Posted by: Ed Darrell | May 17, 2012

Moon Hoax? How do we know what really happened?

This is a rerun of a post from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, originally posted in 2006 and which has run on the Wayback Machine earlier- with explicit permission of the author.

In a classroom discussion of “how do we know what we know” about history, another student brought up the allegations that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) faked the manned Moon landings. That makes about a dozen times this year a kid has mentioned this claim (who thinks to start counting these things?). The kid was pretty unshakable in his convictions — after all, he said, how can a flag wave in a vacuum?

Astronaut from Apollo 14, on the Moon with U.S. flag - NASA photo via Wikimedia

Astronaut from Apollo 14, on the Moon with U.S. flag – NASA photo via Wikimedia

I usually mention a couple of things that the fake claimers leave out — that dozens, if not hundreds, of amateur astronomers tracked the astronauts on their way to the Moon, that many people intercepted the radio transmissions from the Moon, that one mission retrieved debris from an earlier unmanned landing, etc. Younger students who lack experience in serious critical thinking have difficulty with these concepts. They also lack the historic background — the last manned Moon landing occurred when their parents were kids, perhaps. They didn’t grow up with NASA launches on television, and the whole world holding its breath to see what wonders would be found in space.

Phil Plait runs a fine blog called Bad Astronomy. Five years ago he got fed up with the Fox Television program claiming the Moon landings were hoaxes, and he made a significant reply that should be in some hall of fame for debunking hoaxes. Since the claim that the Moon landings were hoaxes is, itself, a hoax, I have titled this “Debunking the Moon landing hoax hoax.”

Cover of "Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions a...

Phil Plait’s book debunks the idea that the Moon landings were hoaxes, too. Cover via Amazon

In any case, if you’re wondering about whether the Moon landings were hoaxes, you need to see Phil Plait’s post. Phil writes:

From the very first moment to the very last, the program is loaded with bad thinking, ridiculous suppositions and utterly wrong science. I was able to get a copy of the show in advance, and although I was expecting it to be bad, I was still surprised and how awful it was. I took four pages of notes. I won’t subject you to all of that here; it would take hours to write. I’ll only go over some of the major points of the show, and explain briefly why they are wrong.

Also, consider these chunks of evidence, which Phil does not mention so far as I know:

First, the first Moon landing left a mirror on the surface, off of which Earth-bound astronomers may bounce laser transmissions in order to measure exactly the distance from the Earth to the Moon. The American Institute of Physics has radio stories about the research results. Those who claim the landings were hoaxes have never been able to explain this mirror to my satisfaction — ask them how it got there if it wasn’t delivered by Apollo astronauts.

Second, Apollo 12 astronauts retrieved parts of the unmanned lunar probe Surveyor 3, which had landed on the Moon in 1967. That would be impractical to fake. It’s possible, I suppose, that someone could have conceived of the hoax a decade before it was necessary, and made a duplicate probe — but it defies all logic and history to claim that NASA undertook Surveyor 3 solely to provide physical evidence to claim a lunar landing that didn’t happen. A simpler explanation is that the Apollo 12 astronauts really landed and really retrieved the parts from Surveyor 3. A side note: My recollection is that a mold was found inside a camera recovered, indicating that molds can survive trips through the vacuum of space, and the temperature extremes for at least three years on the Moon. I’m not sure a hoax inventor could have conceived of that little bit — it’s too fantastic, and as Twain noted, in fiction one must stick to the possibilities.

NASA itself has a fine article debunking the hoax claims.

Jim Scotti’s site refutes the claims of hoax.

Photo above from Apollo 14, Alan Shepard’s “golf shot” trip.


  1. I find this very interesting, and I do believe that moon landings were real.

  2. […] Moon Hoax? How do we know what really happened? ( […]

  3. Do you really believe that the photo of Apollo 12 you show has really been taken on the moon?
    Don’t you know that, when the shadow of the photographer is on the middle of the photo, it can never be in profile?

    • No, I don’t know that. I have taken photos myself where my shadow is in the picture. It happens all the time. If by “profile” you mean “from the side,” I note that this shadow is not a side profile. The sun was at the photographer’s back, that is all.

      Besides, we now have photos of this landing site from overhead, showing the tracks of the astronauts, the remaining portion of the lunar lander, and a pole where the flag would be.

      Plus, have you seen XKCD’s brilliant, but snarky, takedown of the hoax claims? Here, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

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