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The moon landing hoax hoax in the daily Press:

The article underneath has been published in the newspaper Mercury News, California, on July 21, 2003, author is Philip Plait.

Note to moon landing conspiracy fans visiting my web site:
The reason that I post the article underneath is that its author is right. My part against the moon landing conspiracy sillyness is here, (French only for now) my part about the planet X sillyness is here.

I added some notes and images of my own (white background) in-between Philip Plait's article.

Moon-landing conspiracy theories weightless persistent

July 21.03

When I was 6, my family drove from our suburban Washington, D.C., home to Florida. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. We arrived at Cape Canaveral and parked along the Banana River, waiting. On the morning of July 26, 1971, a few days after our arrival, we watched in amazement as the countdown ticked to zero and an immense Saturn V rocket lofted three men into space, to the moon.

Four days later, the lunar module Falcon touched down at the Hadley Rille, beginning the fourth exploration of the moon by astronauts. Or did it? Is it possible that the Apollo 15 liftoff that I and millions of other people saw that week was a fake, a hoax?

Even today -- the 34th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, the first arrival by astronauts on the lunar surface -- there are people who think the whole program was a sham.

The Saturn V rockets did indeed launch, they claim, but their cargo was an empty capsule and an epic lie. These people think NASA pulled the biggest scam in history: The space agency faked the lunar missions and bilked the American public out of about 30 billion bucks.

I saw the astronauts land though our TV set when I was 6. It did not resemble the science fiction movies and series that anyone saw on TV in the many years that followed. It is obvious that if the images of the moon landing had been faked, they would never have resisted over more than three decades. They would now appear as TV SF series of the seventies appear, and everyone would laugh at it.

Look at, astronauts on the moon in Kubrik's "2001 a space Odyssey". (Look, this one is real, there's the stars in the sky, Kubrik went to the moon!) or, a spaceship's interior in Kubrik's "2001 a space Odyssey."

(Above: a real spaceship's interior, ISS, 2001.)

Sound silly? It might, but a lot of people believe it. In 1999, the same year that surveys showed most Americans picked the moon landings as the greatest achievement of the century, a Gallup poll found that 6 percent of the American public didn't believe the landings took place at all. NASA even decided last year to commission a short book to refute the lunar deniers, but later dropped the idea.

Why is this conspiracy theory around, and in the world's most technologically advanced country? For one thing, the American public loves a good conspiracy. The moon-hoax idea has the allure of big-government shenanigans, coupled with mysterious science.

Astronomy is one of the newest playgrounds for such theories. People have a natural wonder about the universe, but generally lack the background in physics and math to understand it. And hoax advocates can be skilled at twisting logic and science to their benefit.

There are more reasons. For example, science is now at the service of commercial and military technology, and people have no part in this; they have legitimate suspicions, and they do not trust so much elaborate scientific words, which are not meant to be understood by laymen. People have also learned that they have been deceived many times on serious issues.

Take another recent example, the notion that a huge, undiscovered "Planet X" was about to have a close encounter with Earth, creating all kinds of havoc: earthquakes, volcanoes, destructive weather, your basic apocalyptic events. A lot of people swallowed it whole.

The date prophesized for this literally Earth-shattering event? May 15, 2003. You may note we are all still alive.

See here. The responsibilities for "Planet X" mythologies are shared. People first fear that a piece of comet crashes onto them. I am not so certain that this is entirely irrational. Of course, the mythology elaborated around this fear is irrational.

Feeding the affinity

These theories come and go, finding fertile ground especially on television. The moon-hoax premise sounded convincing (or at least marketable) enough to Fox Television to air a "documentary" in February 2001 titled "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?"

This hourlong program presented quite a bit of "evidence" that the missions were faked, mostly in the form of photographs taken by the astronauts, but also in interviews with several self-proclaimed experts who toil away at elaborate conspiracy theories.

Much hullabaloo is made over the lack of stars in the Apollo images. It's true that just about every picture taken in orbit and from the surface of the moon shows a jet-black sky, devoid of stars. (The sky is black, even during the lunar day, because there is no air on the moon.) That black sky, claim the hoax believers, should be overflowing with stars -- since there are no stars in the Apollo photographs, the pictures must be faked.

Answering this claim is simple. When the astronauts were on the moon, they didn't try to take pictures of stars. That's not what they were there for; they were there to take close-up pictures of the moon. While the sky may have been dark, the ground certainly wasn't, so the astronauts' cameras were set to expose correctly for a sunlit scene.

As everyone who has used a manually adjustable camera will realize, the exposure times were therefore very short, so the relatively faint stars don't show up.

Absolutely. Anyone can pick up a camera and take some photographs outside at night. Except for particular conditions, no star will appear on the photographs. There are moon surface photographs with stars, by the way.

Theory after theory

Another big claim made by conspiracy theorists is that the amount of radiation in the Earth's magnetic fields is high enough to kill space travelers, yet the Apollo astronauts apparently passed through unharmed. Since most people don't know much about radiation, this hoax claim appears to bear some weight. But it's just as wrong as the claim that stars should be visible in pictures.

Much of the radiation was blocked by the wall of the spacecraft and the spacesuits worn by the astronauts. Conspiracy theorists make all sorts of claims about the need for thick sheets of lead to stop the dangerous rays, but the type of radiation in space is not like an X-ray. It's a different kind of radiation that can, in fact, be blocked by small amounts of material.

Moreover, the Apollo astronauts zipped through the highest radiation zones in about an hour. They didn't receive a dose anywhere near enough to harm them.

Absolutely. Pilots risk more.

The claims go on and on. Why does the American flag "wave" on the airless moon? Because it was attached to a wobbling pole that the astronauts were struggling to plant in the tough lunar surface when the images were taken. Why wasn't there a huge blast crater on the lunar surface under the descent module? Because the rocket engine was throttled back and the exhaust was spread out over a huge area, resulting in a very low pressure on the surface, far too low to dig a hole.

How can it be that all those pictures taken from the moon were exposed and framed perfectly? They weren't! You see only the good ones. The bad ones are in an archive and don't get published in magazines because they aren't pretty.

Absolutely. Here is Mars picture 12A045 by the Viking lander that never appears in magazines because there are parasites on the left; one needs to order the raw images CD-Rom at NASA to get it:

Some of the claims sound plausible on the surface. By withholding a little bit of knowledge, the arguments sound reasonable. But when you see the whole picture, these arguments are as vacuous as space itself.

Negating the nonsense

I wrote a point-by-point rebuttal for the Fox TV show on my Web site. I couldn't stand to let such ridiculous and grossly incorrect claims go uncontested.

This section of my site has received millions of visits, meaning a fair fraction of the people who watched that awful Fox program got to see a more balanced view. NASA itself is a font of information, offering, for example, everything a curious person would ever want to know about flags in space


At the same time, elsewhere on the Internet the lunar-conspiracy sites multiply. There is no end to nonsense, especially on the Web.

Still, some good may yet come of the moon-hoax dispute. It has people thinking about space travel in general and the moon landings in particular. It certainly rekindled my interest in the Apollo missions.

Pictures from the lunar probe Clementine's 1994 mission show what look like the landing scars of Apollo 15, whose liftoff I witnessed so long ago.

Future images from other probes may once again clearly reveal the artifacts left by humans on the moon.

I'd very much like to see those images. Watching the Apollo 15 mission get under way that warm summer morning inspired me, in part, to become a scientist. Now, as an astronomer, I'm fully aware of the reality of the lunar landings. I don't need further proof. But it would be nice to come full circle, and, after more than 30 years, see images of the accomplishment that so shaped a young boy's dreams.

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This page was last updated on July 24, 2003.