Chapter 5. Alleged photographic anomalies

Many Moon hoax proponents claim that there is evidence of blatant fakery in the photographs that NASA presented to the world over four decades ago.

Most of these claims are based on a lack of understanding of the basic principles of photography. This is not really surprising, especially today, when many people have never used anything other than a fully automatic digital camera and therefore are unfamiliar with the technical issues of film photography and know little or nothing about the use, capabilities and limitations of this medium.

Today the concepts of not seeing a picture as soon as it is taken, of setting exposure and focus manually and of dipping a strip of flexible film into chemicals in darkness to reveal a picture sound rather quaint and arcane. Yet that’s how countless masterpieces of photography were taken for over a century and a half, and that’s how photographs were taken on the Moon trips.

5.1 Apollo still photography: a quick primer

Approximately 20,000 still pictures were taken during the Apollo missions, all using photographic film: there were no digital cameras at the time.

The cameras taken to the Moon by the Apollo astronauts used mostly Kodak Ektachrome MS and EF color film, with a speed (sensitivity to light) of ISO 64 and 160 respectively, and Kodak Panatomic-X black-and-white film, with a speed of ISO 80.

Both films were in the 70 mm format, which means that the film strip was 70 millimeters (2.75 inches) wide. The resolution (capacity to record details) of these films was impressive even by today’s standards: 80 lines per millimeter for color film and 170 lines per millimeter for black-and-white. In today’s digital units, that’s roughly equivalent to 40 megapixels for color pictures and to a whopping 160 megapixels for black-and-white ones, according to the Arizona State University’s state-of-the-art Apollo image scanning project.

So-called color reversal film was used. This kind of film produces slides (transparencies) that can be viewed directly instead of negatives (images with reversed colors) that need to be printed. This choice might appear unusual, since negative film is more tolerant to difficult lighting and to over- and underexposures, but it was dictated by the awareness that negatives would have entailed color accuracy problems: photographs taken in space or on the Moon often don’t include any familiar objects that can be used as a color reference and therefore print lab technicians would not have known how to set their printing equipment correctly to render the true colors. Color reversal film doesn’t have this problem.

The Apollo films were derived from the ones used for high-altitude photo reconnaissance, which were designed to withstand temperatures down to -40°C (-40°F). Their special Estar polyester base had a melting point of 254°C (490°F) and was thinner than usual, allowing each film magazine to store enough color film for 160 photographs or black-and-white film for 200 photos.

These magazines were removable and light-tight and constituted the rear portion of the custom-built, motorized Hasselblad 500EL cameras used for nearly all the photographs taken during the Lunar excursions. These cameras had manual exposure and focus setting and a lens with a fixed focal length (i.e., no zoom).

A Hasselblad 500EL lunar excursion camera. Credit:

On the lunar surface, Apollos 11 to 14 only had a single Zeiss Biogon wide-angle (60 mm) lens; later missions added a 500 mm telephoto lens.

The cameras had large adjustment levers to allow handling even with the thick gloves of a lunar spacesuit. The shutter release button was much larger than normal for the same reason. Film advancement was controlled automatically by the electric motor of the camera (the lower block in Figure 5-1).

Focusing was guided by distance markings on the lens and simplified by the considerable depth of field (range of distances over which objects are in focus) of the wide-angle lens at the settings allowed by the bright sunlight: the recommended aperture (also known as f-stop) was f/5.6 for photographs in shadow and f/11 for taking pictures of subjects in full sunlight. The standard exposure time was 1/250th of a second. The film magazines carried a sticker which reminded the astronauts of these settings.

A film magazine used for the Apollo 11 mission. Note the sticker that reminded the astronauts of the settings for the various lighting conditions.

The Hasselblad cameras had no viewfinder, since the astronauts would have been unable to use one while wearing their helmets, so aiming was done by pointing the camera roughly in the direction of the subject. The moonwalkers were aided in this by their extensive photography training and by the wide field of the lens (approximately 49° width and height, 66° diagonal).

A silver-colored coating was applied to the camera bodies used on the lunar surface, in order to reflect the light and heat of the sun and reduce the risk of overheating. Onboard cameras were coated with a more traditional black.

Having established this basic information on the techniques used for the still pictures taken on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, we can now deal with the alleged anomalies that hoax supporters claim to have found in these images.

5.2 Why are there no stars in the photographs?

IN A NUTSHELL: There are no stars in the Moon photographs simply because there shouldn’t be any. The surface of the Moon was in daylight, so the cameras were set for daylight. Stars are too faint to be photographed with daylight settings. Only the planet Venus and the Earth shine brightly enough.

THE DETAILS: This is usually the very first objection raised by doubters: why aren’t there any stars in the Apollo photographs? After all, illustrations and movies that depict the Moon often show the stars in the sky.

However, this is an artistic license. Adding stars makes a picture much more interesting, but it’s scientifically inaccurate. In actual fact, the sky is starless in all photographs ever taken in space in sunlight with normal daylight settings.

There are no stars in pre-Apollo pictures, such as the one shown below, which was taken in 1965 in Earth orbit during the Gemini 4 mission. There are also no stars in more recent space photographs, such as the ones taken by Space Shuttle astronauts. Only with the advent of highly sensitive digital cameras has it been possible to photograph stars from space in any detail.

Ed White during his spacewalk (Gemini 4, 1965). No stars.

Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier against the blackness of space during Shuttle mission STS-103 (1999). No stars.

The reason is very simple: stars are far too faint to be recorded by a camera set for daylight photography like the Moon cameras were. You can test this easily: take a photograph in daylight with a camera that allows manual settings and make a note of the exposure time and aperture (the number after the “f/”) that yield a good picture. Then try taking a photograph of the night sky with the same settings. The sky will turn out pitch black, except for the Moon and possibly Venus.

The astronauts couldn’t see any stars while they were on the Moon for the same reason. If you stand in a city street at night, your eyes are dazzled by car headlights and street lighting, so you’ll have trouble seeing any stars. Imagine how dazzled the moonwalkers were by the entire lunar surface all around them bathed in direct sunlight. If you’ve noticed how bright a full Moon is and how it blocks out the stars in the night sky, just think how bright it must be when you’re actually standing on that Moon.

This is a basic concept of photography and optics, so those who question the lack of stars in the Apollo visual record are simply revealing their lack of technical knowledge. That’s what prominent Moon hoax theorist Bill Kaysing did when he asked “Where are the stars in the lunar sky?” in his book We Never Went to the Moon (page 23).

However, it is incorrect to say that there are no stars at all in any of the pictures taken on the Moon during the Apollo missions. For example, photograph AS16-123-19657 below shows the stars of Capricorn and Aquarius as a backdrop to the Earth. However, it wasn’t taken on the Moon with an ordinary camera, but with a telescope loaded with ultraviolet-sensitive film, using night settings (a long exposure time), during the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972.

A sample of ultraviolet star photography from Apollo 16.

The Apollo visual record also includes pictures of other heavenly bodies, although strictly speaking they’re not stars. For example, NASA photos AS16-117-18815, -18816 and -18817 (Apollo 16) show the planet Venus. During Apollo 14’s moonwalk, astronaut Alan Shepard noticed that Venus was shining above him, next to the crescent Earth, and took a series of photographs. A detail of one of his pictures is shown below

Venus is far brighter than any true star, so much that it can be seen even in daytime on Earth if you know where to look. Yet in these Apollo photographs it is merely a faint dot.

Detail of photograph AS14-64-9191. The object on the left is one of the antennas of the lunar module.

The Earth and the lunar module antenna are instead greatly overexposed and washed out, confirming that when the camera is set to capture the faint light of stars, the ground and any sunlit objects will be overexposed and show up in featureless white. The lunar astronauts were interested in taking pictures of the moonscape, not of the stars, so they usually set their cameras to take good pictures of the terrain around them.

Incidentally, close examination of the high-resolution scans of the Apollo photographs that are now available online sometimes reveals bright dots in the lunar sky. However, these are not stars, but point-like scratches, blemishes or lunar dust particles on the film: they change position from one photo to the next and also occur on parts of the pictures that show the ground. Real stars would be in the same place in the sky in photographs taken from the same viewpoint, in the same direction and around the same time, and their positions relative to each other wouldn’t change.

5.3 Why is the flag blowing in the wind on an airless Moon?

IN A NUTSHELL: It’s not blowing in any wind: it's hanging from a horizontal rod, because NASA figured out a limp flag would not be cool, and it’s actually quite motionless.

THE DETAILS: Some hoax theorists say that the American flag is fluttering in the wind in the Apollo photographs. But there’s no air on the Moon. Therefore, they argue, the photographs are fake.

Apollo 11’s flag. Detail of photo AS11-40-5874.

Actually, the flag seems to be fluttering because it’s hanging from a horizontal rod, which is clearly visible along its top edge if the photographs are examined carefully.

The horizontal rod that supports the flag. Detail of photo AS11-40-5874.

NASA, not being dumb, realized well before the landings that on the airless Moon there would be no wind to make the flag wave, leading to a rather uninspiring droop, so this simple technical workaround was devised.

The flag also looks like it’s wind-blown because of its billowed-out shape. But if you look carefully, you’ll notice that it’s crumpled and creased, rather than wavy as a wind-blown flag should be. It has sharp creases due to the fact that it was carried to the Moon tightly packed and folded in a casing attached to one of the legs of the lunar module. When the astronauts erected it on the Moon, they chose not to smooth out all of these creases, so that it would look like it was being proudly flown by the wind, like a traditional flag.

In some missions the telescopic horizontal rod didn’t extend fully, so the upper edge of the flag remained gathered instead of being stretched straight. This brought out the creases even more and enhanced the remarkable illusion of a billowing flag.

Further evidence that the flag isn’t fluttering in a draft on a movie set is that pictures taken at different times show that its shape never changes unless the astronauts touch it. The same crease pattern persists for tens of minutes.

The wrinkles in the Apollo 11 flag never change shape after the astronauts have erected it. Frames taken from the 16 mm movie camera footage.

Moon hoax theorists also claim that the flag moves suspiciously in the live television and movie footage of the missions. These claims will be discussed in Chapter 6.

5.4 Why are objects in shadow so strangely well-lit?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because shadows on the Moon are not pitch-black as many people imagine them to be. Anything standing in shadow on the dayside of the Moon is still bathed in the glare from all the surrounding sunlit objects: the lunar surface, the Lunar Module, the bright white spacesuits.

THE DETAILS: Moon hoax proponents argue that since the only source of light on the Moon is the Sun and there’s no air to diffuse the light and soften the shadows, any object in shadow should be completely black.

But in Apollo photographs such as AS11-40-5869 (shown below), the astronauts are unexpectedly well-lit even when they’re in the large shadow cast by the lunar module. Some conspiracy theorists say that this effect proves that studio lighting was used.

Buzz Aldrin on the LM footpad. NASA photo AS11-40-5869.

At first glance the picture does indeed seem strange and unnatural. But it’s not because NASA used studio lights; it’s because the natural lighting on the Moon is very different from our everyday experience. We’re not used to a pitch-black sky in daytime; we’re used to a bright sky that diffuses light. On the Moon, with no atmosphere to scatter sunlight and illuminate the sky, other lighting effects become more evident.

Aldrin’s highly reflective white suit is simply lit by the sunlight reflected off the lunar surface all around him, which is in full daylight. It’s quite a glare: although the Moon is only about as reflective as tarmac, the amount of light that it reflects is sufficient to make it shine so brightly in Earth’s sky that it can be seen even in daylight. That reflected sunlight is what makes Aldrin visible. Anything rising above the lunar surface will be lit by the glare of the surrounding sunlit surface. The presence of an atmosphere has nothing to do with this effect.

Of course, the light of the Sun reflected by the lunar surface towards anything that rises above it is not as bright as direct sunlight, so the astronauts simply set their cameras for shadow photography (note the reminder on the film magazine shown above in this chapter). This means that in photos for which the camera was set for shadow any object in full daylight should be overexposed and washed out. Indeed, the sunlit lunar surface in Aldrin’s photograph is nearly white instead of being its natural gray.

It’s easy to demonstrate that the glare of the tarmac-like lunar surface is sufficient to light an astronaut standing in shadow. All it takes is a model of the lunar module and of an astronaut, placed outside at night on a dark gray surface and lit by a single, powerful light source, with no nearby walls or objects that might reflect the light. The result is shown below.

A model of a lunar landing scene, lit outdoors at night by a single light source. The astronaut in the shadow of the LM is visible. Credit: PA.

If you set the camera to take a good picture of the objects in the shadow of the LM, you get the same effect seen in Aldrin’s photo: the astronaut on the ladder is well-lit by the light reflected off the simulated lunar surface, but the parts of the surface that are in direct “sunlight” are overexposed and almost white.

5.5 Why aren’t the shadows parallel?

IN A NUTSHELL: Shadows in the Apollo photographs actually are parallel, but perspective makes them appear to diverge. The same effect can be seen easily on Earth, for example in railroad tracks: their spacing only appears to change with distance, but it’s actually fixed. Also, the lunar terrain is anything but flat, so shadows follow its contours and therefore bend.

THE DETAILS: If you trace the directions of shadows in many Apollo photographs, you’ll notice that they’re not parallel, as exemplified below. Moon hoax proponents say that they should instead be parallel, because on the Moon there’s only one light source (the Sun), which is very far away and therefore casts parallel shadows according to the rules of optics.

An Apollo photograph showing non-parallel shadows, as presented in the Fox TV show Did We Land on the Moon? (2001).

Bart Sibrel, in the Fox TV show Did We Land on the Moon?, stated that “Outside in sunlight, shadows always run parallel with one another, so the shadows will never intersect”. Intersecting shadow directions, it is argued, imply multiple light sources, which are impossible on the Moon and suggest studio lighting. No explanation is given by Moon hoax proponents as to why NASA or the alleged hoax perpetrators would have made such a colossally stupid and glaring mistake.

In actual fact, multiple light sources would cause each object to cast multiple shadows, as occurs with the players in a football or baseball match played at night. But in the photographs taken on the Moon each object casts only one shadow.

Sibrel is correct in stating that in sunlight shadows run parallel to each other, but he seems to have forgotten about perspective, which causes shadows that are actually parallel to appear to converge if viewed or photographed from most angles. It’s a basic optical principle that occurs on Earth as well: parallel objects, such as railroad tracks, appear to converge in the distance, but they don’t actually become closer or intersect. That would make it rather hard for trains to work.

This perspective effect is really easy to demonstrate in real life. The photo below shows shadows cast at sunset by trees and by my very patient wife Elena. The sun is on the right. From this angle, the shadows look essentially parallel, as indeed they were.

My wife Elena patiently stands in for a lunar astronaut. Credit: PA.

But if the same scene is photographed a few seconds later from a different angle, as in the photo below, those very same shadows suddenly appear to converge. However, it’s just an optical illusion caused by perspective. The shadows haven’t actually moved.

The same shadows as in the previous photograph, taken from a different angle, now appear to converge. Credit: PA.

In other words, anyone who claims that intersecting shadows in Apollo photos are evidence of studio fakery merely shows a lack of understanding of the very simple concept of perspective and reveals very limited powers of observation. All it takes to realize that this claim is bogus is to go outside and look around.

5.6 Why do the astronauts cast shadows of different lengths?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because the Moon’s surface isn’t perfectly smooth and level. If there’s a slope, a bump or a hollow in the ground, the astronaut’s shadow will follow its shape and vary its length accordingly. The same happens on Earth.

THE DETAILS: In some Apollo photos and movies the shadows of the astronauts have different lengths; an example is shown below. Moon hoax proponents such as David Percy argue (for example on the website) that this is because the fake astronauts stood at different distances from the overhead studio lights.

A frame from the Apollo 11 movie camera shows that the shadows of the astronauts have different lengths.

However, Percy’s explanation doesn’t hold water, because in the image above the astronaut who is closest to the hypothetical spotlights (as indicated by the direction of the shadows) has the longest shadow, whereas in real life objects that are closer to an elevated light source cast shorter shadows. This can be demonstrated easily by standing at various distances from a streetlight.

The correct explanation for the different shadow lengths is that the surface of the Moon is uneven and has all sorts of slopes, rises and hollows, which sometimes aren’t easily detected in photographs because there are no familiar items for visual reference. These differently sloping portions of the surface alter the length of any shadow that falls onto them. The same thing happens on Earth.

This can be shown by building a model of the lunar surface and lighting it with a single distant spotlight (simulating the Sun). It turns out, perhaps surprisingly, that a model astronaut placed even in a shallow depression casts a shadow which differs greatly in length from the one cast by another identical astronaut standing on level ground, as shown below.

A model shows how even a small hollow changes shadow lengths. Credit: PA.

In the Apollo 11 image taken from the 16 mm film footage, the astronaut on the left is simply standing in a slight hollow of the ground, which shortens his shadow. This hollow isn’t detectable in the picture, but it’s definitely there: it’s revealed by the curved shadow of the flagpole in photo AS11-37-5473 (shown cropped for clarity below).

Detail of photo AS11-37-5473 (Apollo 11).

What’s certainly surprising is that Percy is a member of the British Royal Photographic Society and has received several awards for his work as cameraman. In theory, therefore, he should be quite knowledgeable about lighting and the behavior of shadows on uneven ground.

5.7 How come the shadow of the LM reaches the horizon?

IN A NUTSHELL: Actually, it doesn’t: that’s not the horizon. It’s the raised rim of a nearby crater that hides the actual horizon, which is a lot farther away.

THE DETAILS: In photograph AS11-40-5931 (Apollo 11), shown below, the shadow of the Lunar Module appears to extend all the way to the horizon.

Detail of photograph AS11-40-5931 (Apollo 11).

Moon hoax theorists argue that this makes no sense: the horizon should be miles away. For them it proves that the picture was taken on a small movie set and that the “horizon” is actually the line where the black backdrop that faked the sky met the edge of the set floor.

However, if we look at AS11-40-5961 (below), another photograph of the same location taken from a greater distance in roughly the same direction, we can see that the shadow of the LM actually doesn’t reach the horizon at all. Moreover, the alleged “movie set” must have been huge.

Photo AS11-40-5961 (Apollo 11).

In AS11-40-5931 the tip of the LM shadow is falling on the rim of a crater, known as Double, which is about 15 meters (50 feet) in diameter. The actual horizon is hidden by this rim.

The Double crater can be seen in the reconnaissance photographs taken by the Lunar Orbiter uncrewed probes in 1967, two years before the Apollo 11 landing (for example in photograph V-76-H3) and in the more recent pictures taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter probe in 2009 (shown below).

A photograph of the Apollo 11 landing site taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (2009).

In this LRO image, the Double crater is located to the left and slightly below the Lunar Module, which is the bright spot at the center. The four tiny dots around this spot are the LM footpads; the other bright dots are the instruments left on the Moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

It should be noted, however, that the horizon on the Moon is much closer to the observer than on Earth because the Moon is a smaller world. Barring any valleys, hills or mountains, the lunar horizon is about 2.43 kilometers (1.5 miles) from an observer whose eyes are 1.7 meters (5 feet 7 inches) above the ground. On Earth, for that same observer the horizon is about 4.7 kilometers (3 miles) away. From the point of view of the cameras mounted on the astronaut’s chest bracket, about 1.5 meters (4 feet 11 inches) above the ground, the lunar horizon would be even closer: just 2.28 kilometers (1.41 miles).

5.8 Why is there no flag shadow in the salute photograph?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because the shadow of the flag fell out of the frame due of the shallow Sun angle, but it can be seen in other photographs. The shadow of the flagpole is visible in high-quality scans of the salute photo.

THE DETAILS: The famous photograph of Buzz Aldrin’s salute to the American flag on the Moon (AS11-40-5874, shown below) is often alleged to be a fake because the shadow of the flag is missing. The missing shadow, it is claimed, proves that the flag was added later.

Photograph AS11-40-5874 (Apollo 11): Buzz Aldrin salutes the Stars and Stripes on the Moon.

Sometimes the claim is boosted by showing another photograph, taken seconds later (AS11-40-5875, below), in which Aldrin hasn’t raised his arm to salute and therefore appears to be simply standing on the lunar surface, staring into nothingness as if the flag were not there.

Photo AS11-40-5875: Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon next to the US flag.

Actually, the shadow of the flag is missing from these two photographs for a very good reason: it lies outside the viewing field of the camera, beyond the right margin of the picture, because the Sun was low on the horizon and therefore all the shadows were very elongated. Calculations and documents indicate that the elevation of the Sun above the horizon, at the Apollo 11 landing site between July 20 and 21, 1969, ranged from 14° to 15.4°.

The shadow of the flag falls off camera, but what about the shadow of the flagpole? It actually is visible in the picture, as it should be, but only in the high-quality scans (below): it’s the thin dark line behind the astronaut’s legs, roughly at ankle height. The rod was only about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) thick, so it cast a very thin shadow, especially when viewed sideways as in the photograph in dispute.

Annotated detail of AS11-40-5874 (Apollo 11). The very thin shadow of the flagpole is faintly visible above the shadow of Aldrin’s legs, running horizontally across.

The flagpole shadow is rather hard to locate because it’s not where you expect it to be, i.e., at the same level as the base of the pole: a shallow depression in the ground bends it, so it’s further down. The depression in which the shadow of the flagpole falls is shown below.

Detail of photo AS11-37-5473 (Apollo 11).

The location of the Apollo 11 flag and flagpole shadows is clearly visible in the TV broadcast and in the 16 mm footage, as shown below.

An excerpt from the Apollo 11 live TV broadcast.

Apollo 11 film footage of the flag salute.

This is a frame from the 16 mm footage, which allows to check the perfect match of the locations of shadows, rocks and other terrain details in all of the visual record and shows the shadows of the flag and of the flagpole:

A frame from the automatic 16 mm film record of the Apollo 11 EVA. Aldrin is behind the flag, with his arm raised to salute (as clearly shown by his shadow); Neil Armstrong is in the upper right corner, taking photographs. The white vertical rod at the top margin is the TV camera tripod. The large dark region on the right is the silhouette of the LM, overlapping the shadow of the solar wing experiment (the vertical rectangle on the left in the TV broadcast).

The existence of the 16 mm film footage and of the TV broadcast point out another contradiction of the added-flag theory: since this event, so rich in symbolic and propaganda value, was already available as video and as color film footage, why risk exposure by manufacturing a poorly done fake photo?

Leaving conspiracy theories aside for a moment, all this cross-checking reveals a nice detail: in AS11-40-5875, Aldrin isn’t staring into nothingness, but he’s looking into the camera. This is clearly noticeable in the enlarged detail views shown below: the outlines of Aldrin’s face are clearly identifiable, and so is the white path of the “Snoopy cap”, the soft cap that contained the astronaut’s headset and microphones for radio communications.

Aldrin salutes the flag and then turns to the camera in these details from photos AS11-40-5874 and 5875.

There are very few photographs of the lunar astronauts in which their faces can be seen. Their features were usually hidden by the reflective gold visor, which was raised only occasionally in order to avoid dazzling and overheating. This is an even rarer event, since the visor is lowered but Aldrin’s face is in full sunlight and therefore receives enough light to become visible even through the thin gold coating of the visor.

5.9 How come the spacecraft casts an impossibly huge shadow?

IN A NUTSHELL: It doesn’t. That’s not the shadow of the Apollo vehicle cast on the lunar surface, it’s the close-up silhouette of one of its small maneuvering thrusters.

THE DETAILS: On page 13 of his book NASA Mooned America!, Ralph Rene shows a photograph that he describes as “the apex of chicanery”. He claims that it shows, in the lower left corner, “the shadow [...] from the engine shroud whose diameter is 8.5 feet [2.6 meters] or from one of the LM’s “small directional thrusters which are 6 inches [15 centimeters] in diameter”.

Rene wonders sarcastically what kind of a “wondrous place is this Moon of ours” if an engine shroud or thruster can “cast a shadow over 79 miles [130 km] away”.

The page of Rene’s book showing the allegedly fake Apollo photograph.

Actually, if we examine the original photograph (AS11-37-5437) instead of relying on Rene’s very poor duplicate, it becomes clear that what Rene described as a shadow cast on the surface of the Moon isn’t a shadow at all: it’s the silhouette of one of the thruster quads of the lunar module.

This becomes evident by examining the original instead of Rene’s low-quality copy: the alleged giant “shadow” actually has metallic reflections in its upper conical part and also includes a portion of another thruster nozzle.

Photograph AS11-37-5437 (Apollo 11).

As often occurs, an alleged Moon mystery is spawned simply because the conspiracy theorist failed to perform basic research and inspect the original images.

5.10 How come all the photographs are perfect?

IN A NUTSHELL: They’re not. There are many bad pictures, but unsurprisingly NASA and the press prefer to show just the best ones.

THE DETAILS: Mitch Pileggi, as host of the Fox TV show Did We Land on the Moon?, asks dramatically: “If the cameras were so difficult to manipulate, how were thousands of photos taken with crystal clarity, precise framing?” Then Bill Kaysing piles on the disbelief: “The pictures that we see, that allegedly were taken on the Moon, are absolutely perfect!”

It’s a fairly reasonable question, considering that nobody had ever taken photographs on the Moon before, the cameras had fully manual exposure and focus and didn’t have a viewfinder to aim them precisely.

The answer is that it’s not true that all the Apollo photographs offer “crystal clarity, precise framing”: NASA, and consequently the press, simply published the ones that turned out well; the others were disregarded. Indeed, if we examine the full set of Moon pictures, we find dozens of underexposed, blurred, out-of-focus, fogged and badly framed photographs, which are hardly ever shown precisely because they’re so bad.

Some of these photographic blunders are heartbreaking from a historical point of view. For example, consider NASA photograph AS11-40-5894, taken during the Apollo 11 mission and shown below. It’s a greatly underexposed picture of the LM.

AS11-40-5894, an underexposed photograph of the Lunar Module on the Moon.

In the bottom left corner there’s a barely recognizable silhouette of an astronaut. Had it been exposed correctly, it would be the only frontal portrait of Neil Armstrong on the Moon. Digital processing allows to recover some of the lost detail, as shown in the inset, suggesting that Armstrong’s gold reflective visor was raised and therefore his face would have been visible. So much for “absolutely perfect”.

Photograph AS11-40-5894 (Apollo 11) would show Neil Armstrong’s face (inset) if it had been exposed correctly.

There are many more examples of this kind of photographic mishap in the complete Apollo archive, as shown below.

A series of overexposed photographs from the Apollo 17 mission.

Photograph AS12-47-7009 (Apollo 12). A spacesuit helmet is recognizable in the bottom left corner.

Even Neil Armstrong’s world-famous portrait of Buzz Aldrin was almost a fiasco: careful inspection of the original shot reveals that Armstrong almost cropped Aldrin’s head (indeed, Aldrin’s radio antenna is missing) and tilted the camera so much that a piece of fake sky is often added to this photograph in order to straighten it and make it look better.

Detail of the top portion of AS11-40-5903.

When photographs could be disseminated only through the press, nobody wasted space and money by publishing the bad shots. That’s why many people got the impression of absolute perfection. Today, however, the complete photographic record can be shared at no cost on the Internet and therefore all the images are now available for viewing. The full film rolls of all the Apollo missions can be examined at the website of the Lunar and Planetary Institute and contain long sequences of poor shots.

Despite these mistakes, the astronauts managed to bring back a good number of correct shots. How could they achieve this result on the first attempt? First of all, theirs were not the first photographs taken on the lunar surface: automatic probes had already sent back pictures of their landing sites. Therefore the lighting conditions of the Moon were known in advance and correct exposure settings were computed before leaving Earth. On the Moon, moreover, there were no clouds or haze that could alter the lighting.

The astronauts had also been trained for photography and were accustomed to composing their pictures simply by sighting along the camera’s longitudinal axis, without using a viewfinder. Their cameras had wide-angle lenses that had a broad viewing field and therefore didn’t require very precise aiming.

The bright daylight also reduced focus problems by allowing to close the diaphragm of the camera, producing a great depth of field (range of distances that are in focus), which reduced the need for exact focusing of every photograph.

5.11 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 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”.

5.12 Why do the visors show reflections of studio lights?

IN A NUTSHELL: They’re not studio lights. They’re reflections of sunlight on the scratches and smudges of the visors. This is made clear by looking at the high-resolution scans of the photographs. Similar reflections are seen in Shuttle and International Space Station images.

THE DETAILS: Some Apollo photos show an unusual row of bright dots on the astronauts’ helmet visors. Hoax theorists such as German author Gernot Geise have claimed that these are reflections from the rows of studio lights or from the windows of the control rooms used on the movie set where the Moon landing footage was faked.

An example of the alleged “studio lights”, taken from Gernot Geise’s appearance on Italian national TV show La Storia siamo noi (RAI, 2006).

The allegedly fake photo is a detail of an Apollo 12 picture, AS12-49-7281, taken by Charles “Pete” Conrad during the second moonwalk of that mission. The astronaut in the picture is Alan Bean; Conrad’s reflection can be seen in his visor.

Alan Bean in photo AS12-49-7281 (Apollo 12).

If you examine a high-resolution scan of the original photograph, it turns out that the alleged studio lights or windows are neither shaped nor arranged like studio lights or windows. The low-quality version shown by hoax proponents makes them appear to be evenly spaced circular dots, but in actual fact their shape and spacing are very irregular.

An enlargement of the “studio lights” from a high-resolution scan of the original photograph AS12-49-7281.

To anyone who uses proper research methods and goes to the original source, the explanation is quite obvious: reflections of sunlight on some of the scratches and smudges of the visor.

These blemishes were produced mainly by the astronaut’s dusty gloves when they bumped against the visor in moving their sliding lateral eyeshades, which can be seen pulled down in AS12-49-7281 to the sides of the visor. Lunar dust is highly abrasive because it is not smoothed by wind or water as occurs on Earth: it acts like a sort of natural sandpaper. Apollo mission reports often mention scratches and clogging caused by moondust.

Similar lines of reflected sunlight can also be seen to the side of the Sun’s main reflection in pictures of the Apollo spacesuits taken on Earth during training, such as the one shown below. It seems unlikely that there was any need to place a row of spotlights in the sky for this picture.

Sunlight reflecting off an Apollo suit visor produces a linear streak during training on Earth. Frame taken from the documentary When We Left Earth.

More recent photographs taken during spacewalks from the Shuttle and the International Space Station, too, show scratched visors: scuffing occurs even in the relatively pristine environment of space. An example is this photo, taken during Luca Parmitano’s ISS spacewalk in July 2013.

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano’s scratched visor in a self-portrait taken during work outside the International Space Station in July 2013. NASA photo ISS036-E-016853.

One should also take into account the fact that the Apollo helmet used for moonwalks and spacewalks consisted of an inner bubble helmet, a central visor and an outer gold-coated visor. Light striking the outer visor would be reflected back and forth between the three layers, easily forming repeating patterns of light spots.

5.13 How can the camera crosshairs be behind objects?

IN A NUTSHELL: The crosshairs aren’t behind them; they’re washed out, as occurs for any thin object photographed against an overexposed bright background, especially after repeated analog duplications of a photo. The apparently covered crosshairs are often visible in the original pictures.

THE DETAILS: The Hasselblad cameras used for most Moon photographs were fitted with a glass plate on which uniformly spaced crosshairs were etched.

Crosshairs on a glass plate inside a Hasselblad camera. The film magazine has been removed for clarity.

These crosshairs, known as fiducials or reseau marks, were 1 millimeter (0.039 inches) long and 0.02 millimeters (0.00078 inches) wide and were arranged in a 5 x 5 grid. The central crosshair was larger to distinguish it from the others and indicate the center of the original photograph. The crosshairs were used to reveal any warping during the developing, printing and duplication processes and for distance measurements. The glass plate, or reseau plate, was in direct contact with the film when a photograph was taken. This superimposed the crosshairs directly on the original shot.

Moon hoax theorists point to the curious fact that in some of the Apollo photographs these crosshairs are behind the objects being photographed, as can be seen for example below.

Suspicious crosshairs according to David Percy.

According to David Percy in the TV show Did We Land on the Moon? (2001), “this situation is impossible and has to be the result of technical manipulation and doctoring of the image”. But actually there’s a very simple explanation for this allegedly “impossible” situation. The main clue is in the pictures chosen by the Fox show: every object that appears to cover the crosshairs is white and strongly lit by sunlight.

It turns out that if you take a photograph of a dark, thin object against a bright, overexposed background, the thin object tends to disappear: it gets washed out by the surrounding glare. This effect is well-known to photographers and can be seen for example below, where the black thread that crosses the picture becomes invisible when it lies in front of the brightly sunlit model astronaut. The same effect occurs during analog duplication of photographs: fine detail is washed out and gradually lost.

A black thread is clearly visible against a correctly exposed background but vanishes when it lies in front of the overexposed model astronaut. Credit: PA.

If you examine high-resolution scans of all of the allegedly doctored photographs, you find exactly the same effect: the apparently missing portion of the crosshairs is always on a very bright, overexposed background, and it turns out that often it’s not missing at all but simply very faint.

A high-quality scan of the first photograph in dispute (Apollo 16 photo AS16-107-17446) is shown below. The detail is indicated by the arrow and is shown magnified on the right, revealing that the “missing” crosshair is actually quite present.

Photo AS16-107-17446 and detail of the same picture.

This is instead a better scan of Apollo 11 photograph AS11-40-5931, which is the second allegedly doctored picture. The arrow points to the region where the supposedly missing crosshair is located. It is in actual fact quite visible, although somewhat washed out where it lies in front of a white background.

Photo AS11-40-5931 and detail of the same picture.

In other words, there’s nothing strange about the crosshairs in the lunar photographs. On the contrary, the crosshairs behave exactly as required by the laws of optics that affect photography and therefore are not evidence of doctoring.

5.14 How come there’s a letter C on a rock?

IN A NUTSHELL: It’s not a letter, it’s a hair that got into one of the many duplication processes to which the Apollo photographs were subjected for distribution. It’s not on the original film.

THE DETAILS: In a photograph from the Apollo 16 mission record there’s a clearly outlined letter C on a rock and another letter C on the ground next to it. According to French hoax theorist Philippe Lheureux, this is “exactly like with some cinema props.” Ralph Rene concurs: “The large rock in the left foreground is clearly marked with a big capital "C". The bottom right corner has a crease similar to that caused by wetting a folded newspaper. This makes it a showbiz "flap" rock, which the people who work in Hollywood studios throw at visitors. They used to be made from wet newspaper and paste and showed similar flaps. Stage rocks are usually placed by stage hands over similarly lettered markers positioned by the set designer. Did NASA really carry fake boulders and stage hands onto the Moon?” [Moon shots ‘faked’, BBC News, 21 June 2001; NASA Mooned America!, Ralph Rene, page 6].

The photograph is AS16-107-17446 and shows astronaut Charlie Duke at the Station 4 site of Stone Mountain. The alleged letter C is on a rock toward the bottom left corner of the picture and can be seen in the detail shown below.

The alleged letters C on a rock and on the lunar surface. Image source:

This alleged piece of evidence is so absurd that it begs the question of how anyone can present it seriously as proof of fakery without realizing that it makes no sense. The official publication of a photograph showing two letters C that shouldn’t be there, revealing the top-secret deception that was vital for the destiny and reputation of the United States, would entail a truly unbelievable chain of errors.

First, the set decorator would have to dress the set without realizing that the letters are visible to the cameras. Then the photographer would have to take the picture without noticing the two letters. Then all the people who developed, selected and published the photographs would have to fail to notice the telltale mistake.

The idea that the rocks would be individually labeled to assist in their placement also strains credulity. A single-letter labeling system would allow for only twenty-six rocks, which on a set depicting a rock-littered lunar surface might be somewhat inadequate.

Moreover, if the letter C were actually drawn on a sloping face of a rough, irregular rock or on the uneven soil, it wouldn’t have such a smooth shape when viewed from an angle as occurs in this photograph.

Yet despite all this, the fact remains that the letters are unquestionably present in the “official version” published by the NASA website of the Johnson Space Center, shown below.

The photograph with the alleged letters C in the low-resolution Internet archive of the Johnson Space Center (arrows added for clarity).

The answer to this conundrum, for once, was found by a conspiracy theorist, Steve Troy of, in 2001 (the original site no longer exists, but has preserved a copy made in 2008). His fellow theorists, however, seem to have ignored his research and continue to peddle this alleged evidence.

In 2001 Troy ordered from various NASA agencies film duplicates of this photograph and analyzed them in search of the letter. It wasn’t there. So he contacted the same agencies to inquire why the letter was instead present in one of the “official” NASA websites.

One of these agencies, Houston’s Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), found that one of their reference prints, but not their films (duplicates of the Apollo originals), had the alleged letter. LPI supplied Troy with a scan of that print at the highest possible resolution. It turned out that the letter was actually a tiny hair.

The “letter” is revealed to be simply a hair.

The Johnson Space Center explained that one of these imperfect prints had been scanned in the late 1980s or early 1990s and had remained on the website since then. More recent, higher-quality scans are available online which don’t have the hair.

These scans also reveal that the other alleged letter, the one on the ground, is just a shadow that looks vaguely like a letter C.

Detail of a more direct scan of the original photograph.

5.15 How come the backpack antenna appears and disappears?

IN A NUTSHELL: It only “disappears” if you look at the low-resolution copies of the photographs. It doesn’t in the high-quality scans, but it becomes fainter. This is because it was a flat antenna and therefore it became almost invisible when it was edge-on to the camera or to the Sun.

THE DETAILS: The PLSS radio antenna, located at the top of the astronauts’ backpacks, seems to come and go in photographs taken moments apart. This is interpreted by some as evidence that the photographs were not taken in sequence and someone forgot to place the antenna consistently in the various photographs.

An example of the disappearing antenna is offered by photos AS11-40-5942 and AS11-40-5943 from the Apollo 11 mission, which show Buzz Aldrin as he carries the instruments to be left on the Moon.

The numbering of these photographs implies that they were officially taken in sequence. Yet the antenna is missing in the first one and distinctly visible in the second one.

Detail of photo AS11-40-5942: no antenna.

Detail of photo AS11-40-5943: the antenna is clearly visible.

Once again, this apparent inconsistency arises from one of the recurring mistakes of conspiracy theorists: using low-resolution copies instead of high-quality scans of the originals.

The first picture comes from the low-resolution online set of the Johnson Space Center and shows no antenna, but inspection of the high-resolution version of the photograph reveals that the antenna is actually present, even though it’s very faint.

Detail of a high-resolution scan of photo AS11-40-5942.

Why does it look so different in the two pictures? Because it’s not a traditional rod-like antenna: it’s a flat metal strip, as shown below.

Detail of the stowed VHF antenna of Charlie Duke’s spacesuit (Apollo 16). Courtesy of K.C. Groneman and D.B. Eppler, NASA Johnson.

Seen edge-on, i.e., when the astronaut is directly facing the camera or has his back to it, these VHF antennas are almost invisible against the black lunar sky. Seen from the side, they become clearly visible by reflecting the sunlight from a much wider surface.

In the first picture (5942), Aldrin is seen squarely from the back and therefore the antenna is edge-on to the camera. In the second picture (5943), the astronaut is turned sideways and so his antenna is showing its flat side to the camera.

In other pictures, such as AS11-40-5874 (the flag salute), the astronaut is seen from the side, but he’s facing the sun and therefore the antenna is edge-on with respect to the light source, so only its front edge catches the light, making it hard to see except in the high-resolution scans.

5.16 Why do Aldrin’s boots shine in shadow? Are they spotlit?

IN A NUTSHELL: No. The sheen on Buzz Aldrin’s boots is not caused by a studio spotlight but by sunlight reflected by Armstrong’s reflective white spacesuit. The Moon boots in museums have a dull finish because they’re worn, but they were initially coated with lubricant which made them quite shiny when brand-new and clean. Also, the contrast and brightness of the photo used to present this apparent mystery have been boosted unrealistically.

THE DETAILS: In Apollo 11 photographs AS11-40-5866 and 5869, Aldrin’s boots have a bright white highlight that looks like a reflection from a flash or a bright spotlight. This is suspicious, it is claimed, because Aldrin is standing in shadow, no flashes or studio lights were taken to the Moon, and Apollo Moon boots had a dull gray finish. Therefore, it is claimed, obtaining this kind of highlight would have required a very powerful local light source. Here is an example of the controversial reflection:

Detail of photo AS11-40-5866 as often circulated in Moon hoax sites (top) and as found in direct scans of the original picture (bottom).

First of all, the highlight isn’t really as bright as it appears in the top photo shown above, which is a version often used in pro-conspiracy publications and in which contrast and brightness have been exaggerated to the point of losing all shadow detail. The bottom photo shows the same detail, but taken (without processing) from the high-resolution scan publicly available at NASA’s GAPE site ( The difference is quite remarkable.

Nevertheless, boots with a dull finish shouldn’t produce a highlight of any sort. But if we examine the manufacturing process of these boots, it turns out that there’s a very good reason for this sheen. The silicone rubber overshoes that formed the heel and sole of the boots were made in a mold. A lubricant was applied to the inside of the mold to prevent the silicone from sticking, so when the overshoe was removed from the mold it was coated with this lubricant. Archival footage of the process shows that brand-new Apollo overshoes were indeed shiny, and in the photographs of Aldrin’s descent from the LM these overshoes were being used for the very first time, so they probably still had some lubricant on them.

Finally, there’s the question of the light source. Conspiracy theorists jump to the conclusion that a studio spotlight was used, but actually there’s another powerful light source: Neil Armstrong’s bright white spacesuit. If we look at the TV broadcast, we can see that at this point of the lunar excursion Armstrong is close to Aldrin and is standing in direct sunlight. Apollo spacesuits were designed to reflect as much sunlight as possible to avoid overheating, so Neil’s suit is essentially acting as a man-sized reflector. In other words, the highlight is not proof of fakery.

5.17 How come Aldrin is standing in a spotlight?

IN A NUTSHELL: He’s not. He’s standing in a patch of the lunar surface where the lunar module’s rocket exhaust swept away the dust, making the surface brighter.

THE DETAILS: Several Moon hoax theorists observe that in some photographs of the Apollo 11 landing, such as AS11-40-5903 (Buzz Aldrin’s “tourist photo”), the ground around the astronaut is far brighter than the rest. As the distance from the astronaut increases, the ground becomes unusually darker. That, they claim, is the result of a studio spotlight.

This alleged evidence is often illustrated by copies of these photographs in which the contrast has been pushed, exaggerating the difference in brightness, as in the example shown below, which is taken from Fotografare, an Italian photography magazine whose editor supported the claims of fakery. Moon hoax literature knows no language barrier.

Photo AS11-40-5903 as printed in the August 1989 issue of Italian photography magazine Fotografare.

The common-sense objection to this allegation is that the organizers of the hypothetical fakery on behalf of the US government wouldn’t have been short on cash to the point of not having enough spotlights and wouldn’t have been so incompetent as to forget to light the background evenly. It would have been a truly amateurish blunder, as any directory of photography will attest. Such a patently obvious blunder, moreover, would somehow have had to get by the inspection of the people in charge of selecting and publishing the alleged fakes, yet be so glaring as to be noticed by the unrelenting gaze of conspiracy theorists.

Another objection is that if Aldrin is standing in a spotlight, his shadow should be washed out in the spotlit patch and then be dark in the foreground, where the “spotlight” effect ceases, but it isn’t. Moreover, a spotlight should produce a second shadow of the astronaut, but there isn’t one in the pictures.

If the difference in brightness of the ground can’t be explained by lighting conditions, then perhaps the ground itself was brighter around Aldrin for some reason. Finding that reason requires a bit of detective work.

First of all we need to locate that part of the ground. In the uncropped version of AS11-40-5903, a leg of the lunar module is visible next to Aldrin. The direction of the shadows allows to determine that it’s the LM’s right leg (as seen from the crew compartment). So the brighter ground is to the right of the lunar module’s right leg.

Now we can look for other photographs of the same area. It turns out that AS11-40-5886 (below) is a wider view of the area. Surprisingly, this photo, too, exhibits the same “spotlit” effect despite the fact that there’s no astronaut in the brighter patch (Neil Armstrong is in the picture, but he’s standing in the shadow of the LM). More importantly, the wider view reveals that the brighter region is actually an elongated streak that crosses the picture diagonally from the upper left to the lower right, and that the LM’s shadow is roughly at right angles to the streak.

Photograph AS11-40-5886 (Apollo 11, cropped).

The high-resolution scans of these photographs also suggest that the brighter patch is almost dust-free (astronaut bootprints are shallow or nonexistent in it), as if something had swept away the dust in that particular area and exposed a band of the underlying smoother, more reflective rock.

That something could be the LM’s descent engine exhaust, if the spacecraft had moved sideways just before touchdown. It did. The radio communications logs and the 16 mm film footage of the landing show that the LM drifted mostly sideways, first to the right (Aldrin: “4 forward. 4 forward. Drifting to the right a little”) and then to the left, seconds before landing, with negligible forward velocity. This path is also supported by telemetry data, by the small pits to the sides of the LM footpads and by the orientation of the contact probes that stick out of the ground.

In other words, the explanation that best fits all the available facts is not that a spotlight was secretly and clumsily used, but that Buzz Aldrin was standing in the band of lunar ground that had been swept by the LM’s rocket exhaust, which had blown away the surface dust, exposing the brighter rock below.

This is a good example of how it can be challenging, even for a very expert photographer, to explain the apparent anomalies that occur in some Moon photographs without knowing the technical details of the circumstances in which they were taken.

5.18 Shouldn’t backlit photos shot in a vacuum  just show silhouettes?

IN A NUTSHELL: No, they shouldn’t. The shadow side of a backlit astronaut is lit by the light reflected off nearby objects. This kind of reflection is perfectly possible in a vacuum and occurs in many other undisputed space photographs.

THE DETAILS: Many supporters of Moon photo fakery theories have remarked that in some pictures the astronauts have the sun behind them and are therefore brightly backlit, yet they don’t show up as dark silhouettes as normally happens in backlit situations. On the contrary, their shadow side is perfectly visible.

An example of this phenomenon is Apollo 15 photograph AS15-85-11514 (shown below): the direction of astronaut David Scott’s shadow indicates that the photographer (James Irwin) is facing the sun and therefore Scott’s side facing the camera is in shadow, yet we can see it clearly. It is claimed that this is impossible in the vacuum of the Moon, because there’s no atmosphere to diffuse the sunlight and therefore the shadow side of an astronaut should be pitch black. The same claim is applied to Aldrin’s “tourist photo”, AS11-40-5903.

Detail of photograph AS15-85-11514 (Apollo 15).

This argument is based on an incorrect premise. In actual fact, the laws of physics and optics don’t say that the shadow side of a backlit object is lit by diffusion, which is the scattering of light produced by the gas molecules, suspended dust and water droplets of an atmosphere. They say that shadow lighting is caused mainly by the reflection of light from nearby objects, which does not require an atmosphere. So reflection works fine in a near-vacuum such as the Moon.

Indeed, photographers use reflection (not diffusion) all the time to soften the shadows of a portrait by placing the subject close to a brightly lit wall or by using custom-built reflective panels, which are kept out of frame, as in the example below.

Reflection on a bright surface is often used to soften the shadows of a person standing against the sun. Credit: Lisa Attivissimo.

On the Moon, this reflection is provided by the ground, which is in full sunlight and is all around the astronauts, who are wearing a highly reflective white spacesuit.

The fact that an atmosphere is not needed to obtain a fill light in backlit pictures is demonstrated by Space Shuttle photographs, where the astronaut is in the vacuum of space but the light reflected by the surrounding surfaces and by the daylit Earth below is more than enough to soften the shadows. In the photobelow, for example, the only source of direct light is the sun, but the white surfaces of the Shuttle cargo bay reflect enough of this sunlight to lighten the shadows on astronaut Bruce McCandless.

Astronaut Bruce McCandless works in the vacuum of space outside the Shuttle (1984). Photo GPN-2000-001075.

In other words, the explanation of this alleged anomaly is the same one given for the objection that astronauts in shadow are strangely well-lit. In that case, the conspiracists argued that the counterintuitive lighting was evidence of studio spotlights, whereas here they claim that shadow softening is evidence of an atmosphere. In both instances their claims turn out to be factually incorrect.

5.19 How come Armstrong’s boulder field isn’t in the photos?

IN A NUTSHELL: Actually, it is. The large boulders that Neil Armstrong says he overflew just before landing are faintly visible in the Apollo 11 photographs, but only in the high-resolution scans, because they’re over 400 meters (1,300 feet) away and therefore appear tiny. Moreover, from the landing site they were upsun and therefore impossible to document in detail. However, these boulders are clearly visible in the pictures of the landing site taken in 2009 by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

THE DETAILS: Descriptions of the first Moon landing often mention dramatically that the automatic systems of the lunar module were taking astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin straight into a dangerous crater surrounded by large boulders, but Armstrong took manual control and flew on to find a clear landing spot. This took so much time that the Apollo 11 astronauts landed with less than a minute of fuel to spare. This episode is frequently used to point out the advantages of having a pilot on board to deal with the shortcomings of automatic systems and to stress how difficult and dangerous it was to land on the Moon.

However, the photographs taken by Aldrin and Armstrong show no trace of this alleged boulder field. As far as the eye can see, the landing site is flat and featureless. Perhaps, it is argued, this detail was added to embellish the story and make it more exciting.

That’s a doubt that we can dispel by looking at the data. Apollo 11’s landing path, or ground track, is published in the Apollo 11 Mission Report.

The ground track of Apollo 11 ends on the left. The large crater at the center is known as West Crater. Detail from the Apollo 11 Mission Report (1969).

Armstrong’s decision is transcribed in the 1969 Technical Debrief; the Apollo 11 Preliminary Science Report identifies the boulder-littered crater as West Crater. This crater is visible in the photograph shown above, but no boulders can be seen due to its low resolution.

Today, however, we have the high-resolution pictures of the Apollo 11 landing site acquired by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) probe since 2009. These images show the boulders quite clearly.

The Apollo 11 landing site as imaged by the LRO probe in 2009. West crater is at the top; the image is rotated 90° counterclockwise with respect to the previous one. The arrow indicates the descent stage of the lunar module.

In particular, image M109080308RE, taken by the LRO probe and shown partially above, captures West Crater in very fine detail (this image is rotated 90° counterclockwise with respect to the previous one). It shows that the crater is indeed surrounded by boulders, which stand out as white dots. Their size can be grasped by noting that the white dot indicated by the arrow above is the central part of Apollo 11’s descent stage, which is about four meters (13 feet) wide without the landing legs.

The boulders can’t be seen in the photographs taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts for two main reasons. The first one is that they were too far away: the scale the figures indicates that the center of West Crater was over 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the LM.

The second reason is that in order to take any pictures of West Crater, the astronauts would have had to point the camera towards the sun. This would have produced very poor, lens flare-filled photographs, so no photos were taken in that direction. In some pictures, West Crater is at the very edge of the frame and a few boulders can be glimpsed, but only in the high-resolution versions, as shown for example below.

Detail of photo AS11-40-5873 (Apollo 11), taken almost fully upsun. West Crater is on the horizon, to the left.

However, there’s another source of photographic coverage of the area supplied by the Apollo 11 astronauts: the 16 mm color film shot during descent and landing. Since the lunar module flew past West Crater as it descended to land, the boulder field should be quite visible in this film.

Indeed it is: here is a frame from that footage, taken from an altitude of about 120 meters (390 feet) with the camera looking down almost vertically. The boulders are large enough to be distinctly visible from that height and cast conspicuous shadows.

Boulders near the landing site, seen from approximately 120 meters (390 feet), in a frame of the 16 mm film of the landing.

As a further cross-check, researchers Rene and Jonathan Cantin produced and published a video that matches the Apollo 11 landing film against a photograph of the same area taken in 1967 by an uncrewed Lunar Orbiter probe; the same footage has also been compared by another researcher, GoneToPlaid, with more recent Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the landing site, included in Google Moon. In both instances, the positions of the craters line up correctly.

In other words, instead of being evidence of conspiracy, the issue of the apparently missing boulders is a great opportunity to perform cross-checks on the available documents and verify that they are mutually consistent.

5.20 Why are the tracks of the Moon car missing?

IN A NUTSHELL: They’re not missing: they’re wiped out by the astronauts’ bootprints, or they didn’t form at all because the special open-mesh wheels didn’t leave deep tracks and because the astronauts often turned the buggy around by lifting it at one end, without leaving wheel tracks.

THE DETAILS: In some photographs there’s no sign of the tracks formed in the lunar dust by the wheels of the electric buggy (the Lunar Rover), neither in front of the vehicle nor behind it.

Detail of photo AS15-86-11603 (Apollo 15).

Yet the same lunar soil clearly registered the astronauts’ bootprints. According to some Moon hoax theorists, the studio crew forgot to add tire marks when they placed the Rover on the set, thus revealing the fakery.

Alleged evidence of fakery: no wheel tracks. From

Actually, there are several reasons why the tracks are sometimes missing. In some photographs the astronauts simply walked over the tracks and wiped them out with their bootprints. To take pictures of the Rover, they had to get off the vehicle and walk away from it, so it makes sense that they sometimes walked over the freshly formed tracks.

Indeed, this is the case in the image presented as alleged evidence: a little research reveals it to be a cropped version of photograph AS17-137-20979, which documents the improvised repair of the Rover’s fender by the Apollo 17 astronauts. To make this repair (using duct tape, clamps and laminated maps), they obviously had to walk all around the damaged fender, thus erasing any wheel tracks.

If we look at the complete photograph (shown below), which is in color and far less contrasted and more detailed than the version presented by the Moon hoax proponents, we find that astronaut bootprints are visible at the bottom and on the right. It is interesting to note that the pro-hoax version is conveniently cropped so as to hide almost all the bootprints.

The uncropped version of photo AS17-137-20979 with its original colors and shades.

In other photographs, the vehicle was traveling over an area that didn’t have a deep layer of dust (like the Earth, the Moon isn’t identical everywhere) and therefore the wheels of the Rover left faint tracks that can be seen only in the high-resolution versions of the Apollo photographs but are invisible in the poor copies frequently used by hoax theorists.

It should also be noted that the wheels of the Rover didn’t have tires or a solid tread. They were made of an open metallic mesh on which spaced titanium laminas were applied in a chevron pattern.

Detail of photo AS16-108-17620. Note the shallowness of the track and the light that passes through the mesh of the wheel, as revealed by the gaps in the wheel shadow.

The fine lunar dust would pass through the mesh like sand through a sieve and therefore didn’t leave the sharply outlined tracks of a normal solid tire tread, which compacts the ground.

This frequent lack of tracks is due also to another reason, which is rather counterintuitive: the Rover was extremely light, and on the Moon everything weighs one sixth of what it weighs on Earth. The Rover weighed about 210 kilograms (462 pounds) on Earth, so on the Moon it weighed only about 35 kilograms (77 pounds); therefore the astronauts could easily lift one of its ends. Indeed, that’s what they often did when they needed to turn the Rover around: they simply lifted one end and turned it. This was actually a scheduled maneuver during the extraction of the Rover from the LM: the Moon car had to be turned through 180 degrees to point it away from the LM.

This low weight was distributed over the contact area of the four wheels and therefore the Rover applied a very low pressure to the ground even when it was carrying the astronauts, whose weight was likewise reduced by the low lunar gravity. Accordingly, the wheels did not dig deeply into the soil, producing only shallow tracks.

5.21 How come NASA has published retouched photographs?

IN A NUTSHELL: Merely to repair scratches or blemishes in old scans of duplicates. The high-resolution master scans available through NASA show no such signs of fixing.

THE DETAILS: Perhaps surprisingly, it is quite true that some NASA websites have published badly touched-up versions of the Apollo images. For example, image S69-40308 at (below) is crudely retouched by cutting and pasting in its top right part. The alteration is revealed by the unusually repeating patterns in the lunar soil.

Image S69-40308, a frame from the Apollo 11 16 mm film, as shown at in February 2010. Note the repeating patterns in the top right corner.

Detail of the preceding image. The arrows indicate the duplicated regions.

Copy-pasting is often used in digital retouching to cover unwanted details or a flaw in the picture. Here the touch-up is so blatant that even dust specks that were on the scanned film have been conspicuously duplicated.

However, this doesn’t mean that NASA systematically retouches its pictures and is concealing embarrassing or top-secret details: it seems rather unlikely that a high-level cover-up would publish such clumsy and easily detectable fakes. Besides, NASA websites also offer other copies of this image that have not been retouched (for example at the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal). These copies reveal that the copy-pasting is merely correcting defects in scans taken from old, damaged copies of the original films. It’s just a clean-up, not a deception.

It might seem unusual for NASA to publish such shoddy versions of the Apollo photographs, but contrary to the beliefs of many Moon hoax theorists the US space agency is not a wealthy, monolithic government body. It’s a big bureaucracy with many departments that often work in isolation from each other and with limited funds and equipment. The end result is that various NASA departments each published on the Internet their own versions of the Apollo visual record, using the film copies that they had in their archives. In many cases those film copies were duplicates of duplicates made years or decades earlier, faded by time and damaged by handling.

Having no funds allocated for a fresh scan of the Apollo images, the departments used whatever they had, as Dave Williams of NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center told me in personal correspondence in September 2003. The same process generated the alleged letter C on a rock, debunked earlier in this chapter.

The unretouched, properly scanned originals are available from four main Internet reference sources: the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth and the Apollo Archive. Details and Internet addresses are in the References section of this book.

5.22 How come the EVA photo of Michael Collins is fake?

IN A NUTSHELL: No, it’s not. A conspiracy theorist altered the original to make it look fake.

THE DETAILS: According to Moon hoax theorist Ralph Rene, the autobiography of lunar astronaut Michael Collins, Carrying the Fire, contains a faked spacewalk photograph.

The allegedly faked photograph, as shown by Rene.

Rene claims that the autobiography describes this picture as Collins during a spacewalk in the Gemini 10 mission (1966) although it’s actually a photo taken during training inside an aircraft and then (says Rene) altered by NASA.

The other version of the photograph.

According to Rene’s book Nasa Mooned America!, these pictures “absolutely prove that NASA began to doctor photos three years before the Apollo missions allegedly landed men on the Moon”. Rene makes the same allegation in Willy Brunner and Gerhard Wisnewski’s documentary Die Akte Apollo, broadcast by German TV station WDR in 2002 and by Italian national network Rai in 2006.

Some basic fact-checking shows that the allegedly doctored version of the photograph does not appear in any NASA publication. It only appears in some editions of the Collins autobiography (the 1974 edition by Farrar, Straus & Giroux and the 1975 edition by Ballantine Books) and even there it is not described as being taken during the Gemini 10 spacewalk. The caption clearly states that it was taken during training in an aircraft.

Indeed, Collins himself notes with regret, in his book, that there are no photographs of his Gemini 10 spacewalk (“One of the great disappointments of the flight was that there were no photos of my spacewalk. [...] I was really feeling sorry for myself, unable to produce graphic documentation for my grandchildren of my brief sally as a human satellite”).

In 2003, space historian James Oberg offered Rene 10,000 dollars for any edition of the Collins autobiography that described the doctored photograph as a spacewalk snapshot. Rene was unable to provide one, and so far nobody else has either.

In their documentary, German authors Brunner and Wisnewski resort to misleading editing in order to support Rene’s allegation: first they show the cover of Carrying the Fire and then they crossfade to a page that contains the allegedly doctored photograph with the caption “Gemini 10 space walk”, as shown below.

The Brunner and Wisnewski documentary Die Akte Apollo crossfades the cover of the Collins autobiography with a page from Rene’s book (stills from the Italian broadcast of the documentary, 2006).

However, this page is not taken from Carrying the Fire: it’s taken from Rene’s book Nasa Mooned America!, as revealed by the text on the page, which can be read in freeze-frame.

In summary, the entire allegation of fakery against Michael Collins and NASA is made up. Instead of demonstrating “absolutely” that the US space agency faked a photo, it demonstrates that some Moon hoax theorists are willing to stoop to falsehoods and editing tricks in order to prop their claims.

5.23 How could the astronauts take so many photos in such a short time?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because many photos were taken in rapid bursts; for example, almost half of the 120 pictures of the Apollo 11 moonwalk were taken with a single camera in quick sets of 8 to 12 shots, as the astronaut turned around on the spot, to form panoramic sequences. The same applies to the other missions.

THE DETAILS: Conspiracy theorist Jack White claims that the astronauts didn’t have enough time to take all the photographs that NASA says were taken on the Moon and also get some work done. Therefore, he argues, some of the pictures must be fake.

White says that the Apollo missions, according to NASA’s reports, spent a total of 4,834 minutes on the Moon, taking 5,771 photographs. This is equivalent to an average of 1.19 photographs per minute (one photograph every 50 seconds) throughout the duration of all the moonwalks. White says that the Apollo 11 crew reached an even higher average, with one photo every 15 seconds (121 shots in 151 minutes).

The Apollo 11 figures given by White are almost correct: the film magazine used during mankind’s first moonwalk contains 123 photographs (not 121) taken outside the lunar module (catalog numbers AS11-40-5850 to 5970, plus AS11-40-5882A and 5966A), and Armstrong and Aldrin’s excursion lasted two hours and 31 minutes according to the Apollo Definitive Sourcebook.

Taking 123 photographs in 151 minutes, however, doesn’t yield an average of one picture every fifteen seconds. The actual average is less than one picture per minute. How does White get to 15 seconds? He introduces “arbitrarily” (as he puts it) a value of two hours to take into account the other activities of the astronauts:

Let’s arbitrarily calculate a MINIMUM time for these tasks and subtract from available photo time.

Why two hours and not two and a quarter, or one and a half? White doesn’t explain the reason for his choice. It’s obviously quite easy to get impossible results if you alter the data by introducing arbitrary values.

White also fails to specify that the astronauts took many sets of photographs from a same point, without wasting time getting into position and aiming again for each picture, so that the photos could be later assembled into panoramic views.

In creating a panoramic sequence it’s quite easy to take a dozen photographs in a few seconds (try this yourself). This alters considerably the average time required. Here are a few examples.

Photos AS11-40-5881 to AS11-40-5891 (11 frames, almost 10% of all of the Apollo 11 moonwalk photographs) were shot by Buzz Aldrin as he turned around on the spot to form the panoramic view shown below.

Panoramic view assembled by Dave Byrne for the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal with photos AS11-40-5881 to 5891.

Photographs AS11-40-5905 to AS11-40-5916 (12 frames, 10% of the total) compose another panoramic view, again taken by Aldrin and shown assembled below.

Panoramic view assembled by Brian McInall for the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal with photos AS11-40-5905 to 5916.

Frames AS11-40-5930 to AS11-40-5941 (twelve shots) were taken by Neil Armstrong to form the panoramic view shown below.

Panoramic view assembled by Brian McInall for the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal using photos AS11-40-5930 to 5941.

Figure 3.15 of NASA’s Apollo 11 Preliminary Science Report shows the location and direction of every photograph taken during the Apollo 11 excursion. The number of photographs taken in rapid sequence from the same location is quite considerable.

Map of the locations and directions of every photograph taken during the Apollo 11 moonwalk.

This map indicates that photographs 5850 to 5858 (9 shots) and 5954 to 5961 (8 shots) form two more panoramic views in addition to the ones shown above.

In summary, therefore, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk 52 photographs out of 123 belong to panoramic sequences that were taken in quick bursts, without moving and refocusing between shots.

The same applies to the other moonwalks, in which the astronauts took many panoramic sets and also took several stereo pairs, i.e., two photographs taken almost simultaneously from two slightly different viewpoints, which can be combined to produce 3D images.

Panoramic view assembled using photos AS16-113-18313 to 18330 by Lennie Waugh for the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

Once all the facts are on the table, it’s no longer surprising that the astronauts took so many photographs. What is surprising, instead, is that Jack White, who claims to have researched the Apollo missions thoroughly before making his allegations of fraud, has failed to consider this simple explanation, which is extensively documented and is self-evident from the photographs themselves.

5.24 Why is this astronaut’s shadow missing?

IN A NUTSHELL: Yes, in the photograph of John Young’s salute to the US flag on the Moon, the astronaut appears to cast no shadow. But this isn’t evidence of fakery: Young was simply jumping when the snapshot was taken and so his shadow is displaced sideways and isn’t visible in cropped versions of the picture; full versions show it clearly.

THE DETAILS: The photograph shown below is often claimed by hoax theorists to be fake because the astronaut quite conspicuously lacks a shadow.

The allegedly faked shadowless saluting astronaut.

A patient search through the Apollo image archives reveals that it’s a cropped version of photo AS16-113-18339, taken during the Apollo 16 mission by Charlie Duke. It portrays his commander, John Young, as he salutes the flag.

Knowing the context in which the picture was taken provides the answer to the missing shadow. As noted in the mission reports and transcripts, and as recorded by the video footage of the mission, Young jumped vertically during the salute and Duke caught him in midair in the photograph. That’s why there’s no shadow at Young’s feet: the shadow is displaced downwards and to the viewer’s right, as occurs normally when someone is photographed during a vertical leap with a low sun angle.

The uncropped scans of the photograph show that the astronaut does indeed cast a shadow in the lower right corner of the picture.

Detail of photo AS16-113-18339. John Young’s shadow is displaced towards the bottom right corner because the picture was taken while he was jumping vertically.

5.25 Why is the United States marking on the LM so bright?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because it’s reflective and it’s lit by the glare from the daylit lunar surface. In fact it’s equally readable in the pictures taken during LM testing in Earth orbit.

THE DETAILS: There are claims that the “United States” lettering on the descent stage of the lunar module has been brightened and made more visible by retouching it in the photographs or by training a studio spotlight on it when the pictures were taken. This was done, presumably, for propaganda purposes, in order to point out that the Moon landing was an American accomplishment. With the Sun behind the LM, it is said, the logo in shadow should not be so clearly visible.

The “United States” marking (circled) is allegedly too bright in this picture, which incidentally is not an original Apollo photograph: it’s a composite made by Ed Hengeveld (Apollo Lunar Surface Journal).

The logo is indeed lit despite being on the shadow side of the spacecraft. But the lighting doesn’t come from an artificial spotlight. It comes from the sunlight reflected off the surrounding lunar surface, which is in daylight. The logo was brighter, flatter and more reflective than the surrounding skin of the vehicle and so reflected more light towards the photographer.

For example, the “United States” lettering stands out also in the photographs of the Apollo 9 mission, during which the lunar module was tested in Earth orbit, because it reflects the glare from the surface of the Earth.

Photo AS09-21-3183 (Apollo 9, detail). Here, too, the logo is visible.

Moreover, the picture that is often presented as evidence of this alleged fakery is not a real Apollo photograph. It’s a composite image, created by Ed Hengeveld and published in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, where it is clearly labeled as a montage. It was made by joining various photographs from the Apollo 11 mission and by adding fake portions of sky and an equally fake Sun. This is revealed not only by the fact that its author openly presents it as a whimsical fabrication, but by the mismatched perspective and by the reflections of the Sun, which are not oriented consistently. The digital compositing also distorts the perception of contrast, which is pushed far more in this montage than it is in the original pictures, enhancing the visual appearance of a strangely bright logo. The logo is not as bright in the original photographs used to create this montage.

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