An opinionated essay by Daily Planet Reporter, Clare Cade.
On July 20, 1969, at approximately 20:17 UTC, two Americans made history by becoming the first men to step foot on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin turned President Kennedy’s space mission into a reality with this voyage—but some conspiracy theorists believe that it was all a lie.
A popular modern conspiracy revolves around the idea that we never actually made it to the moon; instead, the moon landing was faked in a Hollywood studio as a ploy to make the Russians think that we had beaten them in the great space race during the Cold War period. This conspiracy gained traction around the mid 1970’s.
The theory offers some attempts at proof of this claim, but two stand out as being stated more often than the rest: the fact that the flag in the video of the astronauts landing was waving while there is no wind on the moon, and that the technology of the time wasn’t good enough to actually get us to the moon. These two claims can be debunked by taking a closer look at the facts of the landing.
One of the most well-known claims that moon landing deniers often put forward is that in the video of the landing, the American flag appears to be waving; however, since there is no wind in space, this would not be possible.
Nonetheless, the flags used by the NASA astronauts “had a horizontal rod inside to make them stick out from the flagpole” (Little). This was used so that the flag would not droop in pictures, as there would be no wind or atmosphere to hold it aloft.
According to the History website, “the Apollo 11 astronauts had trouble extending the rod all the way, and in still pictures, this creates a ripple effect that makes the flag look like it’s waving in the wind. In video images of the flag, you can see it only moves while the astronauts are grinding it into the moon’s surface” (Little).
A NASA report from 1993 written about the political and technical aspects of placing a flag on the moon confirms this: “they designed a flagpole with a horizontal bar allowing the flag to ‘fly’ without the benefit of wind to overcome the effects of the moon’s lack of an atmosphere” (Platoff).
Another reason that conspiracists usually give for denying the moon landing is that they believe that the technology of the era simply wasn’t sophisticated enough to actually get us to the moon. A lot of what flew at the time was unproven and experimental.
Buzz Aldrin’s PhD thesis “Line of Sight Guidance Techniques for Manned Orbital Rendezvous,” combined with Dr. John C. Houbolt’s Lunar Rendezvous plan, made the Apollo program physically achievable with only one Saturn V Launch Vehicle.
The basis for this plan actually came to fruition in 1923, according to a NASA fact sheet written in 1992 by Brian Dunbar: “Although the basics of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous and the Apollo Program (LOR) concept had been expressed as early as 1923 by German rocket pioneer Herman Oberth, no one had recognized the fundamental significance of LOR until two separate groups of Langley researchers in 1959, not long after Sputnik and the creation of NASA, quietly began to think about the potential of LOR for the budding American space program” (Dunbar). This alone disproves the idea that the technology wasn’t sophisticated enough, as the beginnings of the concept came about far before the moon was within NASA’s grasp.
The original plan for the moon landing mission called for two rockets, but NASA literally had to invent the math to make it work so that only one was necessary. Some conspiracy theories even claim that the transistors used in the mission were stolen from alien intelligence. In actuality, the Apollo Guidance computer that flew on Apollo 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 in terms of computational density was the fastest and smallest computer of its time, being able to calculate orbital trajectories almost immediately and make adjustments to the Saturn V stages.
The computer was so ahead of its time, it can be hypothesised that the invention of the guidance computer alone kick-started the United States’ adoption of PCs at work and at home, and the computer driven world we experience today.
In addition to these claims, conspiracists often cite the details of there not being any stars visible in the original video, and that the shadows are misplaced. These claims are easily debunked by the simple fact that the exposure of the camera used to take the pictures and video at the time was not long enough to capture the faint light of the stars, and that the shadows are actually a result of the light from the sun being reflected off of the face of the moon, rather than directly from the sun itself.
The claim that the moon landing was faked is an invalid one with no real basis in any facts, and can be easily debunked with a quick glance through the NASA archives and a basic understanding of the concepts used to get us to the moon.
Featured photo courtesy The Museum of Flight