Yes, Men Really Landed on the Moon

visual proof of Apollo 14 landing
The Apollo 14 landing site showing the Antares descent stage (where the astronauts were based during their mission), plus the paths their boots left in the regolith (surface material) as they walked over to deploy surface instruments. NASA

People who know a lot about space exploration can name the date that people first landed on the Moon. They know who did it and how the mission went. Yet, there is a small minority of people who think that those landings were faked.

To be honest, accusation gets raised a lot by people who have a vested interest in stirring up controversies. The answer to the question of whether the moon missions were faked is a resounding "NO!" There's plenty of evidence that people went to the Moon, explored it, and returned home safely. That evidence ranges from equipment left on the Moon to recordings of the events, plus first-person accounts of the highly trained people who performed the missions. 

Why the Big Lie From Conspiracy Theorists?

It's not clear why some conspiracy-minded folks want to ignore the evidence that clearly proves the missions happened. Their denials are tantamount to calling astronauts liars and denying reality. It's wise to keep in mind that some of those denialists who keep desperately claiming that these missions have books to sell promoting their claims. Others love the public attention they get from gullible-minded "believers" and some of them get invited to share their mistaken ideas on TV and radio talk shows. So it's easy to see why they keep on telling the same false stories over and over again. The get attention and money. Never mind that the facts prove them wrong.

The truth is, six Apollo missions went to the Moon, carrying astronauts there to do science experiments, take images, and do the first explorations of another world ever performed by humans. They were amazing missions and something that most Americans and space enthusiasts are extremely proud of. Only one mission in the series got to the Moon but did not land; that was Apollo 13, which suffered an explosion and the lunar landing portion of the mission had to be scrapped.

Here are some of the questions deniers ask, questions that are easily answered by science and the evidence. Some of the questions betray a profound misunderstanding of basic science on the part of the questioners. 

Updated and edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

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Why Are There No Stars In Photos Taken on The Moon?

Man on Moon
Michael Dunning/ Photographer's Choice/ Getty Images

In most of the photos taken during the lunar landing missions stars aren't visible in the seemingly dark sky. Why is that? It happens on Earth, too, sometimes. Yet, no one implies that humans aren't on Earth. 

Here's the story: the contrast between the brightly lit areas on the lunar landscape and the dark is very high. To get decent images of activities on the surface, the Apollo mission cameras had to focus on what was going on in the sunlit regions and areas where that light is reflecting off the lander. To take crisp pictures, the camera needed to be set to accommodate the activities of the astronauts. If the cameras had been set to capture stars, the areas where the astronauts were working would be washed out. Using a very high frame rate, and small aperture setting, the camera could not gather enough light from the very dim stars to be seen. This is a well-known aspect in photography and anyone with a camera in their smartphone can experiment with this to learn how it works on snowy days or in desert regions, for example. 

Anyone going to the Moon in the future will face the same challenges, and their images will look equally stark and contrasty.

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Why Can We See Objects In Shadow?

Buzz Aldrin descends onto the Lunar surface during the Apollo 11 mission. He is clearly visible in the shadow of the Lander. Light from the Sun is reflecting off the Moon's surface to illuminate him. Image Credit: NASA

There are many instances of this in Moon landing images. Objects in the shadow of another object, like this image of Buzz Aldrin (on the Apollo 11 mission) in the shadow of the lunar lander, are clearly visible.

How is it possible that he can be seen so clearly? Actually, there's a pretty good explanation for this, and again, it can be seen by experimenting with photography in bright places here on Earth. Basically, many deniers make the assumption that the Sun is the only source of light on the Moon. This isn't true. As on Earth, the surface of a world reflects sunlight, too. This is also why details on the front of an astronaut's space suit (see the image in item 3) are visible, even though the Sun appears behind him. Light reflected from the lunar surface illuminates it. Also, since the Moon has no atmosphere, there no air and dust afloat to reflect, absorb, or scatter light. It all just bounces right off the surface and illuminates anything that's there. 

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Who Took This Picture Of Buzz Aldrin?

Buzz Aldrin is seen standing on the surface of the Moon. This image was taken by Neil Armstrong using a space suit mounted camera. Image Credit: NASA

There are actually two questions that are commonly asked about this photo, the first was addressed in item 2 above. The second question, is "Who took this image?" The answers pretty much blow away another conspiracy theory idea, that the pictures were proof of a faked mission.

It's difficult to see with this small image, but in the reflection of Buzz's visor, it is possible to make out Neil Armstrong standing in front of him. But, he does not appear to be holding a camera. That is because the cameras were mounted on the chest area of their suits. Armstrong was holding his arm up to his chest to take the picture, which can be seen more easily in larger images.

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Why Is the American Flag Waving?

Astronaut John Young leaps through on the Moon as he salutes the American flag. Image Credit: NASA

It's pretty easy to answer this one: it's not waving! It does appear rippled as if being blown in the wind. This is actually due to the design of the flag and its holder. It was created to have rigid, extendable support pieces on the top and bottom so that the flag would look taut.

However, when the astronauts were setting the flag up, the bottom rod was jammed, and would not fully extend. Then, as they were twisting the pole into the ground, the motion caused the flag to twist a bit, which created the ripples. On a later mission, astronauts were going to repair the defective rod but decided they liked the wavy look, so they left it the way it was.

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Why Do the Shadows Point in Different Directions?

The shadow of the lunar lander appears to point in a different direction for that of the astronaut. This is because the surface of the Moon is sloped slightly where he is standing. Image Credit: NASA

In some of the photos taken on the Moon by the astronauts, shadows for different objects in the images point in different directions. If the Sun is causing the shadows, shouldn't they all point in the same direction?

Well, yes and no. They would all point in the same direction if everything was on the same level. This, however was not the case. Because of the uniformly grey terrain of the Moon, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish changes in elevation. The places where the astronauts landed had great variations in elevation over long stretches of the surface. 

Depending on where something is on the surface relative to something else, changes in elevation can influence the apparent direction of shadows for objects in the frame. In this image the shadow of the lander points directly to the right, while the astronauts shadow points down and to the right. This is because the Moon's surface is at a slight incline where one astronaut is standing. Actually, you can see this same effect on Earth in rugged terrains in mountainous areas, particularly at sunrise or sunset, when the Sun is low in the sky.

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How Did the Astronauts Make It through the Van Allen Radiation Belts?

Diagram of the Van Allen radiation belts around Earth. The astronauts had to pass through them on their way to the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

They flew right through them in their spacecraft.

The Van Allen radiation belts are doughnut-shaped regions of space in the Earth's magnetic field. They trap very high-energy protons and electrons. As a result, some wonder how astronauts could have passed through the belts without being killed by the radiation from these particles. NASA quotes that the radiation would be about 2,500 REM (a measure of radiation) per year for an astronaut traveling through with almost no shielding. Consider this: the astronauts were very well-shielded, and they traveled through the belts very quickly. That reduced the radiation hazard for them. They only would have experienced 0.05 REM during the round trip. Even assuming levels as high as 2 REMs, the rate at which their bodies could have absorbed the radiation still would have been within safe levels. So, it was really not a big deal. 

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Why Is there No Blast Crater Where the Lunar Module Landed?

A close up photo of the Apollo 11 exhaust nozzle. Image Credit: NASA

During the descent to the Moon's surface the lunar lander fired its rocket to slow down. So, why is there no blast crater on the lunar surface?

It's true that the lander had a very powerful rocket, capable of 10,000 pounds of thrust. However, it turns out they needed only about 3,000 pounds of thrust to land. Since there is no air on the Moon, there was no air pressure causing the exhaust gas to go straight down onto a concentrated area. On Earth, yes, the rocket exhaust would be very concentrated by the atmosphere. But, on the Moon, that didn't happen due to lack of air. Instead, the rocket exhaust spread out over a wide area. Calculate the pressure on the surface to see that it would have been only 1.5 pounds of pressure per square inch; not enough to cause a blast crater. In fact, it didn't even really raise a lot of dust. 

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Why Is There No Visible Flame From The Rocket?

Here we see Apollo 12 descending upon the Moon, it would have been firing its rocket to slow down, but clearly no flame is visible. Image Credit: NASA

In all of the images and videos of the lunar module landing and taking off, there are no visible flames from the rocket. Why is that? The type of fuel that was used (a mixture of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide) mixes together and ignites instantly. It produces a "flame" that is completely transparent. It's there, but it's practically invisible due to that transparency. 

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Your Citation
Millis, John P., Ph.D. "Yes, Men Really Landed on the Moon." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Millis, John P., Ph.D. (2020, August 27). Yes, Men Really Landed on the Moon. Retrieved from Millis, John P., Ph.D. "Yes, Men Really Landed on the Moon." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2021).