1 probe purposefully crash-landed on the surface of the moon -- before it touched down, it was taking images and data from the moon's landscape, including that of previous moon landings. The ESA hasn't released any photos or video, yet, but doubters and believers alike are waiting to see any concrete evidence of past expeditions.

For lots more information on the moon, space and other related material, see the next page.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Leonard, David. "End of conspiracy theories? Spacecraft snoops Apollo moon sites." Space.com. March 4, 2005. http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/050304_moon_snoop.html
  • Phillips, Tony. "The Great Moon Hoax." Science@NASA. Feb. 23, 2001. http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast23feb_2.htm
  • Stenger, Richard. "NASA debunks moon landing hoax conspiracy." CNN.com. Feb. 19, 2001. http://archives.cnn.com/2001/TECH/space/02/19/nasa.moon/