In recent years, for reasons which I find incomprehensible, much publicity has been given to the so-called “Apollo Hoax” conspiracy theory – the absurd idea that the Apollo Moon landings were somehow faked, in a con trick of monumental proportions, by the United States government.
How all this started escapes me, but the conspiracy theory is mainly based upon various so-called discrepancies or anomalies in the photographic and video records of the Apollo missions. Every one of these has a rational explanation; indeed, many are so glaringly false that anyone with even the most elementary knowledge of physics, astronomy or astronautics can demolish them.
Almost as baffling is the question of why they imagine that the US government would have wanted to do such a thing! The conspiracy theorists’ “logic” – and I use the word very loosely! – appears to go something like this:
As we all know, the early “Space Race” was exactly that – a political competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, to achieve superiority in space, and therefore, by inference, military superiority. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued his famous challenge to the nation, to land men on the Moon before the end of the decade.
This much is entirely true. But, say the conspiracy theorists, somewhere along the way, NASA realised that its technology wasn’t up to the task, and that it wouldn’t be possible to achieve the goal. Rather than admit defeat, which would have been a major political embarrassment, they decided to fake the whole thing.
It has recently been said that as many as one person in five in the United States now “have doubts” as to whether the landings really happened ( which isn’t the same thing as actually believing that they were faked ) – though that is probably a considerable exaggeration. Presumably, most of those people are simply naive or gullible enough to believe the drivel being peddled by a few individuals. But the originators of the conspiracy theory – the authors and producers of certain books, videos and so-called TV “documentaries” which claim to “prove” that the landings were faked, fall mainly into two categories – those who have some kind of grudge against the United States in general or its government in particular, and jump at any chance to vilify it, and conmen who are out to make a fast buck from the naive and the gullible – “The truth will be revealed, if you pay $29.95 for my video.”
I’m sure that most sensible and rational people have no time at all for this preposterous notion; indeed, those who know me may well wonder why, as an astronomer and spaceflight enthusiast, I’m bothering to write about it. I myself have previously said that I refused to waste my breath on debunking it, or responding to the conspiracy theorists’ ridiculous arguments. On the other hand, given the rising popularity of the idea, it’s probably a good thing for us to have a set of answers ready to hand, so that if we ever come face to face with a dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist, we’ll be able to shoot down his arguments without even having to think about it!
In this essay, I intend to debunk as many as possible of the conspiracy theorists’ arguments, which they claim to be “evidence” in support of their allegations – but before I do so, I should state my credentials. Most of the authors of material which promotes the “hoax” theory don’t tell us anything about their credentials or qualifications, if any, which qualify them to make the criticisms of Apollo which they do; that is probably because they don’t have any! Indeed, many of their arguments clearly show that they lack even the most basic understanding of physics or engineering.
So – my credentials. I don’t really have any to speak of – but unlike the conspiracy theorists ( for the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to them as CTs from now on ), I admit it! By that, I mean that I don’t have any qualifications which enable me to comment with any degree of expertise on such things as spacecraft engineering. I do, however, have an honours degree in astrophysics ( University of Leeds, England, 1983 ), and I'm a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society – so I do pretty well know what I’m talking about, when it comes to the basic principles of physics and astronomy. I also have a lifelong interest in spaceflight and its history; I followed the Apollo missions intently as a child - whereas many of the CTs weren’t even born at the time – and I’ve read at least a couple of million words on the subject since.
I’ve also had some assistance from my friends Dr. John McCue, who is more highly qualified than I am - John is a former teacher of maths and physics, and has a Ph.D. in astronomy – and Peter Rea, a fellow lifelong space enthusiast, whose knowledge of the American space programme is probably unrivalled by anyone in the UK.
The answers which I present here are a mixture of my own reasoning and information obtained from various sources; in the case of the latter, I’ll give credit where it’s due. Many people have already debunked the CTs’ arguments, who are far better qualified than me to do so. The best debunking web site I know of is "Moon Base Clavius", www.clavius.org , by aerospace engineer Jay Windley. Other good ones are Phil Plait’s "Bad Astronomy" site, http://www.badastronomy.com/index.html , ( which also debunks the “Face on Mars”, alarmist claims about planetary alignments, and lots of other such rubbish ) and that of Jim McDade of the University of Alabama, http://188.8.131.52:8081/moonshot/debunking.htm . I’ll frequently refer to these sources; where I quote material from these sites, it will always be credited to their authors.
Before I begin my debunking, let me make something clear. I’m not trying to tell the reader how to think; thankfully, we live in a free society, in which everyone has the right to believe whatever they like, and to express their views in public – however misguided others may consider them. ( Within reasonable limits, that is; I recently heard of a case of a schoolteacher telling her pupils that Apollo was faked – which is definitely not acceptable! And I feel nothing but absolute contempt for those who make the obscene allegation that NASA murdered three of its astronauts – those who tragically died in the Apollo 1 fire – because they were about to blow the whistle. ) I am, however, urging people to consider the evidence and think for themselves. The CTs prey on the fact that many people are simply too lazy to do this. Many will blindly accept as fact what someone tells them, just because that someone appears to know what he is talking about – which could simply mean that he is a good actor! – or will claim that something must be true, “because I saw it on TV”.
I’m sure that most people reading this will not entertain any slightest doubt that the Moon landings really happened – but if anyone does , then I urge you to apply a little critical thinking to the CTs’ arguments ( a good definition of critical thinking is “careful and deliberate determination of whether to accept, reject, or suspend judgment” ), and then decide for yourself.
Return to Contents