No, Virginia, the Moon Landing Could Not Have Been Faked in 1969

The technology didn't exist, and, as for human nature....

Fifty years ago today, Apollo 11 left the Earth’s surface; 50 years ago on July 20, humans walked on the moon’s surface for the first time.  I just posted something on LinkedIn about both my experience of those moments and how I’ve been asked by such organizations as BBC TV to explain my opinion of why the moon landing couldn’t have been faked.

First, there’s human nature.  The Earth continued to rotate during the mission.  That meant that no single point on the surface of the Earth had line-of-sight connection to the moon at all times.  So, in addition to the Goldstone tracking station in California, NASA used tracking stations in Spain and Australia.  So all of the people associated with those stations would have had to have lied as would the astronauts and everyone associated with the faked content — for 50 years.  Not only that, but others with optical and radio telescopes around the world would have had to have avoided looking for Apollo and its signals (or joined the liars club).

Among those others was the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR (the largest republic of which was Russia), locked in a space race with the U.S. since the launch of Sputnik, Earth’s first artificial satellite, in 1957.  Again, the Russians would have had to have lied for 50 years about something that made them appear to lose the race.  Really?  Those points are well made in a cute segment of an Adam Ruins Everything show on TruTV in which I participated.

Now for some specifics:

Proposition: Stanley Kubrick shot a realistic moon landing in 2001: a space odyssey, released the year before Apollo 11.

Kubrick certainly got many things right in 2001, including tablets used with vertical aspect ratios, but he also got things wrong, including the continued existence in 2001 of the Bell System of telephone companies (it was broken up in 1984) and Pan Am the airline (it ceased operation in 1991).  One of the things he got wrong was the moon landing.  Even in a still image (as available here), it’s easy to see the clouds of dust kicked up by the thrust of the lander.  A real moon landing would certainly kick up dust, but not clouds of dust; clouds require an atmosphere, which the moon lacks.  So, to properly fake sequences of Apollo 11 involving dust, the studio where it was being shot would have had to have contained a vacuum and been strong enough to withstand the force of atmospheric pressure outside.  There’s also the issue of the rate at which the dust would fall in low gravity, addressed in the next section.

Proposition: Low-gravity conditions could have been simulated by using slow-motion.

Some of my colleagues like to say that the necessary type of slow motion wasn’t really available in 1969.  I disagree.  Lengthy slow motion could have been achieved with multiple cameras sharing a lens through a beam-splitter optical system.  But slow motion affects everything in the frame.  There are sequences from the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) in which the low gravity makes things look as though they were shot in slow motion, but finger twitches or other human motions appear to be in normal motion.  If those sequences were actually shot in slow motion, the twitches would have had to have been extraordinarily fast — too fast for humans.

Proposition: In the live video sequences, the astronauts are ghostly — see-through — proving they were added in composite shots.

Unfortunately, the video camera used on the moon’s surface used slow scanning to reduce the amount of information that needed to return to Earth.  It was converted to ordinary video through a process called optical scan conversion, essentially an ordinary video camera shooting a slow-scan monitor.  The slow-scan monitor had long-persistence phosphors; it, therefore, retained old images while new ones appeared, thus creating the ghostly effect.  Special visual effects people could have done a much better job, even in 1969.

Proposition: Because the moon EVA was shot in a studio, stars painted on the walls wouldn’t have moved correctly when the camera moved, so they were eliminated.

Actually, the absence of stars was simply a matter of exposure range.  Details on the bright moon surface would not have been visible if the cameras were exposed for the stars.  Stars we’d seen; the moon we hadn’t.  The exposure issue is well illustrated in the BBC Click program in which I participated.

Proposition: Without an atmosphere and with the only light source being the sun, the shady areas should have been pitch black, but we can see things because of the studio lighting.

Have you ever seen the moon in the sky?  That’s because it has a reflective surface.  Reflective surfaces reflect light.  NVIDIA has done some excellent work recreating the reflection and how it would have illuminated shady areas — with systems that didn’t exist in 1969.

Proposition: The flag is waving in the breeze, but the moon has no wind.

The flag (click the image to enlarge it) does not move in any motion sequence (except when it’s being planted).  As for why it’s not straight, you’ll have to take that up with the people who thought breeze-like rumpling would look more exciting.

Proposition: The shadows are not all parallel, as they should be with a single light source (the sun) so far away.

The things casting the shadows are not parallel, and the surface they’re casting them on is not flat.  Fortunately, there is a wealth of photos, film sequences, and video, shot from different angles, allowing a relief map of the lunar surface to be created.  For 50 years, people have been analyzing and comparing the images.

By the way, many of those same propositions were examined by the TV show Mythbusters, as well.  Here’s a link to their version of debunking the myths.

Proposition: The shadows fall in different directions in images shot at different times.

The moon was continuing to travel through space during the Apollo lunar-surface EVA.  This is nicely (if exaggeratedly) illustrated in the NVIDIA sequence.

By the way, NVIDIA does propose a way that the moon landing could have been faked in 1969.  All NASA would have had to do was invent a time machine, jump 50 years into the future, steal the latest computer-graphics technology, return it to 1969, use it to create the fake moon landing, destroy the time machine, and erase everyone’s memory of what they did with a Men in Black neuralizer [I added the neuralizer part].

Alas, in 52 years of working professionally in the moving-image media, I have yet to encounter either a working time machine or a working neuralizer.


Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters


The Latest in Sports Video Production & Technology
in Your Inbox for FREE

Daily Email Newsletters Monday - Friday