NEW YORK (AP) – Fifty years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked the moon, some people insist it never happened and that it was a big U.S. government hoax .
The suspicions arose even as the moon landing took place in 1969, said Roger Launius, former chief historian of NASA. Soon, conspiracy theories that said it was an elaborate Hollywood-style production created to a soundstage on Earth began to take hold.
The notion is mainly treated as a punchline, as in a new advertisement for Red Bull. But opinion polls over the years have consistently shown that about 5% to 6% of Americans believe the moon landing was rigged, Launius said.
Aldrin once met one of these people in 2002 and punched him in the face after the man called the former astronaut a liar.
Here’s a look at some of the most common claims and how they’re explained:
CLAIM: The American flag in the moon photos appears to be fluttering in the wind. It would be impossible, since there is no air on the moon.
THE FACTS: Rather than letting the flag droop, NASA decided to use a right-angle rod to keep it spread out, according to Launius. Armstrong and Aldrin accidentally bent the rod a bit, making the flag appear to be moving. They were also concerned that the mast would fall after twisting it into the ground, so they quickly took the photos, capturing the flag while it was still moving, Launius said.
ALLEGATION: No stars appear in the background of the photographs, as NASA knew astronomers would be able to use them to determine whether the images were taken on Earth or on the Moon.
THE FACTS: The shutter speeds of the astronauts’ cameras were too fast to capture the faint starlight, said astronomer Emily Drabek-Maunder of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in London. NASA used high shutter speeds to ensure the images were not overexposed to the bright light of the moon.
CLAIM: When the lunar module descended on the surface of the moon, it did not scatter any dust and left no craters due to the explosion of the rocket which slowed its descent.
THE FACTS: When landing on the moon, the astronauts traveled horizontally for a period of time, so the thrusters weren’t pointed down and wouldn’t have raised dust, Drabek-Maunder said. But when the module finally hits the ground, “you can see some real dust being thrown”.
As for the lack of a crater, Launius said astronauts don’t need to use a large explosion to slow themselves down because the moon’s gravity is about one-sixth that of Earth. “It was more of a soft landing,” he said.
ALLEGATION: The angle and colors of the shadows in photographs of the moon are inconsistent, suggesting that artificial lights were used to illuminate a setting.
THE FACTS: The many bumps, craters, and hills on the moon, along with the different light sources that illuminate it – light directly from the sun, light reflected from the moon’s surface, and light reflected from the Earth – cause what looks like distortions and inconsistencies, said Launius and Drabek-Maunder. Additionally, astronaut cameras had wide-angle lenses that can distort objects.
CLAIM: Armstrong and the Lunar Module are reflected in the visor of Aldrin’s helmet in an iconic photo of Aldrin in his spacesuit on the moon. But there is no sign that either astronaut is holding a camera. So who took the photo?
THE FACTS: The astronauts’ cameras were mounted on their chest, Drabek-Maunder said. As a result, Armstrong did not have to bring his to his eye. Her hands, in fact, appear to be close to her chest in this photo.