Yes, Men Really Landed on the Moon

Did NASA fake the Moon landings? The question gets raised a lot by people who have a vested interest in raising controversies. The answer to the question is 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.

It's not clear why some conspiracy-minded folks want to ignore the evidence that clearly proves that 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 didn't happen have books to sell promoting their claims. Others love the public attention they get from gullible-minded "believers", so it's easy to see why some folks keep on telling the same false stories over and over again. 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.

Updated and edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

01
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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 you can't see stars in the dark sky. Why is that? The contrast between the brightly lit areas and the dark is very high. The cameras had to focus on the activity in the sunlit regions and areas where that light is reflecting off the lander. To take crisp pictures, the camera needed to be be set to accommodate the action in the brightly lit areas. 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.

If you could go to the Moon today, you'd have the same problem of sunlight washing out the view of the stars. Remember, the same thing happens here on Earth during the day.

02
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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 we can see him so clearly? It's not a problem at all. However, many deniers make the assumption that the Sun is the only source of light on the Moon. Not true. The lunar surface does reflect sunlight very well! This is also why you can see the details on the front of an astronaut's space suit (see image in item 3) in photos where the Sun is 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. 

03
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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?" 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 been seen more easily in larger images.

04
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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

Well the answer is that its not waving! Here, the American flag appears 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 ripples we see. On a later mission, astronauts were going to repair the defective rod, but decided they liked the wavy look so left it the way it was.

05
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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, 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. However, these changes 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 he is standing. Actually, you can see this same effect on Earth in rugged terrains, particularly at sunrise or sunset, when the Sun is low in the sky.

06
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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

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. Considering how quickly the astronauts passed through the belts, 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.

07
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Why Is There No Blast Crater Where the Module Landed?

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

During the descent, the lunar lander fired its rocket to slow down. So, why is there no blast crater on the lunar surface? 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 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. Instead, it would have spread out over a wide area. If you calculate the pressure on the surface, it would have been only 1.5 pounds of pressure per square inch; not enough to cause a blast crater. More to the point, raising a lot of dust could have damaged the craft. Safety was paramount. 

08
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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. How is that? The type of fuel that was used (a mixture of hydrazine and initrogen tetroxide) mixes together and ignites instantly. It produces a "flame" that is completely transparent. It's there.