Comments on the FOX Moonlanding Hoax special

FOX Special - "Conspiracy Theory: DID WE LAND ON THE MOON?"

Fox aired a special on the moonlanding hoax on Thursday night, February 15, 2001 at 9:00PM ET (8:00PM PT). I had hoped the special might include a skeptical treatment, but all hopes were dashed as I watched this program unfold. They presented the arguments of the "True believers" without any significant skeptical rebuttal. Below are some of my comments, many made on the fly as I watched the program. The program claims to "Let the viewer decide for themselves" about whether there was a hoax or not, but fails to present a balanced program of pro and anti hoax, giving the viewers a highly biased pro-hoax set of evidence on which to base their conclusions.

Jim Scotti, Planetary Scientist, University of Arizona, 2001 Feb. 15

FOX, in all their wisdom, is re-airing this crummy program again on March 21, 2001. Wonderful.

Jim Scotti, 2001 Mar. 20

Check out my article in the News and Comment section of the May/June 2001 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer reviewing the FOX moonlanding special.

Jim Scotti, 2001 May 7

For a more detailed rebuttal of a typical "The Moonlandings were Faked" website, visit my TMLWF site.

First, the lineup:

Pro Hoax

Bill Kaysing, "Moon Hoax Investigator"
Brian O'Leary, "NASA astronaut" (..candidate, but I nitpick..)
Paul Lazarus, "Producer, Capricorn One"
Ralph Rene, "Author/Scientist"
David Percy, "Royal Photographic Society" - photographic "expert"
Bart Sibrel, "Investigative Journalist"
Jan Lundberg, "Project Engineer, Hasselblad"
Scott Grissom, son of Gus and Betty Grissom, wife, thinks accident was murder.
Boris Valentinovich Volinov - "Russian cosmonaut".

Anti Hoax:

Brian Welch, "NASA spokesman"
Howard McCurdy, "Space Historian, American University"
Julian Scheer, "Former NASA spokesman"
Paul Fjeld, "NASA LEM Specialist"

Claims by Hoax proponents and arguments for the Hoax as presented by FOX:

No stars in the images

As usual, this was about the first argument used by the Hoax believers to debunk the lunar landing. We see no stars in the images because the images are exposed for the bright sunlit scenes. The stars are too faint to show up on the images due to their short exposure.

Likelyhood of success too small

Kaysing claimed that the chance of a successful landing on the moon was calculated to be 0.017 percent! Therefore the landings had to be faked. Presumably those odds were from some early report, based on who knows what assumptions. Anyone know where he may have gotten that estimate or did he make the number up out of whole cloth?

Capricorn One

The Producer of Capricorn One figures that NASA's huge $40 Billion (sic) budget compared to Capricorn One's measily $4.0 Million budget could easily fake the moonlandings. Comparisons are made between the similarity of the moonlanding scenes to those found in the movie - as if perhaps the moonlanding scenes copied those of the movie.... Of course, the Apollo landings occured between 5 and 8 years before the film and were used as a model for the film in order to make it look more convincing to the moviegoing audience. Making claims that the technology was in place, the FOX producers seem to think that film making technology of the 1960s was up to creating such a convincing hoax despite vast amounts of evidence to the contrary as a simple examination of even the best modern sci-fi movies will demonstrate. Sit next to any "science geek" (like me!) in your favorite sci-fi movie and you will hear uncounted comments about how this scene or that are incorrect if we are invited to do such (no, I don't normally talk to my neighbor during movies...).

Area 51

Kaysing claims that Area 51 is where they filmed the Apollo hoax and similarities to the desert surrounding Area 51 as well as craters near the site to the lunar landscape is evidence of that. And of course, it's off limits today because presumably the sets are still there. I wonder why that might be, considering the top secret research that is apparently being done in the area.

Astronaut deaths

The show claimed that 10 astronauts died "under mysterious circumstances" during Apollo. Mysterious apparently includes accidents in high performance jet aircraft and accidents in new untested spacecraft. Astronaut deaths: Ed Givens (car accident), Ted Freeman (T-38 crash), C. C. Williams (T-38 accident), Elliot See and Charlie Bassett (T-38 accident), Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee (Apollo 1 fire). So who are the other 2? According to the show, two other pilots were shown, but they weren't astronauts, at least by NASA standards. One was X-15 pilot Mike Adams who was the only X-15 pilot killed during the X-15 flight test program. Mike Adams, though not a NASA astronaut, had flown his X-15 above 50 miles which is considered space and technically, he could be considered an astronaut along with a number of the other X-15 pilots. The other was Robert Lawrence, a would be Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory pilot who died in a jet crash shortly after reporting for duty to that program.

Later, they claim that the Apollo 1 fire may have been a murder conspiracy to silence Gus Grissom's outspoken criticism of the Space Program. The FOX producers obviously have not researched Gus Grissom at all. He was enthusiastic about the program and very aware of the dangers of spaceflight while trying to make his spacecraft as safe as possible. His hanging a lemon on the Apollo simulators has been widely misinterpretted as disatisfaction with the entire Apollo program.

They also claim that the death of NASA worker Thomas Baron was a murder and a coverup of a 500 page report on the Apollo 1 accident. A more likely version of the story is that the man might have committed a murder/suicide in distress over the loss of the crew. It's amazing that more workers didn't do the same.

These unfounded claims of murder and conspiracy are libelous, particularly as they lack any significant evidence to support those claims.

No Blast crater under the Lunar Module

The Hoax believers claim the LM descent stage used its full thrust of 10,000 pounds at lunar landing and that it should excavate a large blast crater under the LM. At landing in the low lunar gravity (which is 1/6 of Earth's gravity), the LM only needed a throttled down to about 3,000 pounds of thrust. The blast of rocket exhaust is not nearly as large as the 10,000 pounds claimed and results in a scouring of the topmost layer of lunar soil along the ground path and under the LM. The LM had 6 foot long landing probes under 3 of the 4 footpads and when any of the probes contacted the surface, the crew shut down the engine so that the LM would fall the last few feet to the surface, so the engine was more than 6 feet above the surface at its closest. You can even see effects of the blast in some of the lunar images including any taken under the LM and one set taken on Apollo 12 which shows a disturbance along the ground path of the LM before landing. The dust is clearly visible flying out at high speed away from the LM prior to touchdown in all of the lunar landing films taken from the LM cabin windows during approach and landing. Given that the descent stage engine bell is about 5 feet across at the bottom, and that thrust of the engine at touchdown was about 3,000 pounds, that blast pressure of the rocket exhaust was only about 1 pound per square inch.

Why would we expect to find a blast crater under the LM? Does a garden hose sprayed at high pressure into the dirt create a blast crater? It certainly blows away some of the surface dirt in a radial direction and will create a small depression or hole, but not a crater in the form that the haox proponents suggest. There is even an Earthly example of a rocket landing on dirt. The DC-X was a test flight program of a vertical takeoff and landing rocket. On one of its last flights, it made an emergency landing outside of the pad area. Despite the hydrogen/oxygen engine producing a thrust of some 60,000 pounds, the engine produced a mark on the desert floor that was barely recognizable.

No dust on the LM footpads

Kaysing cites the lack of dust on the LM footpads as evidence for fakery without considering the high velocity of the dust blown away by the descent engine. That dust flew far away from the lander and very little of it settled near the LM itself. Consider the flight of a dust particle blown off at an initial velocity of 100 meters/second (a little over 220 miles per hour) and at an angle above the horizon of 10 degrees. It's horizontal initial velocity is 92.5 meters/second while its upward initial velocity is 17.4 meters/sec. In the atmosphere-less 1/6 lunar gravity, it would fly upward for 10.6 seconds before reaching its maximum height of 92 meters above the lunar surface. About 10.6 seconds later, it impacts on the lunar surface almost 2.1 kilometers away from the lunar module!

Lack of sound from the LM descent engine

Kaysing claims that you should hear the sound of the descent engine in the audio from the landings. There are several obvious problems with this hypothesis. First, the engine is many feet away in a vacuum so that the sounds would have to be transmitted through the spacecraft structure itself. Second, the microphones used are insulated inside of the spacesuits worn by the astronauts. Third, the microphones are worn next to the astronauts mouth and are designed only to pick up sound from its immediate vicinity and are noise canceling by design.

Footprints appear around the LM despite the rocket engine scouring the lunar surface during landing

This question is related closely to the question regarding the thrust level of the LM descent engine. The hoax proponents exaggerate the thrust level of the engine during landing, claiming that it fires with a thrust of 10,000 pounds when in fact, the engine was throttled and only had to fire at a thrust level that nearly balanced the 1/6 gravity weight of the LM at the moment of touchdown. Dust was blown away, but the regolith on the lunar surface was found to be many meters thick while the engine would have blown perhaps a few centimeters of dust away from the area immediately under the engine at the moment of landing.

Pictures of spacesuited crewmembers inside a building

The hoax proponents often cite pictures of crewmen with background walls, overhead lights, hoses, tiled floors, etc., as evidence for the hoax. These photographs are common and were obtained during crew training for the actual flights. No attempt is made by NASA to claim that these images were taken on the moon and the LM, rovers, experiments, etc., used for training are training replicas or flight spares, rarely actual flight hardware. Some flight hardware also appears, often while it is being stowed for flight or when it is being fit to crewmen. That the hoax proponents claim that these training photos are evidence of the hoax shows just how little research the hoax believers actually have done on how NASA actually carried out the Apollo program. The photographs which NASA presents as having been taken on the lunar surface look far different from these training photos. Lighting is different. The training hardware such as the LM are different (usually they are prototypes designed to be used for training and do not have the gold foil we see on the moon amongst other things). Photographs of training sessions outside show blue sky reflected in visors as well as tan or orange colored soil and plants and technicians assisting the training.

The "Protoype LM" accident

FOX claimed that a "Prototype LM" was tested on Earth by Neil Armstrong and that during one pre-mission test flight, Armstrong was unable to control the vehicle and had to eject. The vehicle in question was strictly a training vehicle with a jet engine to simulate the 1/6 lunar gravity and to simulate the thrust of the LM descent engine. The Apollo astronauts used the LLTV (Lunar Landing Training Vehicle) to learn how to maneuver the actual LM. They also found flying helicopters to be a useful analog to flying the LM, as well as the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle and high fidelity simulators.

Again, a small amount of research would have shown the producers of the FOX program that the LLTV was not a prototype of the LM, but instead a training device.

FOX continues by asking how the "untested" LM could land flawlessly 6 times when the "Prototype" had so much trouble on Earth. The LLTV was very different from the LM, not a prototype and the "untested" LM was far from untested. Every component of the LM was tested over and over again during the developement of the LM. The descent and ascent engines were perfected through a test firing program carried out at a NASA White Sands test facility. Other componenents, like the landing gear, were tested under simulated load conditions even before they were test flown in space. Before Apollo 11 took the Eagle all the way to the lunar surface, Apollo 9 tested the first manned LM in Earth orbit and Apollo 10 took the 2nd manned LM all the way to within about 50,000 feet of the surface of the moon in a nearly complete dress rehearsal of Apollo 11. The LM flew flawlessly to the moon because of the hard work of thousands of workers over many years during the design, development construction and testing of the spacecraft.

No rocket plume in the video of the ascent stage liftoff

Kaysing claims that we should see a rocket plume from the engine of the LM ascent stage during liftoff video footage. The LM ascent stage engine was a hypergolic rocket engine which burned fuels that burn on contact with each other, making them very reliable since they don't need an ignitor. These fuels burn with only faintly visible exhaust plumes. If one looks up the engine bell, you would see probably a bright blue light in the combustion chamber, but the plume itself is nearly transparent. The Titan rockets which launched the Gemini spacecraft also used the same type of fuel. With very much larger thrust levels, this rocket produced a plume that was nowhere near as spectacular as the plumes we saw on the Saturn V rocket or on the spectacular Space Shuttle (which is dominated by the solid rocket boosters at liftoff). The faint plume that would probably be visible to the human eye if someone were there to see it is not obvious enough for the lower quality of the TV camera used to capture the images of the lunar liftoffs on Apollo 15, 16 and 17.

Flags waving in the breeze

The flags "wave in the breeze" of an astronaut touching and manipulating the flag and flagpole. Notice in each example of the flag waving, the astronaut is still moving it or has just finished adjusting the flag. The flag wobbles for a moment as the force applied to the flag and pole damps out and then it comes to rest. There is a film from one of the liftoffs from the LM cabin which shows the flag waving in the breeze of the rocket exhaust as well (and perhaps you can see the flags move in the rocket exhaust from the rover TV cameras, but those are far away and the cameras tried to follow the ascent stage...).

The flags look as if they are waving in the breeze when not being adjusted or blown by the ascent engine thanks to a metal rod that runs along the top of the flag that holds it out as if being blown in the breeze. This is a well documented piece of equipment.

Poor quality of video

Claims were made that NASA purposefully provided very poor video footage of the first moonwalks. NASA didn't pay too much attention to using video cameras early in Apollo - the first such camera was carried aboard Apollo 7 as almost an afterthought, but the public ate it up, so they added it to later flights. The camera used on Apollo 11 was a black and white camera. Later missions used better cameras, but the portable video cameras of the day tended to be bulky and power hogs. Weight and power were at a premium on the lunar surface.

Double speed of lunar video looks like it was filmed on Earth

Well, sure, that looks good, but does it really work? Turns out that you can't accurately simulate the lunar flight of objects in a vacuum on Earth without modern computer graphics techniques. If you shoot film on Earth and slow it down by a factor of two, the 1/6 lunar gravity is not simulated properly. Imagine for example a particle of dust thrown at a 45 degree angle off of the rover tires at the speed the rover was traveling, say about 10 kilometers per hour (I haven't actually measured the ejection direction of dust off the tires, but this is a good first approximation to estimate the height of the rovers roostertails of dust). 10 kph is 6.2 mph or 9.1 ft/sec. Thrown at a 45 degree angle, the upward velocity is then 6.4 ft/sec (as is its horizontal velocity). In the 1/6 lunar gravity, it should then fly upward for 1.2 seconds to a height of 3.8 feet. It would fly outward for twice this time before landing back on the surface about 15.5 feet from its launch site. In the case of a simulated film as the hoax proponents suggest running at half speed, the same film would have the rover traveling twice as fast on Earth with full Earth gravity in effect. So the initial launch veleocity of the dust would be 12.8 ft/sec. It would fly upward for 0.4 seconds in Earth gravity (or 0.8 seconds in the slowed video) and reach a height of 2.6 feet, landing some 10.2 feet away. In other words, you can tell the difference if you actually measure the speed of the dust or thrown object.

How can an astronaut on Earth wearing a bulky simulated moonsuit run at such high speeds as you'd need them to run to simulate the lunar imagery. The highest documented running speeds on the moon were about 5.4 km/hour. That's a rate of about a 9 minute mile in a bulky suit. I haven't seen any astronauts trying to run in their suits in straight 1-g conditions.

Difficulty of using cameras in spacesuits/Photographs "absolutely perfect"

3 words: Practice, practice, practice. The Apollo astronauts trained over and over again on Earth before their flights. By the time they flew, they had shot hundreds of practice pictures, learning how to line up photos without a viewfinder. They also had preset exposures and focus positions easily settable with their bulky gloves for different types of shots. Also, they used fairly high f-stops on their camera lens to maximize the depth of field, so focus wasn't as critical when setting up a shot. Given all that, the photographs are far from perfect. Exposures are uneven, mostly due to lighting issues and there are plenty of badly composed and out of focus images amongst the thousands obtained. The pictures we see are often the best of the lot - that's why they were picked for public release. An examination of the images on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal will show you what they tend to look like. Anyone who claims all the Apollo lunar surface photos are perfect has not looked at very many of them.

Shadows go in wrong directions, not parallel

The hoax proponents apparently don't understand simple convergence - the disappearing point which elementary school art students learn about in order to draw roads or railroad tracks disappearing into the distance. The shadows, though parallel from overhead, look to be going in different directions from the perspective of a person on the ground. You can see the same effects here on Earth. The most used image by the hoaxers is from Apollo 14 where the Lunar Module appears in the distance to be casting a horizontal shadow while the shadows of the rocks in the foreground are angled towards the camera. However, if you look closely at the LM shadow and the LM itself, you'll see the LM partly lit - similarly to the rocks in the foreground along the same direction and you can see that the shadow is not horizontal, but is greatly foreshortened. As usual, just a casual examination of the evidence contradicts the hoaxers argument.

The lunar surface is also very undulating with hills and craters in great abundance. Shadows appear longer if they go down a slope on the sunward side of a crater or hill or appear shorter on a slope that faces into the sun. Hills and craters can also change the apparent direction of a shadow to make it look non-parallel with adjacent shadows.

You can see details in the shadows

Although the sun is the primary light source on the Moon (the Earth also lights the moon somewhat since it is about 13 times the surface area as viewed from the moon compared to the moon from Earth, but also is 5 times brighter per unit area), the shadows are lit up by scattered sunlight off of the surrounding lunar surface and equipment. You don't need an atmosphere to fill in the shadows on the moon. Any photographer knows how to use objects to reflect light into the shadows to make the shadowed areas more visible. Photographers use efficient items like reflecting umbrellas or white boards. On the moon, the surrounding lunar surface, mountains, astronauts, rovers, and even the LM itself scatter light into the shadowed areas of the moon and equipment. How come neither of the two photographic experts used by the FOX show to examine apparent photographic anomalies were able to think of this obvious solution to this shadow "problem"?

Identical backgrounds in photographs from different places

The hoax proponents cite cases of finding the same exact background mountains in images taken from vastly different places around a landing site. In the case of the FOX special, they showed a picture of the LM with mountains in the background and a second image without the LM with the "exact" background mountains. The mountains in question are several miles away from the LM. Two pictures taken a few hundred feet apart can have a vastly different foreground (like LM and no LM) while having what appears to be exactly the same background. There's no mystery to that. Tucson has mountains surrounding the city and amazingly, from the University of Arizona Campus area, one can travel from one end of campus to the other and find not only very different buildings in front of you, but what appears to be the exact same mountain backdrop in the background. Apparently, the mountains around Tucson are a giant background painting if one follows the logic used by the hoax proponents.

Location on video identical on two days at two different sites

If one watches the actual video from the rovers TV camera, you'll find that the two identical images were obtained within minutes of each other from the exact same site. A small amount of investigation easily solves the mystery. The source of this error is a NASA documentary film in which the film editor mistakenly claims the two filmclips were taken on different days at different sites when in fact they were not.

Reseau marks disappear behind equipment

The Reseau marks are the "+" marks that appear on the Lunar photographs. They are caused by marks etched on a "Reseau plate" which is a clear glass plate mounted immediately in front of the film on the Hasselblad camera. Film, like most all imaging media, is not a perfect recorder. When a very bright part of the subject appears next to a dark area, there is often saturations effects which appear as bleeding into the darker areas, such as the Reseau marks. It's a well known photographic effect which the two FOX photographic "experts" both conveniently forget to suggest.

Radiation was too high - Van Allen belts and solar storms

The hoax proponents consistently exaggerate the effects of radiation in space. Radiation was a definite concern for NASA before the first spaceflights, and they invested a great deal of research in it before flying the first astronauts into space. The most dangerous part of the journey to the moon for radiation exposure was during the passage of the spacecraft through the Van Allen belts. This is a zone from aobut 1000 kilometers up to about 20000 kilometers. The Apollo missions flew through this zone at very high speed - outbound starting around 40,000 kph and inbound at about the same speed. They spent a few hours within the Van Allen belts and estimates of the total exposure during their entire flights were about 2 rems (the equivalent of about 100 chest x-rays or about 40% of the maximum permissible dose of radiation according to OSHA standards). Doses of 100-200 rems cause a person to experience nausea several hours after exposure and fatal doses occure above about 300 rem. Solar flares were a concern as well, but typical doses due to flares that the Astronauts were exposed to were only a few rem. The crews wore dosimeters which were read back roughly daily during the flights.

Temperatures on the lunar surface were too hot

Daytime temperatures reach about 250 degrees F. Nighttime temperatures sink to a chilly -270F. The landings occured within a day or two of local sunrise so that the sun angles were low and the surface had not heated up to its full daytime levels. With no atmosphere, convection does not transport heat from object to object. Conduction of heat occures only when a hot surface is contacted and thermal radiation is the only other source of heat. Film in a camera is protected from direct sunlight except during exposures and a light colored or silver camera does not absorb heat efficiently. The lunar EVA suits were designed to withstand temperatures of +250F.

No plans to return to the moon and the Russians have never sent anyone

So if we went to the moon more than 30 years ago, why haven't we gone back, and why haven't the Russians sent anyone to the moon? Despite the apparent ease with which NASA flew 12 men to the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972, traveling to the moon was difficult, dangerous and enormously expensive. The advanced planning and preparation of the spacecraft and crews resulted in spectacularly successful missions which succeded despite the dangers and the inherent malfunctions of manmade equipment. The United States landed men on the moon while the Soviet Union failed in its attempts to build a lunar program despite its hard work. Once the U.S. succeded, the Soviets primary reason for going to the moon was eliminated and residual work dwindled. Despite the official word of the Soviet Union claiming that they were never in a race to the moon, the post-Soviet Union evidence demonstrates otherwise with lunar landing hardware and the huge N1 booster program as well as training programs for its Cosmonauts. To fly to the moon today would be nearly as difficult and probably more expensive (even accounting for inflation) than it was in the 1960s. Until there is enough motivation to do so, we are unlikely to mount any new missions to the moon in the near future.

Earth based telescopes should be able to see the Apollo equipment

A telescope's diffraction limited resolving power depends linearly on the aperture of the telescope. Groundbased telescopes also have to look through the murky and turbulant atmosphere so without corrective techniques that are just now becoming common in large telescopes (called adaptive optics), a telescopes resolution is limited by the atmosphere to about 0.5-1.0 arcseconds (3600 arcseconds are in one degree and 360 degrees around the whole sky). That limits groundbased telescopes to a resolution of about 2 kilometers on the moon. From space, a telescope is limited by its diffraction limited resolution. For the Hubble Space Telescope, that is a little less than 0.05 arcseconds or about 90 meters at the distance of the moon. To resolve the LM descent stage which is about 10 meters across, one would need to have a resolution better than 10 meters, perhaps 2-3 meters which means we need a telescope some 30 times larger than the HST in orbit around the Earth to resolve the largest equipment left on the moon.

Other Claims:

Grissoms crew killed to silence them

All the available evidence points towards an accidental short circuit in the Environmental Control Unit aboard the command module which started a fire that raged quickly out of control in the 16.7 pounds per square inch pure oxygen atmosphere inside the cabin. To suggest a murder conspiracy based on zero evidence is libelous.

Thomas Baron silenced

Thomas Baron released a report critical of various issues dealing with the developement of Apollo hardware. He was somewhat outspoken after the tragic fire which killed the Apollo 1 crew. Claims that his report has vanished are simply false, as parts of that report (if not the entire report) are available on the internet. Baron and his family died when their car was struck by a train at a train crossing. Was it an accident or was it suicide? The stress on all who worked at NASA and were involved in any way in the spacecraft was tremendous and that large numbers NASA employs did not commit suicide in response to the accident is perhaps surprising.

Created by Jim Scotti, 2001 February 15.

Last updated by Jim Scotti, 2004 December 29.

Recent changes:

2001 February 15
File created.
2001 Feburary 16 - 19
Additional comments added.
2001 Feburary 27
Additional comments and a new link added.
2001 March 20
Added a link below, and comment on re-airing the special.
2001 April 6
Clarified a confusing sentence on lunar gravity.
2001 April 24
Clarified the term "astronaut" as it relates to X-15 pilots.
2001 April 27
Minor edits.
2001 May 7
Added "Hot Site" reference. Also added a comment on my Skeptical Inquirer article. Also added some comments on the LM descent stage rocket exhaust pressure.
2001 August 17
Minor edits.
2001 November 15
Updated the link to Ian Goddard's website.
2002 May 7
Minor spelling correction.
2002 August 6
Tweaked the description of Robert Lawrence.
2003 September 3
Updated my comments about Tom Baron and comments on cabin noise and noise canceling microphones. Also updated notes on training photos. Several other minor edits.
2004 December 29
Added comments about LM testflights on Apollo 9 and Apollo 10.

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Click here to go to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal page.

Click here to go to Phil Plait's FOX special page.

Click here to go to Ian Goddards "Are Apollo Moon Photos Fake?" page.

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