Moon landing — no, it wasn’t faked

Recently a dear friend, Anand, wrote me a terse email: “And they keep on coming…” + link. He was fretting over a new report on a prominent athlete, Stephen Curry, who apparently doesn’t believe that the United States actually put a person on the moon. It was on a talk show, and the participants went on to discuss some of the more popular conspiracy theories, including the one about director Stanley Kubrick staging the entire landing.

I reminded Anand what our common friend John Nunn had said, years ago, when the conspiracy theory was first proposed: “The moon landing could indeed have been faked, in TV studios and in the desert, with fake rocket starts and radio signals. But that would be an order of magnitude more difficult and more expensive than actually putting people on the moon.”

John is smart. 7.2% of everything I know and think I got from him. In the current discussion he added: “These days it is hard to recall what special effects were like in the late 1960s. The technical high points were 2001: A Space Odyssey and Fantastic Voyage. The latter, starring Raquel Welch and ten million blood corpuscles, received glowing praise for its special effects, which won it an Oscar. It was very educational. I recall being amazed that human lung tissue was actually made of tissue paper.”

Watch and enjoy the special effects of 1966, three years before they pulled off the moon landing. As to Kubrick’s 2001 here’s a video (+ part 2) that explains exactly how it was made. Viewing it takes around 40 minutes, but it’s quite fascinating.

Christian, Anand and John doing a lecture together in 2011. Anand is a five-time World Chess Champion, John a world-class chess grandmaster, mathematician and author, Christian an electrical engineer and astronomer.

One of the participants in our email discussion was Dr Christian Sasse, the Astronomer-in-Charge at iTelescope, a service that allows people all over the world to remotely operate astronomical telescopes. Both Anand and John have taken many pictures and lectured together on the subject.

A photo of the Dumbbell Nebula M27 (click to enlarge), taken by Anand with this telescope in Mayhill, New Mexico, thousands of miles from where he was.

You can spend a lot of time listening to moon landing conspiracy people explaining why the landing was faked — just google it or search in YouTube. Or you can study the refutation of their theories there. But best of all listen to this lecture by Christian Sasse. It is close to an hour long but very instructive. Here are some highlights (time stamps given in minutes and seconds):

  • 06'15": How many people were involved in the Apollo project in the 1960s? At least 400,000! That means you have to keep all of them quiet about the deception — from the moment it was perpetrated until today, fifty years later. To date none of the 400,000 co-conspirators have broken down and gone public? This segment in Christian’s lecture discusses how conspiracy theories work, mathematically.
  • 26'24": Some of the rock samples brought back from the moon show microscopic craters, and craters within craters, just as you would expect (there is no atmosphere to slow down the dust particles raining in at high speed from space). No such features are to be found on any rocks on our planet.
  • 27'45": The Apollo missions, and the unmanned Russian Luna probes, left retro-reflectors on the moon. These are prisms that will reflect light in exactly the same direction from which it comes. Pointing very powerful lasers at the position of the retro-reflectors actually gives you a signal returning, something that would be inconceivable without the device, i.e. from a normal surface.
  • 31'12": Ham radio experts listened in on the Apollo 11 mission, using large antennas very precisely pointed to the right spot on the moon. Their recordings were exactly the same as those later released by NASA.
  • 34'30": The hammer and the feather experiment. Apollo 15 mission commander Dave Scott dropped a hammer and a falcon feather simultaneously. Both fall slowly and hit the ground at exactly the same time. That is what we would expect in a vacuum and in low gravity. Scott: “I guess Mr Galileo was correct in his findings.”
  • 50'51": Christian analyses the way the rover throws up dust — something you can calculate with public domain software. Very convincing: it exactly matches what you would expect in 1.625 m/s² gravity, which is the gravity constant of the moon. At 9.8 m/s² on earth the trajectory is quite different.

Shortly after our discussion my other boffin friend, Ken Thompson, chimed in. Citing Christian’s retro-reflectors he wrote:

I was part of the first attempt to bounce lasers off the French corner cubes placed on the moon. A laser was placed in the desert at a calculated location. The laser fired at where the moon would be. It hit the reflector which imparted side velocity back. Then the earth moved the Kitt Peak telescope right under the return at just the right time. Now that is HARD to fake.

Ken has his fingers in everything that’s interesting.

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That’s Dr Christian Sasse, John Nunn and Ken Thompson, with John’s 10-inch telescope.

So what about telescope images? Well, the moon is just too far to allow optical telescopes from earth to see the landers that were left on the moon, which are just over four meters in diameter. The largest land based telescope, the GTC on the Canary Islands, with its 10.4 meter mirror, resolves 20 meters on the moon to one pixel on its CCD; and even Hubble, with its 2.4 meter mirror located in low earth orbit, resolves 90 meters on the moon to a single pixel. So none of these could even theoretically spot any of the man-made objects left behind. BUT: since 2009 we have NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been in low orbit around the moon and has a resolution of 25 to 50 cm per pixel.

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The LRO has photographed multiple Apollo sites, and we are able to see the descent stage of the lander as well as utility vehicles and devices — in fact even the tracks of the moon buggy and the astronauts. Everything exactly matches the images recorded by the astronauts in the 1970s. Read all about this and view more very convincing images on this NASA page.

QED, I will assume.

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Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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