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Exploring the Apollo moon landings

The Skeptic Corner
By Dustin White

When humans first reached the moon, it was a moment that captured an entire nation’s imagination. Those who were alive to experience the situation as it was unfolding, often can still remember what they were doing at the instant they heard the news. It was a defining time.

Even today, as we celebrate the 45th anniversary of this monumental event, both young and old continue to be inspired by that moment in which humans first made that initial step onto an alien world.

However, while many see the Apollo 11 moon landing, as well as the subsequent missions, as some of the greatest achievements of humankind, there are individuals who claim that the entire event was an elaborate hoax. That instead of sending humans to the moon, the U.S. government instead faked the landings as a way to intimidate their rivals, and demonstrate the superiority of the U.S. space program.

As a special edition of the Skeptic Corner, we will delve into some of the arguments made by individuals claiming that the moon landings were a hoax, and get at the heart of the conspiracy.

No crater
In depictions on TV and in movies, when a lander begins descent, a massive plume of dirt is displaced. Once the dust settles, the lander rests in the center of a large crater.

Rationally, this seems to make sense. The thrusters on the lander had to have enough force to slow the descent enough, as to prevent the crew from crashing into the surface of the moon. It is also what people generally expect, as it is the manner in which the process is depicted in film.

Since there is no crater, and the ground beneath the lander seems relatively undisturbed, this has caused some to claim this as evidence that humans never went to the moon.

While this view may seem rational at first glance, such a perspective does not actually take into account all of the factors.

One of the initial problems with the idea is in regards to safety. If the thrusters of the lander would have caused such a massive disturbance, including a crater, the mission would have been in danger.

While landing on a flat surface may be relatively easy, if that surface was instead a piece of land that was dissolving into a crater, where the astronauts would basically be entering blindly, the chances of crashing would have been greatly increased. One can make the comparison to parking a car into a strangers garage during a snow storm. As far as one know, that person could have nails or other debris lying in the middle of the parking space. Yet, because of the blinding conditions of the weather, all of this is unknown, so driving into the garage could cause damage not only to the vehicle, but also to the person driving.

There are two reasons why this wasn’t the case though. The first had to do with the surface of the moon. While many think of the moon as a bunch of dirt, the landing space was instead a shallow layer of dust with densely packed rock below it. When the lander did touch down, there was a bit of dust thrown up; however, because of the nature of the surface of the moon, it was relatively minor.

It wasn’t just the composition of the surface though that caused only a minor amount of dust to be thrown up. When the Eagle, the lunar lander, descended, the engines were throttled back. At the same time, the lander only hovered for a relatively short time, thus causing the amount of dust to be thrown up to be minimized.

These actions were performed in order to make the landing safe. The amount of thrust needed to cause a crater would have required the lander to quickly descend, and then blast the thrusters in order to slow the craft down. Such a maneuver would have been quite risky.

No stars
Looking at the photos from the Apollo 11 mission, one almost instantly notices a lack of stars. Being away from the light pollution created on earth, one would expect that photographs taken on the surface of the moon would depict thousands of stars twinkling in the background. However, such a site is absent.

Knowing a little about how photographing stars works though, clears this up quickly. If one were to travel a hundred miles from the nearest light polluting source, and take a few quick photos of they skies at night, one would notice that they most likely would also get a black result.

While on the moon, the astronauts were taking pictures at 1/150th or 1/250th of a second. Such speeds allowed them to capture the actions of each other clearly, but did not allow the light from the stars to register on the film. To capture stars, the astronauts would have had to taken photos at a much slower speed, and have had the camera affixed to a steady tripod, as to prevent them from blurring.

The astronauts were victim to many of the same problems that photographers on Earth face. In addition to stars being absent, in a number of photos, one can also see strange light patterns. While some claim that what is being seen are the stage lights, those familiar with photography would point out that what really is happening is some lens flare.

Stars being absent from photos were not the only problem that some have seen with the aspect of photography on the moon. Another claim is that any film that was used on the moon would have fried because of the temperatures reached there (around 280 degrees F, while in the sun rays).

Such high temperatures would definitely have a negative impact on film. However, those conducting the mission would have been aware of this as well. This is why no one left the film on the surface of the moon, but instead contained them in protective canisters.

Flag waving
For those who have seen videos of the Apollo 11 mission, an iconic moment is when the United States flag is planted on the moon. While science tells us that there is no wind on the moon, those who have seen the video can clearly see that flag apparently waving, as if something was blowing it.

As with many of the claims for the mission being a hoax though, the construction of the item is ignored.

Planting a flag that laid flat does not present the same effect as one that is sprawled out, so that viewers can clearly see it. This was an aspect that those guiding the mission were aware of. To overcome this, stiff wires were placed into the flag to hold it in place. If one looks closely at the flag, it can be seen that the edges are pulled taut, which was caused by the horizontal wires.

The reason the flag appears as if it is waving is because the astronaut is erecting it, and that force caused it to move.

A similar claim, in regards to another iconic symbol, is concerning the footprints left on the moons service. The photos of such footprints are well defined, and clear. For some, that is a problem, as to create such an imprint, they assume that moisture is needed, which is lacking on the surface of the moon.

There is another way for such imprints to be made though. The dust on the surface of the moon is very fine. When stepped on, the dust is compressed, and then maintains it shape because of the friction between each particle. A similar effect can be created by dumping out a bottle of talcum powder, and stepping in it. No moisture is needed, but a fine particle is.

Anomaly hunting
The major tactic of those who claim the moon landing was a hoax, as well as any number of other conspiracy theories, is what is called anomaly hunting. This is the searching for nearly anything that doesn’t fit an easy explanation.

Anomalies can be of significant interest to scientists. However, for an anomaly to be of use, one must rule out genuine explanations. If an anomaly is seen, as happens in nearly any historical event, the mundane explanations must be ruled out before the anomaly takes real significance. The problem with conspiracy theorists is that this effort is not attempted.

As seen above, there are some apparent anomalies. If such points are not questioned, then there does appear to be some issues. A bit of searching though quickly clear up the supposed anomalies.

Going beyond the lack of evidence for a conspiracy or hoax, there is also the question as to why no country has ever come forward with evidence that NASA faked the event. Russia, who had a large stake in the situation, tracked the progress of Apollo 11, and if they saw a discrepancy, it is highly unlikely they wouldn’t have exposed the U.S.

Then we also have all of the physical evidence, such as the moon rocks brought back. In addition, one with the proper knowledge, and equipment, can even bounce a laser beam off the corner reflectors left on the surface of the moon. Today, we also have photos from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which shows equipment that was left behind, the landing sites, as well as tracks left by the astronauts.

What we are left with then is undeniable evidence that NASA sent humans to the moon. Which is something we can all celebrate, as it was no small testament to our achievement.