Moon Denial’s Perennial Crocks

July 21, 2019

Moon landing denial might be the quintessential science denial meme.

Maybe Buzz Aldrin shows us the most effective, and eloquent, response to it.


The fifty years since we sent three men there—and put two on its surface!—have seen giant leaps for mankind, and moon shots for conspiracy theorists. Once the credo of dingy basements and underground newsletters, conspiracy theories are everywhere. The moon hoax alone has emerged on The Viewin the NBA, and, to its detriment, in the general vicinity of Buzz Aldrin’s fists. If America is at risk of becoming the theocracy long-feared, the state religion is conspiracy.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the moon landing has proven so durable as a subject of paranoid speculation, second only, probably, to JFK’s assassination. Whereas the miasma of theories around Oswald are rooted in the utter unreality of an American president’s life—at the peak of the American Century—brutally ended before his time, the haze of disbelief around the lunar rendezvous has more to do with the sheer incomprehensibility of the leaps in technology that pulled it off.

The moon landing was the first great public achievement powered by computers, and even if they only had a tiny fraction of the processing power of an iPhone, they were still inscrutable. After all, the most complicated machine in most people’s homes in 1969 was the car in their garage, and if you popped the hood on a Trans Am and stared at it for a while, you could more or less make sense of how it worked. (Try that with a Tesla—oh, wait, there’s not even a motor under that hood.) With the moon landing, technology proved itself to be so advanced as to seem like, as they say, magic. 

So of course there are people insisting it’s all a sham. Here is a sampling of some of the most common questions conspiracy theorists pose around the moon landing—and how to disprove (most) of them:

Why are there no stars in the Apollo 11 pictures? There’s not even an atmosphere on the moon—shouldn’t there be stars? Well, no. According to NASA—and, to be fair, maybe this is like citing the magician in your proof that a woman was actually sawed in half and put back together—the earth and the moon both reflect enough sunlight as to render the stars invisible. More specifically, with a camera configured to take good pictures in the amount of light present on the surface of the moon, stars are too faint to register an exposure. It’s like how you don’t see stars during the day on earth, or at night in a big city. The Apollo astronauts weren’t on the dark side of the moon, after all.

Some conspiracists point to the American flag Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong planted on the moon: It seems to be flapping or waving, when the moon, without an atmosphere, should have no wind. There’s a pretty simple explanation for this one: A flag being stretched into place over a pole, and a flag hanging from a pole while the pole is being twisted deeper into the ground, is going to move. 

NASA would probably help themselves here if they didn’t explain this using the weirdest possible language. Their statement on the matter: “Unfurling a piece of rolled-up cloth with sore angular momentum will naturally result in waves and ripples—no breeze required.”

Why isn’t there a crater from the engines under the lunar lander? And why didn’t it kick up a huge cloud of dust when it landed and took off? Turns out that soil on the moon is pretty hard-packed, so it deflected force from the lander’s thrusters rather than being scoured into a crater. But also, the landing did kick up dust—it just didn’t behave the way we’d expect, given our experience with dust all comes from a planet with an atmosphere. 

Anyway, if you want to see moondust, you can: Just check out Neil Armstrong’s suit at the Smithsonian. Conservators there have restored the suit, but they made sure to keep it dusty.

Rocks brought back from the moon have been studied extensively—including by scientists outside of NASA—and proven to have characteristics that means they are not of the earth. The Apollo astronauts left retroreflectors on the moon, which scientists on earth target with lasers to measure distance. Scientists from many agencies—not just insidious American ones that are in on the hoax—have been using the retroreflectors for experiments for decades.

But then, that sort of gets at the problem. The average person doesn’t know what a retroreflector is, or how to determine the age or geology of moonrocks, or the physics of dust kicked up by a lunar lander. Theories that we faked the moon landing will probably never go away, because it’s just too damn impressive. So maybe the best proof that the man landing was real is this: Even the Russians, who then—as now—were at best our competitors and at worst our enemies, haven’t disputed that we made it. We feeble humans actually pulled that off.

7 Responses to “Moon Denial’s Perennial Crocks”

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Go Buzz, just beautiful.

  2. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    There is a delay in my posts, and you can all stop cheering! Now my post is being moderated. Is it because I stuffed up trying to join WordPress, or have I annoyed a god somehow?

  3. redskylite Says:

    The moon landing denier was certainly asking for the blow on his face, by an arranged “Buzz” Aldrin delivering the blow in fine “western movie style.

    The only problem I have is that Buzz is an arch Climate Denier and darling of many a hardened denial individuals and groups. CFACT sponsored climate depot for one – see “Three out of four living astronauts who walked on moon are climate skeptics” October 18 if you can bring yourself to read the muck.

    Apart from that I remember staying up all night to watch those incredible black & white moon images clearly, and going for a bleary eyed job interview the same day.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      He is a denier, damn that is disappointing.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Just because Aldrin walked on the moon and had the balls to punch out a deluded fat toad who needed punching does NOT mean that he is a hero in every aspect of his existence. Denying climate change at this point in time is nothing to be proud of.

      I’m not sure what all the facial gymnastics in the second clip mean—-except for one that looks like an eye roll, the rest of it looks like incipient Parkinson’s or some such disorder.

  4. redskylite Says:

    “This month the world has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon. But this week sees another scientific anniversary, perhaps just as important for the future of civilisation.

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