The Moon landing conspiracy theories – 48 years after Armstrong’s historic moment
The Moon landing conspiracy theories – 48 years after Armstrong’s historic moment
It’s 48 years since Neil Armstrong took that historic first step onto the Moon, but some people still think the whole thing was a gigantic hoax.
Some of the conspiracy theorists claim all the six landings with humans on board between 1969-72 were faked, and that the 12 astronauts that Nasa says walked on the Moon – from the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 missions – never did so.
The disbelief has continued despite high definition images from Nasa’s lunar reconnaissance orbiter taken in the past eight years or so showing such things as lander modules, astronaut footprints and flags at the Apollo landing sites.
In 2008, an episode of the Mythbusters TV series looked at some of the most popular conspiracy theories and, as far as the series’ presenters are concerned, “busted” them.
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“Perhaps one of the biggest myths of all is that Nasa faked the Moon landing and perpetrated a hoax on the American people. So pervasive is this myth that 20 per cent of Americans today still believe it,” presenter Adam Savage said. “Did Nasa pull off the greatest cover up in human history?”
In setting out to disprove the conspiracy theories, the mythbusters could only choose some of the most common claims from a vast array of alleged hoax evidence.
Most of the alleged evidence that Nasa faked the Moon landings came from Nasa’s own photography, which theorists claimed shows clear evidence the landings were faked in the studio and could not have been filmed on the Moon, Savage said.
In an allegedly faked photo, the shadows are not parallel, which conspiracists claimed could only happen with more than one light source.
But when the miniature lunar landscape was given some topography – bumps and hollows – the shadows appear to move out of their parallel paths.
“We’ve demonstrated here two shadows which are parallel from a single light source, which we’ve made look far off parallel using only the topography that they’re sitting on,” Savage said.
Another image shows an astronaut standing in the shadow of a lander. Theorists claim if he really was standing in the shade it would not be possible to see him so clearly. “I think it’s because the Moon’s surface is reflective… look at the Moon on a clear night, it’s obviously reflecting (sun)light back at you..The question here is, is it enough to create this shot,” Hyneman said.
To test theory a model lunar landing module was built, the Moon landing set was blacked out to eliminate any light not coming from the surface of the mocked up Moon. To mimic the reflexity of the Moon, a mixture of cement and charcoal powder was used for its surface. A studio light was used to represent the Sun.
A photograph was taken of an astronaut action figure climbing a ladder to the model lander in the shadow of the craft. “There you go, he’s standing full on in the shadow, and you’d think you wouldn’t be able to see him, he’d be dark but he’s not he’s in brightest day,” Hyneman said.
Some theorists claim the Moon landing footage is fake because some of the things shown in footage from the Moon are impossible to do in a vacuum.
Flags look like they’re flapping in the wind, which conspiracists claim would be impossible in a vacuum, which has no air and therefore no wind
Another theory is that astronauts couldn’t leave footprints as distinct as those photographed on the Moon because there’s no moisture in a vacuum and it’s the moisture that holds a footprint together.
“These vacuum theories are some of the more convincing in the conspiracy canon,” Savage said.
Tests for the flag and footprint claims were carried out in vacuum chambers at Nasa’s George C Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
For the footprint theory, a genuine Moon boot was used, pushed down into a Nasa-produced simulant similar to Moon dust, in which each particle is very sharp, unlike dirt on Earth where particles have been weathered and are smooth.
“Will the irregular shape of lunar regolith, in conjunction with the vacuum result in a clean bootprint?” Savage wondered.
When the mock Moon dust was put in a tray in a vacuum chamber and the boot stomped into it, it left the clear impression of a footprint, even though no water vapour was present.
To test the flag theory, presenter Grant Imahara built a replica of the lunar flag assembly, put it in a vacuum chamber and built a mechanism to rotate it in imitation of an astronaut planting the flag.
The assembly has a horizontal rod that runs along the top of the flag, specifically designed to prevent the flag from collapsing in a windless environment.
In a vacuum chamber, without drag or friction the momentum of the action of planting the flag lasted for a surprising amount of time, Savage said. The vacuum test looked almost identical to the Nasa footage.
“It could be mistaken for a breeze, but it’s lower air resistance,” Imahara said. “That proves you don’t need wind to move a flag in a vacuum.”
Footage of astronauts jumping around on the Moon
Conspiracy theorists claim footage of astronauts moving around on the Moon was produced with camera trickery on Earth. Their argument is that the astronauts were skipping around on a film set and it was shown in slow motion.
Savage and Hyneman tried to replicate three actions shown on footage from the Moon – jumping straight up into the air, skipping (kind of a two-legged hop), and running. They matched the camera angle and technique supposedly used to fake the footage.
In space suit costume, Savage copied the actions of the astronauts. He was filmed at 48 frames per second, then the footage was played back at the regular 24.
Secondly, he was put in a trapeze harness to simulate the gravity on the Moon – a sixth of that on Earth.
Savage and Hyneman sounded a bit concerned that the footage of Savage didn’t look that different from the footage taken on the Moon.
Hyneman reckoned that in the slow motion footage – without the harness – Savage’s helmet could be seen jerking around in a “distinctly Earth-like fashion”. With the harness, Savage lacked that “smooth low-gravity look”.
Not totally convinced by their footage, the mythbusters went up in a plane flying in a series of parabolic arcs so the microgravity in the cabin was the same as the gravitational pull on the Moon.
Savage put on equipment weighing about 80kg to mimic the weight of the gear worn by the astronauts. On the plane he carried out the same skip and run as before. There wasn’t enough room to jump.
“Nothing (of the rest of the Mythbusters’ footage) really compares to what we saw here on this plane,” Hyneman said. “So, as far as I’m concerned, they went to the Moon.”
For their final proof, the mythbusters made use of a giant laser at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. They aimed the laser at the Apollo 15 landing site, one of the places where a retroreflector – made up of of tiny prisms – had been left for scientists to point lasers at and learn more about the Moon.
Equipment at the observatory picked up light returning from the retroreflector, although it was far too weak to be seen by the human eye.
“The only way that that could happen is if there was a piece of manmade equipment up on the Moon to reflect them back,” Savage said.
The mythbusters were confident they had busted the conspiracy theories, although Savage acknowledged doubters could respond by saying: “You guys replicated the Moon shot on a set, and you’re special effects artists. You’re exactly the guys they would have hired to do this kind of thing in the first place.”
Space.com put together a list of the top 10 hoax theories. It included some of those challenged on Mythbusters, while adding some others.
* No stars in the photographs.
According to Space.com this is because the brightness of nearby objects washes out the film.
* Radiation would have killed the astronauts.
The Van Allen Belts trap radiation in a layer surrounding the Earth. Unless a spaceship was deliberately hovered in the layer for many hours or days, the radiation exposure is well below dangerous levels.
* In sunlight the Moon’s temperature is around 140C. Film, and other things, would have melted.
Nothing was being left on the hot lunar surface. Material was in protective canisters, and the missions landed at dawn or dusk, making the temperature more manageable.
* Super-fast micrometeors would kill the astronauts.
Vast amounts of debris is travelling through space at speeds of up to nearly 200,000kmh, but space is so huge that the density is low. The chance of any cubic metre of space having a micrometeor passing through it, is incredibly close to zero.
* Lunar modules left no craters when they took off.
Below a dusty surface, the Moon is fairly densely packed rock. Any loose dust was kicked up.
*The buggy was too big to fit in the module.
The rover was cleverly constructed, made of light materials and folded up compactly.