3.1 Documentation

The United States’ crewed Moon landing program generated an immense amount of documents: technical manuals, plans and blueprints for even the tiniest spacecraft part, thousands of science articles, checklists, procedures, measurements, budgets, audits, contracts, purchase orders, inspection reports, press kits, mission reports, medical reports, experience reports, sample analyses, full transcripts of communications, and much more.

This documentation includes high-quality photographs, radio and television broadcasts, color film footage, telemetry data, and ground-to-air and onboard audio recordings.

Figure 3.1-1. An example of the vast documentation of the Moon missions: a landing site selection study dated 1965.

Figure 3.1-2. Another example of the publicly available Apollo documents: ax excerpt from a study on landing site locations and stay times.

The six Apollo Moon landings generated 6,175 photos and dozens of hours of TV recordings and movie camera footage. That’s just the amount of pictures and footage taken on the lunar surface, excluding the rest of the trip, which would bring the total to roughly 20,000 photographs.

All this material has been publicly available for decades to anyone who asked for it and paid for duplication costs. Today it’s also available on the Internet, on digital media or on paper (see the References section at the end of this book). Apart from occasional typos and minor errors, it is all completely self-consistent and in agreement with the space research conducted by other countries.

These documents have been studied for decades by the world’s leading researchers and are the basis for countless science and technology innovations that we use every day, from GPS navigation to mobile phones. These inventions wouldn’t work if they were based on fake data.

Today NASA’s reports and data can be analyzed with techniques that didn’t even exist at the time and that any 1969 fakery accordingly would have been unable to preempt. If they had been forged, the world’s experts would know. Moreover, achieving such a massive, perfectly consistent and future-proof forgery would have been probably harder than actually going to the Moon.


Rather amusingly, the most significant technical error found in decades of expert examination of the Moon landing documents is that NASA claimed incorrectly that there were no photographs of Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon and that all the photos of the historic first moonwalk of Apollo 11 showed his crew mate Buzz Aldrin. Quite an embarrassment, considering that Armstrong was the commander of the mission and the first man to set foot on the Moon’s surface (Aldrin joined him a few minutes later).

But in 1987 two researchers, H. J. P. Arnold and Keith Wilson, cross-checked the Apollo 11 radio communication transcripts and the astronauts’ reports and realized that some of the photographs actually showed Armstrong and not Aldrin as NASA had claimed [Spaceflight, August and December 1987; AS11-40-5886, by Eric M. Jones, Nasa.gov (1995)].

The mistake was partly due to the fact that the moonwalk plan explicitly prescribed that only Armstrong would take photographs of Aldrin, but not vice versa. Moreover, the astronauts’ spacesuits had no identifying markings apart from small name tags (starting with Apollo 13, this was fixed by providing the commander’s suit with conspicuous red bands).

Thanks to this research, today we know that there are six full-figure or partial photographs of Neil Armstrong on the Moon: the best one is AS11-40-5886 (Figures 3.1-3 and 3.1-4). Not much of a snapshot, but it’s better than nothing. Most of all, it shows that independent cross-checks on mission data are feasible and effective and that NASA’s word is not accepted unquestioningly.

Figure 3.1-3. Photo AS11-40-5886 shows Neil Armstrong on the Moon.

Figure 3.1-4. Neil Armstrong on the Moon. Detail from photo AS11-40-5886.

It’s also worth noting that NASA’s error was found not by Moon hoax theorists, but by expert researchers, well-versed in spaceflight history, who patiently checked their sources and facts.

Unfortunately, this mislabeling went uncorrected for eighteen years, allowing it to spread and fueling the conjecture that Aldrin refused to take photographs of Armstrong out of spite because he had not been chosen to be the first man to set foot on the Moon.

The other photographs of Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface are:

Armstrong is also clearly visible in the Apollo 11 television and film footage.

The tale of this error prompts a question for Moon hoax believers: if the photographs of the first Moon landing were faked for propaganda reasons, then how come NASA didn’t fake at least one iconic shot of the first man on the Moon that it could feed to the media?

The photographs

Many people believe that the Moon landings, especially the early ones, took only a handful of grainy, washed-out photographs, because that’s what the media usually show, often relying on poor transfers of old copies instead of using pristine digital scans taken directly from the originals.

Actually, the first lunar landing mission, Apollo 11, took 340 high-quality photographs while on the surface of the Moon (217 from inside the LM and 123 during the actual moonwalk).

The other trips took even more pictures on the lunar surface:
  • Apollo 12: 583
  • Apollo 14: 417
  • Apollo 15: 115
  • Apollo 16: 1787
  • Apollo 17: 2237

There are also thousands of photographs taken during the flights before and after the actual Moon landings. The grand total is about 19,700.

For many years, books, magazines and newspapers simply used the most dramatic and spectacular photographs of this vast collection and ignored the rest. But today the Internet makes it possible to distribute the entire set of photographs at virtually no cost and reveal the true variety and quality of these historic images.

Their detail is indeed superbly fine. The lunar astronauts used black-and-white and color film in 70 mm format, with three and a half times the area of regular 35 mm film: the same format used by most professional photographers at that time. Their main cameras were custom-built by Hasselblad and mounted Zeiss lenses: the state of the art in mobile photography in the 1960s.

Figure 3.1-5. Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin inspect 70 mm film rolls. NASA photograph AP11-69-H-1247.

Figure 3.1-6. A Hasselblad 500EL lunar camera.

All these films are still carefully preserved by NASA in a low-temperature vault at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and have been painstakingly digitized. The resulting scans are freely available online with resolutions of up to 4400 x 4600 pixels from websites such as Apolloarchive.com and Eol.jsc.nasa.gov and in books such as Norman Mailer’s Moonfire.

These high-quality scans restore the original colors and detail to the Apollo photographs, offering us today a far more complete, fresh and spectacular vision of the lunar excursions of four decades ago than was available to most people at the time of the Moon missions. Moreover, these pictures, besides being a beautiful testimony to the endeavor, allow anyone to cross-check the internal consistency of the documentation of the lunar landings.

For example, AS11-40-5903 (the famous “tourist photo” of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission) is often published in the format and quality shown below.

Figure 3.1-7. The classic photograph of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, AS11-40-5903, as shown online by the JSC Digital Image Collection.

But if you examine the direct scan of the original film frame (Figure 3.1-8), you find very different, sharper colors and a much wider view, which includes a footpad of the Lunar Module and one of the rod-like probes used by the LM as a ground contact sensor. These probes were located under three of the LM’s four circular feet and were bent during landing.

Figure 3.1-8. A higher-quality, full-frame scan of the same photograph, AS11-40-5903. Source: Eol.jsc.nasa.gov.

It also turns out that the original shot is quite tilted. Apollo 11’s Moon camera didn’t have a viewfinder: the astronauts took their pictures by pointing it roughly in the intended direction and relying on the wide viewing angle of the lens. This method usually worked, but in this case Neil Armstrong almost beheaded Aldrin, in the best tradition of tourist snapshots the world over. Indeed, Aldrin’s stick-like radio antenna, located on the top of his backpack, is cropped. For all these reasons, this photograph is often printed in the media by straightening it and adding a portion of fake black sky at the top.

The high-quality scan reveals many details of the image that had been wiped out by the excessive contrast introduced by repeated analog duplication processes. It also restores the original clarity of the picture all the way to the horizon, with none of the fading caused by atmospheric haze in pictures taken on Earth, clearly indicating that the photograph was taken in a vacuum.

Also, the direction of the shadows and the inclusion of the footpad and probe of the Lunar Module allow us to locate Aldrin with respect to the vehicle.

Aldrin is standing with the sun behind him and to his left, but the sunlight reflected by the daylit surface all around him and by the metallic film that covers the LM fills in the shadows on his bright white suit.

These higher-resolution scans allow us to explore the Apollo photographs in ways that are entirely impossible with the usual media prints. For example, Aldrin’s reflective visor holds the distorted mirror image of his surroundings. With this image quality and with today’s digital imaging tools, it becomes possible to analyze the reflection.

The photograph can be flipped to reverse the mirroring effect and then color-corrected to remove the gold hue of the visor, obtaining the detail shown below.

Figure 3.1-9. The reflection in Aldrin’s visor in photo AS11-40-5903, reversed and color-corrected, reveals Aldrin’s view. Credit: NASA, Kipp Teague, Apollo 11 Image Library.

This reveals the scene from Aldrin’s viewpoint: the LM to the left, Neil Armstrong (taking the photograph) at the center, with the camera at chest level, the American flag above Aldrin’s shadow and the vertical silver strip of the solar wind experiment to the right. Basically, we get to see what was behind the camera, and therefore we can cross-check.

For example, the portion of the LM footpad visible in the full picture corresponds exactly to the footpad reflected in the visor, and the positions of the flag and solar wind experiment match exactly the other photos and the TV and movie camera footage of the Apollo 11 landing site.

Faking not one, but three hundred and forty photographs at this level of resolution and detail and making them perfectly consistent with the live TV broadcast and the 16 mm movie footage would have been astoundingly difficult with the analog photo retouching techniques that were available in the 1960s. An even greater effort would have been necessary for the lunar missions that followed, with their hours of color footage and thousands of photographs.

But there’s more. There’s a tiny pale blue dot in the black sky reflected in Aldrin’s visor, towards the top edge. That dot is right where the Earth would have been in the lunar sky, reflected by an astronaut’s visor, if you had placed him where NASA says that Aldrin was standing for this picture: at the Apollo 11 site in the Sea of Tranquility, on the Moon, on July 20-21, 1969.

You can check this with any good astronomy program. From a given point on the Moon, the Earth always has the same position in the sky relative to the lunar horizon (apart from slight changes caused by so-called libration), so the exact date isn’t too important. Details of the analysis of this blue dot are in the Apollo 11 Image Library curated by Eric M. Jones and Ken Glover. Incidentally, the Earth appears tiny in the reflection in the photo because Aldrin’s visor is a curved mirror, which reduces the apparent size of objects, especially close to its edge: it’s the same effect seen in the passenger-side mirrors of many cars. Seen from the Moon, the Earth actually appears to be about 3.6 times as wide as the Moon is in Earth’s sky.

This is just one example of the kind of cross-checking that can be done on the freely available data of the Moon missions. How hard would it have been to fake all this while keeping track of all these minute details?

And if somehow someone pulled off such an amazingly detailed hoax, then how come the same people who bothered to get right even such trivial matters as the reflection of the Earth in an astronaut’s visor forgot to put the stars in the photographs or didn’t notice a suspiciously flapping Moon flag, as many hoax believers claim?

The live TV broadcast

This cross-checking also applies to the television pictures that were sent live from the Moon. Most moonwalk photographs were taken while the astronauts were in the viewing field of the lunar TV camera and therefore can be compared with the television footage. In all the decades since they were taken, not a single verified mismatch or discrepancy has surfaced.

Figure 3.1-10. A frame from the Apollo 11 live television broadcast.

Figure 3.1-11. The full restored TV broadcast of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. The picture is cropped to adapt it to the 16:9 widescreen format (the original has a 4:3 aspect ratio).

The TV transmissions covered every minute of all the moonwalks (except for Apollo 12’s, whose television camera failed a few minutes after the excursion had begun, and Apollo 14’s, for which much of the moonwalk was off-camera). This means that for the longer missions there are dozens of hours of recordings, with long uninterrupted sequences, all in color. All this material is available to anyone in unedited form, for example in the excellent DVDs sold by Spacecraft Films.

The live TV broadcasts also repeatedly show several phenomena that can only occur in an airless, low-gravity environment and could not have been faked with the special effects technology of the 1960s, as we’ll see in detail later.

Film footage

The astronauts also used compact movie cameras loaded with 16 mm color film. The image below, for example, shows Neil Armstrong as he climbs down the Lunar Module’s ladder to take mankind’s first step on the Moon, as shot by Buzz Aldrin with the Maurer movie camera through the right window of the LM.

Figure 3.1-12. Armstrong climbs down to the lunar surface in a frame from the 16 mm film footage.

The first hour and a half of Armstrong and Aldrin’s moonwalk is documented in sharp color on movie film as well as by the still photographs and the television broadcast. This footage, too, allows cross-checks.

For example, the figure below is a detail of a 16 mm film frame showing Aldrin’s salute to the flag: this is the same moment captured from a different viewpoint by Armstrong’s famous photograph AS11-40-5874 and by the live TV camera (also shown below).

Figure 3.1-13. Apollo 11: Aldrin salutes the flag while Armstrong takes his photograph. Frame from the 16 mm film footage.

Figure 3.1-14. Apollo 11: Aldrin salutes the flag. Photo AS11-40-5874.

Figure 3.1-15. Aldrin’s salute in the live TV footage.

Like the television broadcasts, this film footage is fully available and shows phenomena that could only occur in low gravity and in a vacuum, documented with the clarity and vivid color of film.

This is important because it adds further layers of complexity to any alleged fakery. Hiding special effects (for example wires to make the astronauts walk in apparent low gravity) in a hazy TV picture might be conceivable; hiding them from the much sharper eye of a movie camera is an entirely different challenge.

Moreover, these hypothetical special effects would have to be accomplished in long, unbroken sequences, without any of the editing and quick scene cuts used by Hollywood to hide the workings of its magic.

Other information sources

The wealth of information on the Moon missions that is publicly available is often greatly underestimated. For example, the complete timeline of all the moonwalks, with the commented transcript of every single word uttered on the Moon and every single photograph taken and action performed during the lunar excursions is freely available on the Internet in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

Besides countless NASA manuals, handbooks and reports published online, there are many technical books, written by spaceflight experts, that cover the Apollo missions, such as the Apollo Definitive Sourcebook by Orloff and Harland, How Apollo Flew to the Moon by David Woods, and detailed non-technical accounts such as Moonfire by Norman Mailer and A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin.

The autobiographies of the lunar astronauts (such as Aldrin’s Return to Earth and Magnificent Desolation, Collins’s Carrying the Fire, Cernan’s The Last Man on the Moon) and of the flight directors at Mission Control in Houston (Failure is not an Option by Gene Kranz, Flight by Christopher Kraft) are also rich in technical details that clarify how we went to the Moon.

Moreover, there is an immense amount of footage covering every aspect of the design, development, evolution, manufacture, testing and launching of the Apollo vehicles. This material is now available both in raw, unedited form from websites such as Archive.org and Footagevault.com and on DVD and as part of many great documentaries, such as When We Left Earth, In the Shadow of the Moon, For All Mankind, Moonwalk One and others.

The Internet also provides access to many specialized sites that painstakingly document and catalog the history of spaceflight, such as the vast Encyclopedia Astronautica, as well as NASA’s own websites. The “Moon hoax” claims are also examined and debunked in detail by experts in sites such as AboveTopSecret.com, Clavius.org and many others.

An extensive list of these resources is provided in the References chapter.