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link to NASA Kids version of this storyThe Moon Landing Hoax Click to hear this article read aloud
March 30, 2001

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969.

Did we actually send humans to the Moon in the 1960's?  Of course we did!  But some people are claiming that NASA lied about the Apollo program, that we faked the landings.  Actually, it would have been harder to fake the whole thing than to do it!  But many people are confused about it, and have asked NASA to clear it up.

The current confusion began with a TV program called "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" aired  on February 15th, and again on March 21st, 2001.  The program interviewed people who doubted NASA had the technology to make it to the Moon.  They felt that the USA was so eager to win the "Space Race" against the Soviet Union, NASA acted out the Apollo space program in movie studios!  They claimed astronaut Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the Moon, planting the American flag, the bouncy Moon Buggy rides, and even Astronaut Al Shepard's golf shot, were all fake.

But not only did they claim NASA faked the whole thing, but that we did it very poorly!  The so-called "experts" on Conspiracy Theory pointed out a number of things they thought were "errors."  Well, let's look at a couple of them:

Stars in the Lunar Sky

Photo of the Earth over the limb of the Moon
View of the half-Earth above the lunar horizon.

Pictures of astronauts sent from the Moon don't include stars in the dark lunar sky.  How could that be?  Did NASA's film makers forget to turn on the stars?  Most people who take photos know the answer: it's hard to take a picture of something very bright and something else very dim on the same photo.  Ever watch a TV program or movie with outdoor night scenes?  Unless the movie producers fake stars in the sky, or use special cameras, you just don't see stars.  The cameras are adjusted for the actors, and the stars in the background are too dim to see. 

Photo of astronauts planting US flag on the Moon
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969.

A Waving Flag
Everyone has seen the video of astronauts planting a US flag on the Moon.  You can see the flag flexing and rippling. How can that be?  There's no breeze on the Moon. But then, there's no atmosphere, either.  When the astronauts planted the flagpole they twisted it back and forth to sink it into the lunar soil.  On the Earth, that would have made the flag "wave" for a few seconds, then stop.  But that's because the flag pushes against air as it flaps, and the air slows it down.  On the Moon, there was no air to stop the flag's motion, so it continued, just as Newton's First Law of physics says it should.  So of course the cloth flag waved and rippled beneath the metal rod holding it out. 

clipart of space moleNewton's First Law:
Any body at rest tends to stay at rest, and any body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted on by an external force.

The TV show had plenty of other "proofs" not based on fact. All of them are easy to refute.  But perhaps the best answer to claims of a "Moon Hoax" is just plain common sense. 

For instance, Russia, China, East Germany and other cold-war enemies of the USA closely monitored the lunar missions.  It was easy to tell whether the Apollo radio signals were coming from the direction of the Moon, and whether the time delays in conversation matched the distance the signals had to travel.  If anything had seemed wrong, surely these unfriendly countries would have loudly shouted to the world that the USA was pulling a hoax!  Yet none of them ever questioned NASA's accomplishment.  When even your enemy gives you credit for something, it's pretty convincing! 

There is also the issue of Moon rocks.  Apollo astronauts brought 841 pounds of Moon rocks home to Earth, a unique treasure trove that has taught us a great deal about the Moon. 

Photos of moon rocks
Top: a large moon rock nicknamed "Big Muley," weighing 11.7 kg. This rock was the largest returned to Earth by Apollo astronauts.

Bottom: A close-up view showing tiny craters caused by micrometeoroids, an effect not seen in any rocks of Earth because tiny meteoroids burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. 

"Moon rocks are truly unique, and differ from Earth rocks in many ways," says Dr. David McKay of NASA's Johnson Space Center, one of the people who run the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility where most of the Moon rocks are stored.  "Several museums, such as the Smithsonian and others, let the public touch and examine rocks from the Moon," says David.

Dr. McKay says that faking a Moon rock to fool scientists around the world would be next to impossible.  "It would be far easier to just go to the Moon and get one!" he says. 

"There's a big stack of scientific books in my office, full of research papers about Apollo Moon rocks " added McKay.  "Researchers in hundreds of labs have examined Apollo Moon samples -- and not one of them has ever challenged where the rocks came from!  These are not NASA people, either -- but are scientists in dozens of countries to whom we loaned Moon rock samples -- and they have no reason to cooperate in any hoax." 

There are so many other common sense reasons to believe NASA truly sent men to the Moon.  The integrity of the twelve astronauts who walked on the Moon, nine of whom are still living, is one.  The vast number of NASA employees, who are, after all, just regular people doing a job, who would have had to conspire, lie, and maintain the lie for over 30 years is another. 

The Conspiracy Theory program is fun to watch, but be sure to maintain your skepticism!  The hardworking, ingenious Americans who got us to the Moon should be honored for their contributions and their pioneering spirit.  Even though the torch has been handed on to a younger generation of engineers, we are all proud of NASA's legacy. 

Editors: Gil Knier  &  Becky Bray


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March 29, 2001