5.12 How come photos show the landing site without the Lunar Module?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because that’s not the landing site, but a different location nearly a mile away. The hills in the background look identical not because they’re shot from the same location, but because they’re actually distant mountains, which don’t change appearance if the viewpoint moves by a mile or so, just like on Earth.

THE DETAILS: Some Moon hoax theorists point out that certain pairs of Apollo photographs show the landing sites with and without the Lunar Module. They claim it’s the same location because the hills in the background are identical in both pictures.

According to Fox TV’s Did We Land on the Moon?, this is “seemingly impossible, since the LM never moved and its base remained even after the mission.” And obviously there was nobody available to take photographs at the landing site before the LM landed, so there was no way to have a photo of the landing site without the LM. The show illustrates this argument with the pictures shown below.

Two photographs with identical backdrops, shown in Fox TV’s Did We Land on the Moon? (2001).


Hoax proponents often claim that this is evidence of fakery: they argue that the backgrounds were clumsily recycled to simulate different locations.

One might wonder why the alleged perpetrators of one of history’s greatest conspiracies would be so dumb as to reuse a movie backdrop and hope to get away with it, but never mind: a little research reveals the technical fallacy in the hoax theorists’ argument.

The two photographs shown above come from the Apollo 15 mission: they’re cropped versions of photos AS15-82-11057 (left) and AS15-82-11082 (right). The mission records at Apolloarchive.com and at the Apollo 15 Surface Operations Overview of the Lunar and Planetary Institute report that the first photograph was taken from a point named Station 8, approximately 125 meters (400 feet) northwest of the lunar module, while the second one was taken from another location, known as Station 9, 1400 meters (4600 feet) west of the LM (Figure 5-30).

Detail of the Apollo 15 Traverse Map. Station 8 is not visible because it lies too close to the LM (indicated by X).


In other words, the lunar module is not in the second picture simply because the photograph was taken about a mile away from the spacecraft, not at the landing site.

So why is the background identical? Because what appear to be nearby gentle hills are actually massive and distant mountains that rise to more than 4500 meters (15,000 feet), and there are no familiar references, such as houses or trees, and no atmospheric haze on the Moon to give away the actual distance and size of these features.

Imagine you’re taking a picture of a tall mountain from a village located a few miles away. If you move to another place roughly a mile away, you won’t be surprised to find that the houses of the village are no longer in the picture, although the mountain will look very much the same. That’s exactly what happened in the allegedly fake lunar photographs: they’re pictures of distant mountains taken from two different places.

The studio backdrop theory, moreover, is contradicted by the fact that if the original photographs are compared carefully, it becomes apparent that the details of the mountains actually change slightly because of the equally slight change in viewpoint. This means that the mountains in the photos are three-dimensional objects that have depth, not flat backdrops, so much that their perspective changes. Robert Braeunig’s Rocket and Space Technology website discusses other cases of alleged “recycled backdrops”.