Chapter 12. How to debate a Moon hoax believer

12.1 One word of advice

Don’t. Never, ever try to change the mind of a Moon hoax believer, i.e., someone who claims to be absolutely, instinctively sure that the Moon landings were faked in one way or another. It would be a waste of time: you can’t use rationality to dispel an irrational belief.

Debating a doubter instead can be very constructive. A doubter is still open to reasoned argument and to clearly presented evidence. Many people have doubts about the Moon landings simply because they’re not familiar with the subject and have heard the hoax theories. Since they lack the tools to determine who’s right and who’s wrong, they take the only sensible course: they remain doubtful.

There’s only one situation in which it’s worth debating a Moon hoax believer: in front of a doubter. A calm, well-documented discussion will often allow the doubter to realize that the hoax believer’s arguments are seductive but ultimately inconsistent and irrational.

However, some Moon hoax theories may seem quite plausible and convincing at first, and it’s easy to get lost in the technical details. What you need is something that clearly reveals the absurdities of these theories.

Here is a series of questions that in my experience are effective in rapidly exposing the untenability of Moon hoax beliefs. These question force believers to justify their ideas with explanations that they cannot give without contradicting themselves. Moreover, they often produce a very intense and sometimes aggressive emotional reaction, which is worth a thousand pages of technical exposition in making it clear, to the doubter who observes the debate, who is rationally, serenely right and who is hopelessly, aggressively wrong.

These same questions, especially the first one, are also useful as a starting point for a debate with doubters. They force them to question the consistency and plausibility of their doubts, at least enough to want to know more about the subject, for example from the book you’re reading.

To avoid writing “he or she” repeatedly, I’ll assume that the hoax believer/doubter is male, which in any case is true most of the time. No sexism is implied; that’s just the way it is.

12.2 If you’ve only got time for one question

Moon hoax claims often surface in situations where there’s no time to have an extensive debate. If all you have time for is one question, try this one.

There isn’t a single astronaut, from any country, who agrees with Moon hoax theories. Many are personal friends of the moonwalkers or trained with them. Are you saying that these highly skilled space professionals, who have actually been in space, are too dumb to realize that they were being hoaxed by a bunch of liars riding a fake rocket? Are you implying that you’re smarter than an astronaut? Seriously?

If you know the name of an astronaut from your country, mention it; e.g., “Are you implying that you’re smarter than Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who spent six months in space working on the International Space Station?” Make it personal.

Then walk away or change the subject.

12.3 Questions for hoax believers

One of the most effective ways to flummox a Moon hoax theorist is to ask him to provide technically documented answers (i.e., provide specific, authoritative technical sources) for the following questions – and do so without being self-contradictory. You should never accept arguments that begin with “We all know that...”: always ask for sources and documents to back up every claim. Without them, the theorist’s claims are nothing more than hot air. Remember to always ask “Do you have an authoritative source for that?”

Some hoax theorists try personal attacks by asking you if you’re qualified to talk about the Moon landings. They might ask you if you’re an aerospace engineer or have a science degree or other qualifications that entitle you to speak authoritatively. If you do, say so, of course; but in any case, make it very clear that your personal qualifications aren’t really relevant, since the authenticity of the Moon landings is supported overwhelmingly by the international technical and scientific community. Then ask the conspiracists what qualifications they have or what authoritative backing they can provide. They won’t have any.

Never allow a hoax theorist to control the discussion by changing the subject and moving on to another claim when he is stumped: this is a typical trick. Be calm but firm: you’ve asked a specific question, you have the right to an answer. If the hoax supporter dodges the question, ask it again, and point out his attempt to elude it. If he then caves in and starts to submit another objection by saying “Yes, but...”, remember to make it very clear that his “Yes” means that he’s conceded the point and admitted that he was wrong. If he’s wrong on that point, maybe he’s wrong on the others.

Don’t get bogged down in arguments over the technical minutiae of the missions: they don’t provide any insight to anyone who is not well acquainted with spaceflight. Conspiracy theorists love to split hairs on insignificant details. Don’t reply by offering further technical details, but ask them to get to the point. Just say “And so?”: the hoax proponent will have to explain why the technical detail on which he is dwelling is so important. Usually he will fail, and this will show how inconsistent his vision actually is and will bring the debate back to more general and less arcane issues.

Remember that the best way to show how ridiculous these theories are is to let a Moon hoax theorist babble on and then calmly ask a few pointed questions. Most of all, be serene. Let your tone of voice make it clear to everyone who is being sensible and logical and who is being hysterical and obsessive, and show that you don’t really care whether you change his mind or not. Conspiracy theorists want you to argue and get mad: don’t rise to the bait. Have fun and consider the debate an opportunity to talk about the greatness and wonder of spaceflight.

Now let’s move on to the questions.

How many missions were faked?

Was it just the first Moon landing, or all of them, or all the flights that went to the Moon, or maybe all crewed flights in space? What about the Soviet ones? The Chinese ones? Whatever he says, the Moon hoax theorist is going to paint himself in a corner.

If he claims that all the lunar flights were faked, including the ones that didn’t land, then he’s saying that nine missions to the Moon were hoaxes – not just the six lunar landings, but also Apollo 8, 10 and 13, which went all the way to the Moon and flew around it.

The complexity of faking perfectly not one, not six, but nine entire flights is overwhelming: the amount of photographs, movie and TV footage, radio transmissions and scientific data that would have to be simulated flawlessly increases to the point of absurdity. Likewise, the number of people that would have to be in the know and kept gagged for over four decades, with nobody ever blabbing, becomes ludicrously large. Especially if you consider that all this incredibly complicated, top-secret trickery would have to be achieved by the US government – which, let’s face it, has a less than stellar record at keeping secrets and accomplishing complex tasks.

If the conspiracy theorist claims that only the Moon landings (i.e., the Apollo flights from 11 onward) were faked, then this implies that he believes that the previous missions were real and therefore that the photographs taken during those missions are authentic. These photos quash many of the objections based on photographs, such as the allegedly suspicious lack of stars, the fogging or melting of the film due to radiation or heat, and many of the technical objections: for example, deep space radiation and the Van Allen belts can’t have been unsurmountable obstacles if Apollo 8 went safely through both on its way to the Moon. If he says that Apollo 8 wasn’t faked, then the whole argument that 1960s space technology wasn’t up to the task of going to the Moon gets thrown out.

If instead the claim is that only the first Moon landing (Apollo 11) was faked to save face and meet Kennedy’s end-of-the-decade deadline, but the subsequent ones were real, then the hoax theorist has to explain why the first landing had to be faked at great risk when the second one (Apollo 12, which, he argues, was real) took place just four months later, in November of 1969, still within the deadline.

And if he claims that the subsequent lunar missions were real, then the photographs, TV and movie footage shot during those later missions can be used as reference to disprove the allegations of anomalies in the Apollo visual record.

Can you explain in detail what you think really happened without contradicting yourself?

In over forty years, no conspiracy theorist has been able to provide a detailed and consistent alternative version of the events. Sooner or later, his description contradicts itself or requires entirely groundless, unproven assumptions. The only consistent, documented version of the events surrounding the Moon landings is the one presented by the overwhelming majority of historians and backed up by tons of technical evidence: we went to the Moon nine times and landed on it with crewed spacecraft six times.

A Moon hoax believer might argue that he doesn’t have to provide a complete alternative version and that all he has to do is prove that the “official” version is false. Fine: but in over four decades, conspiracy theorists have failed even to accomplish this simpler task and provide at least one item of irrefutable evidence of the alleged fakery.

Moreover, it’s not true that hoax theorists don’t offer alternative versions of the events: the claim that the “official” version is false is an alternative version. As such, it must not be self-contradicting, so ask the theorist for a detailed explanation of how he thinks things really happened and then wait for the contradictions to appear. Ask him to paint the full picture: it’s the best way to find whether it makes any sense.

Were the Moon photographs faked or not?

For example, ask the hoax believer or doubter to consider the famous picture of Buzz Aldrin saluting the American flag on the Moon (Figure 12-1): was the flag added by photo editing or was it really there?

Figure 12-1. Aldrin salutes the US flag. Photo AS11-40-5874 (cropped).

No matter how the conspiracy theorist replies, he’s going to end up contradicting himself. If he answers that the photograph was faked by adding the flag, then this implies that it was actually taken on the Moon, otherwise it would have been easier to just put the flag on the movie set in the first place or, if the flag photo op had been somehow inexplicably forgotten, just go back to the movie set and take more pictures.

If he claims that the flag was really there but the picture was shot in a studio, then ask why didn’t they also fake a nice photograph of Neil Armstrong saluting the flag, while they were at it. After all, Armstrong was the commander of the mission and the first man to set foot on the Moon, yet there isn’t a single decent picture of him on the lunar surface, and virtually all the Apollo 11 photos show Aldrin. How come?

How come not one of the 400,000 people who worked on the Apollo project has ever confessed to the hoax, not even on his or her deathbed?

The Saturn V rocket and the Apollo spacecraft were designed and built by private contractors like Boeing and Grumman, not by some secretive NASA skunk works. If the claim is that the technology of the 1960s was not up to the job, then the conspiracy theorist has to explain why not one of the thousands of highly skilled workers and engineers who were part of the Apollo project has ever spilled the beans and why not one of the equally skilled testing crews ever noticed that the spacecraft was an unworkable dummy.

If the argument is that they realized what was going on but kept quiet to avoid repercussions, then the theorist must explain why there haven’t been any deathbed confessions, anonymous leaks or at least some inadvertent disclosure by a blundering, disgruntled or drunken employee. Even the CIA, the NSA or the most ruthless organized crime syndicates can’t achieve this level of absolute compliance. All it would take is one person like Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) or Edward Snowden and the whole plot would be exposed.

If instead the hoax theorist claims that fully functional vehicles were built to fool the engineers and were launched to fool the public but weren’t actually used to go to the Moon, that still leaves the problem of the other engineers who had to alter these vehicles to fake the flights: if there was no crew on board, for example, then someone had to design, test and install the extra hardware needed to pilot the spacecraft from Earth, land it on the Moon, send fake radio transmissions and data from the Moon to fool the radio astronomers on Earth (especially the Soviet ones), pick up Moon rocks, and so forth, and then keep perfectly quiet forever.

The fake rocket theory also contradicts the claim that the Apollo project was created and faked to divert its billions of dollars to covert government operations. Fake or not, lots of giant Saturn rockets still had to be seen lifting off from the pads in Florida, and giant rockets, plus all their supporting hardware and ground crews, don’t come cheap, especially if they actually have to get to space. Then there would be the expense of faking the radio signals, shooting the fake Moon footage, manufacturing the Moon rocks, counterfeiting millions of pages of technical documents, paying everybody to keep quiet, and so on. Faking the Moon landings probably would have been just as expensive as actually going to the Moon.

If human flight to the Moon is physically impossible, why did the Russians try so hard to do it?

Any Moon hoax theorist has to contend with the fact that the Soviet Union worked hard and secretly spent billions trying to put a cosmonaut on the Moon before the United States. This covert attempt, known as N1-L3, ran late due to technical glitches and political squabbling and was abandoned when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon. The Russians also had a separate, simpler lunar fly-around project, named L1, which was almost ready but was canceled when Americans became the first to orbit around the Moon with Apollo 8.

True, the N1 rockets exploded four times out of four. But the fact remains that the Soviets believed that it was technically possible to take human beings to the Moon and that all the natural obstacles, such as the Van Allen belts, deep space radiation or temperature extremes on the Moon, could be overcome.

How come the Soviets didn’t realize the hoax and didn’t expose it to the world?

The spies and the electronic eavesdropping outposts of the Soviet Union would have been quite capable of detecting any attempt at faking the flight trajectories and the radio and TV transmissions from the Moon by broadcasting them from somewhere else. The Soviets had every reason to want to expose any fraud perpetrated by their enemy and humiliate the United States before the world. Yet they kept quiet and even congratulated America for the Moon landings. How come?

Some hoax theorists argue that the silence of the Soviets was bought by the United States by giving them massive amounts of desperately needed grain, as mentioned in Chapter 10, or by threatening to reveal Russia’s hidden space failures, such as the alleged deaths of the cosmonauts that preceded Yuri Gagarin, who according to this theory wasn’t the first human being to fly in space but merely the first one to come back alive.

Of course, using one unproven conspiracy theory to justify another one isn’t a very sound approach to finding out the truth. Moreover, history shows that during the Cold War the United States and Russia seldom had any qualms about exposing each other’s atrocities and deceptions, so it seems rather unlikely that they somehow reached a gentleman’s agreement about human spaceflight, which in the 1960s was a crucial aspect of political propaganda and prestige.

How many photographs and how many hours of live TV and movie footage would have had to be faked?

Ask the conspiracy theorist to give an estimate of the numbers involved in faking the photos and the footage of the Apollo missions. He probably will be quite far from the actual figures. You should point out that the photographs that were taken on the Moon and therefore allegedly would have to be faked are over 6,500. Just the TV and film footage shot on the lunar surface by the Apollo 16 mission amounts to over fourteen hours, and there were six Moon landings.

You should also point out that all this visual record would have to be faked without any of the errors in continuity or inconsistencies that occur regularly in movies and TV shows.

Using 1960s special effects, how did they prevent the film crew and equipment from being reflected in the astronauts’ mirror-like visors?

Ask the Moon hoax proponent to explain in detail how this remarkable result could be achieved using only the non-digital visual effects available at the time of the Moon landings. Point out that the astronauts’ visors often reflect quite clearly the details of the ground and of the nearby equipment and vehicles and therefore would have revealed any film crew and their bulky 1960s-era television and film cameras, especially in close-ups.

The only plausible way to conceal the crew and their equipment would have been not to use them at all: in other words, use only the still, TV or movie camera shown in the visor’s reflection and have another astronaut-actor hold it, or mount it on a tripod or a replica of the Rover. But this would have entailed renouncing any extra equipment needed to create the special effects. These constraints would therefore make it even harder to achieve a credible level of fakery.

For example, the “cameraman” would have had to wear a spacesuit and the movie set would have had to include the so-called “fourth wall”, the one behind the camera, and simulate the lunar sky and terrain through a full circle. All this would have to be achieved in a vacuum, with all the safety risks that this entailed, to obtain the correct swinging of the flag and the parabolic motion of the dust kicked up by the astronauts. All this leads to the next question.

Using 1960s special effects, how did they obtain the parabolic, swirl-free motion of the dust kicked up by the astronauts or by the Moon buggy?

This effect can only be obtained in a vacuum, so ask the conspiracy theorist for a technical description of how it would have been possible to achieve it without actually taking people and a buggy to the Moon and filming them there. Of course, no digital tricks would be allowed, because there was no broadcast-quality computer graphics in the 1960s.

How big was the set?

The Apollo TV footage includes long, unbroken sequences such as the one summarized in Figure 12-2 and taken from the Apollo 16 moonwalks. Note how the astronauts walk a great distance away from the camera without reaching the end of the alleged movie set. The boulder in the background turns out to be actually as big as a house. Ask the conspiracy theorist how this effect could be obtained on Earth.

Figure 12-2. Apollo 16: Young and Duke visit House Rock, which is 220 meters (720 feet) away from the camera and is behind the astronaut on the right in the first image. In the last image, the arrow indicates one of the helmets of the astronauts.

You see revealing mistakes everywhere: why would the fakery be so amateurish?

Ask the hoax theorist to explain why a conspiracy on which no less that the world reputation of the entire United States depended would have been entrusted to a bunch of bungling amateurs who made such egregious (alleged) mistakes as forgetting to add the stars or letting the flag flutter in the nonexistent lunar wind. Then ask to explain how come not one of their supervisors and project managers noticed their blunders.

How come not one professional spaceflight expert agrees with you?

Are they all bribed or threatened into silence? How does this worldwide cover-up work, exactly? Does everyone who earns a degree in aerospace engineering or becomes an astronaut get a visit from the Men in Black, warning him or her not to talk about the Apollo fakery? And what happens to those who refuse to cooperate? Are they murdered? Are their brains zapped and stealthily reprogrammed?

Ask the conspiracy theorist how come all the alleged anomalies in the photographs, in the film and video recordings and in the technology of the Apollo project are seen as evidence of fakery only by people with no significant aerospace qualifications, while those who actually work in the field have no doubt whatsoever about the reality of the Moon landings. Is it really believable that unskilled amateurs can find real anomalies that these experts have failed to notice and admit? And isn’t it rather arrogant for a Moon hoax theorist to imply that by watching a few Youtube videos and looking at a few low-quality photos he or she can outsmart an astronaut or an aerospace engineer with years of practical experience?