Chapter 6. Alleged video and film anomalies

Supporters of Moon fakery theories believe that they have found evidence to back up their allegations not only in the photographic record, as discussed in the previous chapter, but also in alleged anomalies in the live TV broadcasts from space and from the Moon and in the film footage of the Apollo missions.

Understanding the real reasons for these purported anomalies requires a little knowledge of 1960s television and film technology.

6.1 Apollo video and movie technology: a quick primer

The Apollo visual record includes both video recordings, made using TV cameras that transmitted their pictures to Earth, where they were rebroadcast and recorded on magnetic tape, and film footage, shot using movie cameras that recorded the pictures onboard on 16 mm film.

Today it's quite commonplace to use the term video for any kind of moving picture, lumping together TV and film, but in the Sixties there was a huge quality and portability gap between television and movie technology.

The miniaturization afforded by modern electronics was in its infancy. Studio TV cameras for color broadcasts were bulky, inefficient monsters that weighed over 125 kilograms (280 pounds), like the ones shown in Figure 6-1.

Figure 6-1. RCA TK-43 color TV cameras
in the 1960s. Credit:

Early “portable” color TV cameras, such as the Ikegami HL-33, made their debut only in the Seventies. Black-and-white models were slightly less unwieldy, but they were still massive, power-hungry, heavy devices that could not be used in low light and depended on an external electric power supply and on even bulkier recording equipment. Moreover, they provided rather poor picture quality: nothing even comparable to today's tiny high-definition video cameras and recorders that we carry in our pockets as part of our cellphones.

Movie cameras, instead, were already a mature technology. They were compact, lightweight, sturdy and fully independent of mains power thanks to batteries or wind-up mechanisms. Movie cameras for amateur use were just a little bit bigger than a still camera.

For example, a professional Arriflex movie camera using 16 mm film weighed about six kilograms (13 pounds) and required no extra equipment, apart from an optional sound recorder and a good supply of film, to shoot anywhere in the world, taking moving color pictures with a quality that far surpassed that of television. A professional movie camera was, in a way, the 1960s equivalent of today's portable high-definition video gear.

Movie cameras were used for virtually all news footage, for war zone reporting and for detailing science experiments, missile launches and aircraft tests, thanks also to the in-depth analysis offered by slow motion, which was easy to achieve with film but technically unattainable with the TV cameras of the day.

The key drawbacks of movie cameras were of course the recording time, which was limited by the amount of film available, and the impossibility of live broadcasts, since film had to be developed by a chemical process. But if live transmission was not indispensable and a deferred viewing was acceptable, in the Sixties film was king. It's important to bear this in mind to understand the technical choices made by NASA in documenting the Apollo missions.

The Apollo movie cameras

The Apollo lunar missions carried so-called Data Acquisition Cameras (DAC), movie cameras that used 16 mm color film magazines (Figure 6-2).

Figure 6-2. The Maurer 16 mm movie camera used in the command module
of Apollo 11. Credit: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

They were extremely compact and lightweight: including the side-mounted magazine, they measured approximately 22 x 13 x 6.5 centimeters (8 3/4 x 5 x 2 1/2 inches) and weighed 1300 grams (2.9 pounds).

One of these movie cameras was mounted in the Lunar Module so as to look downward out the right side window of the spacecraft, as shown in photograph AS11-36-5389 (Figure 6-3). This simple but effective technology is what gave us color pictures of the lunar module's descent to the Moon and of Neil Armstrong's first footstep on the lunar surface.

Figure 6-3. The Maurer movie camera in position before
Apollo 11's Moon landing. Detail from photo AS11-36-5389.

Most of mankind's first moonwalk (86 minutes out of 131) was filmed in color with this system. The first few minutes used a rate of 12 frames per second, half that of a normal movie; the remainder of the excursion was shot at one frame per second in order to save film, since each film magazine only contained 39.6 meters (130 feet) of color film, which at a normal frame rate would have been enough to shoot a little more than three and a half minutes. Reducing the frame rate increases the recording time but produces jerkier moving pictures. At one frame per second, the film footage is more like a series of still photographs than an actual moving picture record.

Examples of the pictures taken by this movie camera are shown in Figures 3-11, 5-9 and 5-63.

In later missions, the movie camera was taken outside, on the lunar surface. For Apollo 12 it was placed on the Lunar Hand Tool Carrier (a frame with legs); on Apollo 14 it was installed on the Modularized Equipment Transporter, a sort of wheeled cart; for Apollo 15, 16 and 17 it was mounted on the Lunar Rover (Figure 6-4, which shows how truly small the camera was).

Figure 6-4. Top left: the movie camera mounted on the Rover,
next to Charlie Duke, during training for Apollo 16.

All this footage is now available at medium resolution on the Internet and in high resolution on the DVDs and Blu-Rays published by specialist firms such as Spacecraft Films.

The Apollo TV cameras

Transmitting television pictures from space and from the Moon entailed two technological challenges that had never been met before.

The first one was to build a TV camera that could work in a vacuum, withstand great brightness and temperature variations between shadow and sunlight and survive the intense vibration and acceleration of liftoff, yet be compact and lightweight enough to allow an astronaut to carry it and operate it in the confined space of the interior of a spacecraft and on the lunar surface.

The other challenge was to find a way to send back to Earth a live television signal from a distance of almost 400,000 kilometers (250,000 miles) using only the electric power available on board the Apollo craft and the vehicle's radio transmission equipment, which had been designed for entirely different purposes. Live TV from the Moon was, in a way, an afterthought.

Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 carried a single black-and-white slow-scan TV camera made by RCA. With Apollo 9, NASA tested and used a black-and-white TV camera built by Westinghouse intended for later use on the Moon. Apollo 10 introduced a Westinghouse color TV camera, qualified only for inflight use. Apollo 11 carried a color camera for onboard use and a black-and-white camera for use on the Moon.

The Westinghouse Lunar Camera used on Apollo 11 (shown on the left in Figure 6-5) used only 6.5 watts, measured 28 x 15 x 7.6 centimeters (11 by 6 x 3 inches) and weighed 3.3 kilograms (7.25 pounds), yet was capable of working in the harsh environment of the Moon, with its vacuum and its temperature extremes. This remarkable performance, miniaturization and weight reduction were achieved by using 43 integrated circuits, which were very rare in those days, and a special component, an SEC (Secondary Electron Conduction) tube, which at the time was a military secret.

Figure 6-5. Stan Lebar, head of Westinghouse's Apollo TV camera project,
shows the onboard camera (left) and the lunar camera (right) for Apollo 11.

This achievement, however, came initially at the cost of color. That's why the TV pictures of the first Moon landing are in black and white. As technology progressed and NASA's confidence in being able to receive a complex TV signal from the Moon improved, subsequent missions were provided with a slightly larger color lunar camera, which produced color by using the same method used by the onboard camera: a color wheel (a disk with colored filters) spun in front of the camera sensor, generating a set of three color-filtered pictures, which were reassembled by the ground stations on Earth to recreate the original colors. This was a very compact and reliable system, although it caused multicolor halos around rapidly moving objects.

Having solved the issues of weight and size, there was still the question of sending the camera's signal to Earth. The limitations of the Lunar Module's onboard transmission equipment allowed a bandwidth of only 700 kHz, but a standard TV signal required 6,000. This meant that the standard TV format (NTSC) had to be abandoned and a custom one had to be used. For Apollo 11, this format had 320 progressive lines and 10 frames per second, compared with 525 interlaced lines and 30 frames per second of an ordinary TV broadcast. The lunar TV camera also had a “high definition” mode that generated a 1,280-line picture every second and a half, but it was never used.

These nonstandard solutions required special equipment on Earth to convert the signal to the normal television format. Since there was no digital technology capable of real-time video processing in the 1960s, a rather drastic approach was taken: a standard broadcast television camera was pointed at a special high-persistence monitor that displayed the images from the Moon.

The loss of detail and quality caused by this conversion was partly compensated by electronic devices, but nevertheless the difference between the signal that was received from the Moon and the converted signal was great (Figures 6-6 and 6-7).

Figure 6-6. The converted image as broadcast by world television networks.

Figure 6-7. The original image as received from the Moon,
photographed from the monitor prior to conversion.

The Apollo 12 and 14 moonwalks used a color TV camera that had a lower resolution (262 lines) but a higher frame rate (30 filtered frames per second, which became 20 frames after combining them to recreate the colors).

The Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions were provided with a different, bigger TV camera, the Ground Commanded Television Assembly (GCTA) manufactured by RCA, which was mounted on the Lunar Rover electric car and was controlled directly from Earth. This TV camera had a 6x zoom lens and a resolution of approximately 200 lines. Like the previous model, it generated 30 frames per second, which became 20 after conversion.

The two final lunar flights, Apollo 16 and 17, also introduced more advanced image processing systems that reduced background noise and improved considerably the quality of the color transmissions.

This processing was handled by a private company, Image Transform of North Hollywood, California, which received the pictures from the Moon for on-the-fly processing before sending them to the world's TV networks for live broadcast (in a way, therefore, it’s true that some live TV footage from the Moon was created with help from Hollywood). Incidentally, Image Transform was founded by John Lowry, who later also created the Lowry Digital company that restored the Apollo 11 lunar TV broadcast in 2009.

During Apollo 11’s moonwalk, the TV signal was received by huge 64-meter (210-ft) dish antennas at Goldstone, California (Figure 6-8) and at Parkes, Australia and by a 26-meter (85-ft) dish at Honeysuckle Creek, Australia. Apollo 11’s liftoff from the Moon was tracked by the 26-meter (85-ft) dish at Fresnedillas, near Madrid, in Spain.

Figure 6-8. The Goldstone dish antenna in the 1960s.

All the television broadcasts, including the restored Apollo 11 moonwalk, are now available on the Internet and on DVD, and so is the movie camera footage of the missions.

Now that the key aspects of the video and film technology available to lunar astronauts in the 1960s have been outlined, we're ready to examine the various anomalies allegedly present in the television and movie camera records of the Apollo missions.

6.2 Why does the flag flutter on the airless Moon?

IN A NUTSHELL: It's not fluttering: it's swinging, and it only does so when the astronauts handle it or touch it. Moreover, the way it swings is different from how a flag swings on Earth and actually proves that the footage was shot in a vacuum.

THE DETAILS: In the TV and film footage of the lunar landings, the American flag sometimes moves as if it had been blown by a sudden gust of air. That, of course, is impossible on the airless Moon. Therefore, according to conspiracy theorists, this proves that the moonwalk footage was faked in a movie studio.

One might ask why the movie set used for the most important and complex fakery of the twentieth century would be so ridiculously shoddy as to have drafts, or why the people in charge of the hoax would be so pathetically dumb as to leave such glaring and revealing mistakes in the final product, but never mind. There's a simple explanation for the apparently strange behavior of the flag.

If you examine the Apollo footage, you find that the flag “flutters” only when an astronaut is shaking it, for example to drive its pole into the ground (Figure 6-9).

Figure 6-9. Flag oscillation in an Apollo TV transmission
while an astronaut drives its pole into the soil.

After the flag has been erected and left to settle, it doesn't move. Even its creases and wrinkles remain unchanged throughout the excursion, as shown by Figure 5-9 for Apollo 11. The alleged flutter is actually caused by the astronaut's handling of the flagpole, not by drafts.

Just after the astronauts let go of the pole, moreover, the flag has a very revealing behavior: it continues to oscillate stiffly and unnaturally for quite a while, differently from a flag on Earth, which comes to a standstill almost immediately. This happens because in the Apollo footage the flag is swinging in the vacuum of the lunar surface, so there's no air or atmosphere to brake its motion.

In 2008 the TV show Mythbusters put this to the test. An accurate replica of an Apollo flag was placed in a large vacuum chamber and its pole was turned, just like the astronauts did on the Moon. The same turning motion was applied while the chamber was filled with air and after the air had been extracted to produce a vacuum. The difference was quite evident: when the flag was in vacuum, it swung for much longer and in the drag-free way seen in the Apollo television record.

In other words, the anomalous motion of the lunar flags doesn't confirm the hoax theories: on the contrary, it confirms that the footage of the moonwalks was shot in a vacuum.

Figure 6-10. A flag is swung in a vacuum for Mythbusters (2008).

However, there’s a moment in the Apollo 15 footage, at 148:57:15 in mission elapsed time, in which the flag moves without (apparently) being touched by astronaut Dave Scott as he passes close to it. At first glance, it does indeed look as if Scott’s movement displaced some air which impinged on the flag. But before arguing that this is unquestionable evidence of fakery, other non-conspiratorial explanations should be considered.

For example, the apparently mysterious motion may have been due to actual contact between Scott's left arm and the flag. Due to the wide-angle setting of the camera lens, which exaggerates depth, Scott appears to be farther away from the flag than he actually is.

Another possible explanation is an electrostatic effect. As Scott walked on the lunar surface (which has a significant electrical charge of its own due to the ionizing effect of ultraviolet radiation and particles from the Sun), he may have accumulated a charge which attracted or repelled the flag in the same way that a plastic rod rubbed on a wool sweater attracts or repels hair or pieces of paper.

Since the almost-perfect vacuum close to the lunar surface is highly dielectric (i.e., essentially incapable of conducting electric currents), charge accumulation is easier than on Earth. Moreover, any attraction or repulsion of the flag is more conspicuous on the Moon than on Earth because on the Moon there's no air to slow the flag.

Another conceivable scenario is that the discharge from the astronaut's backpack sublimator might have created a momentary puff of gas that impinged on the flag. This would explain the fact that only the bottom corner of the flag moves.

Whatever the actual cause is, it can't be an air displacement on a movie set, because the same video sequence shows that the dust kicked by the astronaut's boots doesn't swirl, but falls sharply and neatly in an arc. This is typical of a vacuum and is not possible in air. The flag's slow and long-lasting oscillation is also consistent with a low-gravity vacuum environment.

6.3 Who was already outside to televise Armstrong’s first steps?

IN A NUTSHELL: Nobody. There was an automatic TV camera attached to the outside of the lunar module.

THE DETAILS: The technical documentation of the Apollo missions shows that the video camera used to televise the first steps of Neil Armstrong on the Moon was located on a bracket (Figure 6-11) inside a container known as Modular Equipment Storage Assembly or MESA, located on one of the sides of the octagonal base of the descent stage of the lunar module.

Figure 6-11. Apollo 11's lunar TV camera,
upside down on its bracket inside the MESA.

The first astronaut to exit from the LM, while he was still at the top of the ladder, pulled a cable which released this container and allowed it to open by tilting downward. This positioned automatically the camera (Figure 6-12), which was already switched on and connected to the transmission equipment of the Lunar Module.

Figure 6-12. The astronaut training simulator shows the tilt-down MESA
and its receptacle for the TV camera (indicated by the arrow),
in position to broadcast the descent along the ladder.

The wide-angle lens of this TV camera allowed it to view the ladder and the astronaut as he descended to the surface. The placement of the camera had been preplanned and rehearsed for the very purpose of documenting this historic moment. No external TV operator was required.

The same camera was then removed from its receptacle, installed on a tripod and placed at a certain distance from the LM, to which it was connected by means of a cable, so as to televise the entire moonwalk.

During Apollo 12, however, the TV camera was pointed at the Sun by mistake shortly after the beginning of the first moonwalk. The intense sunlight damaged its sensor, putting an abrupt end to live television from the Moon for the remainder of that mission.

The camera was installed upside down in its MESA receptacle and therefore the pictures of the astronauts’ descents along the ladder were transmitted from the Moon upside down. Technicians on Earth would flip the image to broadcast it right way up, but at the very beginning of the Apollo 11 lunar TV transmission they momentarily forgot this task and so the first seconds of the broadcast are upside down.

6.4 Who stayed behind to shoot the liftoff from the Moon?

IN A NUTSHELL: Nobody. The footage of the liftoff of the Lunar Module from the Moon was shot using an independently powered TV camera that was radio controlled from Earth.

THE DETAILS: The visual record of the Apollo missions includes footage of the liftoff of the Lunar Module from the Moon. Some conspiracy theorists and doubters argue that this video must be fake, since there was nobody left on the Moon to take the pictures and even move the camera to follow the ascent stage of the Lunar Module as it climbed into the sky.

The answer is simple: the liftoff was shot only during Apollo 15, 16 and 17, when the TV camera was installed on the Rover (the astronauts' electric car), which at the end of the excursion was parked approximately 90 meters (300 feet) east of the Lunar Module for the very purpose of recording the liftoff of the LM. The camera was controlled remotely by an operator on Earth. Indeed, its technical name was GCTA, which stands for Ground Controlled Television Assembly.

Figure 6-13. Apollo 17: a still from the live TV broadcast
of the liftoff of the LM ascent stage from the Moon.

Figure 6-14. Animation of how the LM liftoff videos were shot.
From the documentary
Live from the Moon (Spacecraft Films).

The signal from the TV camera left on the Moon was transmitted directly to Earth through the parabolic antenna installed on the Rover, using the same method used to transmit the astronauts' moonwalks.

The entire system was powered independently by batteries and therefore was able to transmit even after the astronauts had left the Moon, sending back lonely images of the moonscape, once again devoid of life and motion after humankind's brief visit.

6.5 Are the astronauts lifted by wires when they fall?

IN A NUTSHELL: No. The astronauts do appear to get back up with incredible ease when they fall, as if they were assisted by invisible wires, but this ease is due to the fact that the astronauts on the Moon weighed less than 30 kilograms (66 pounds), and their movements seem odd because their heavy spacesuit and backpack displaced their center of gravity considerably upwards and backwards.

THE DETAILS: On the Moon, the Apollo astronauts weighed one sixth of their Earth weight due to the lower lunar gravity. Their backpack and spacesuit weighed a total of approximately 81 kilograms (180 pounds) on Earth, which became a mere 13.5 kilograms (30 pounds) on the Moon. Their body weight was likewise reduced.

In other words, on the Moon a fully suited astronaut weighed a total of about 30 kilograms (66 pounds). Getting up after a fall, therefore, was trivial in terms of effort. Doing it without toppling over again, however, was challenging.

The way the astronauts regained their footing looks unusual because in addition to being in one-sixth gravity they were carrying a backpack (known as PLSS) which was quite heavy in proportion to their body weight (more precisely, its mass was considerable if compared to the mass of their body). Their PLSS weighed 26 kilograms (57 pounds) on Earth and 4.3 kilograms (9.5 pounds) on the Moon – one third of their body weight – and therefore displaced their center of gravity upwards and backwards. That’s why they were always leaning forwards: to compensate for the heavy load on their backs.

Figure 6-15. An astronaut picks himself up
by pushing with this arms after falling forwards.

Moreover, the wire theory fails because the Apollo TV footage includes unbroken sequences that last tens of minutes, during which the astronauts change direction and position repeatedly. How would the wires not get tangled up? There's also the problem that the TV coverage includes many wide shots, which would require extremely long wires to keep the control rig and winch out of frame.

6.6 Does video show the astronauts’ wires catching the light?

IN A NUTSHELL: No. Occasional colored glows can be seen above the astronauts’ heads in the video footage, but they’re not glimpses of the wires that supported the astronauts to fake lunar gravity. They’re simply reflections off the spacesuits’ radio antennas, which take on unusual colors due to the process used to generate the color TV picture. Sometimes the glow is a visual artifact produced by repeated digital compression and conversion of the original videos.

THE DETAILS: The momentary glow that appears above the heads of the astronauts in some TV pictures isn’t a studio light reflected by the hypothetical wires used to simulate low lunar gravity. It's usually a reflection off the radio antenna located at the top of the astronauts' backpack. The antenna was flat and shiny, so it was hard to see it when its edges faced the camera but it became suddenly visible, reflecting the sunlight, when the astronaut turned (Figure 6-16).

Figure 6-16. A strange glow above an astronaut's head.

This glow is often brightly colored because the color TV camera used on the Moon was actually a black-and-white camera fitted with a color wheel (Figure 6-17). The colored filters on this wheel rotated rapidly in front of the camera's sensor so as to generate a sequence of monochrome images filtered in red, green and yellow. These filtered images were then blended and processed electronically on Earth to reconstitute the original colors of the scene.

This system was sturdy and lightweight, but it had the drawback that if an object flashed rapidly in front of the camera it was caught by only one of the colored filters, acquiring a false coloring in the electronic processing.

Figure 6-17. The rotating color filters of a lunar TV camera.

In other instances, the apparent reflection of light on wires is a compression artifact: a false image detail generated by repeated conversion and compression of a video, for example for posting on the Internet. This sort of effect occurs in any digital video or photograph that is compressed and converted several times. The original video footage of the lunar missions, which is the only valid reference for proper research, doesn't have these artifacts.

6.7 Why do the astronauts only make miserly jumps?

IN A NUTSHELL: They might look miserly until you consider that the astronauts are wearing a suit and backpack that doubles their weight and has very limited flexibility, and that a fall on the airless Moon can kill.

THE DETAILS: One of the best-known lunar jumps is the one performed by John Young as he saluted the American flag during one of the Apollo 16 moonwalks. Figure 6-18 is a still from the video recording of this event, which was also photographed by Charlie Duke (Figure 5-74).

Moon hoax proponents say that Young's jump is strangely short, and so are all the other lunar leaps. Yet on the Moon, with one-sixth of Earth's gravity, astronauts should be able to perform amazing jumps, maybe six times as high as on Earth. Perhaps the hidden wires couldn't lift them up enough?

Figure 6-18. Apollo 16: John Young jumps as he salutes the flag and Charlie Duke takes his photograph.

Actually, there are very practical reasons for these short hops. First of all, every lunar astronaut was wearing a spacesuit and a backpack that weighed, on Earth, about 80 kilograms (176 pounds): as much as the astronaut himself. It's true that on the Moon this gear weighs one sixth of its Earth weight, i.e., about 13 kilograms (28 pounds), but it is still a substantial extra ballast that the astronaut has to lift in order to jump.

Secondly, John Young performed a standing jump, with no run-up (Figure 6-19), and was wearing a very bulky and rigid suit, limiting his freedom of motion and the energy he could put into his leap.

Figure 6-19. John Young just before his allegedly
controversial standing jump.

More importantly, the astronaut is on the Moon, surrounded by a deadly vacuum. He is well aware that if he falls and cracks his helmet, damages the backpack that supplies him with air and cooling or tears his pressurized inner suit, he'll die by decompression or suffocation. In such conditions, it is rather wise not to try and set high-jump records.

Many hoax theorists also make the mistake of considering Young's jump as the highest ever made on the Moon. Actually, it was just a hop intended to take an unusual salute photograph. Other jumps were much higher and correspondingly more dangerous.

For example, Young himself and his crewmate Charlie Duke engaged in a high-jump contest at the end Apollo 16's third moonwalk; Duke estimated that Young had jumped “about four feet [120 centimeters]. Duke made an equally high jump, but fell backwards onto his backpack. In his book Moonwalker, he reported that it was “the only time in our whole lunar stay that I had a real moment of panic and thought I had killed myself. The suit and backpack weren't designed to support a four-foot fall. Had the backpack broken or the suit split open, I would have lost my air. A rapid decompression, or as one friend calls it, a high-altitude hiss-out, and I would have been dead instantly. Fortunately, everything held together.”

Neil Armstrong reported that he jumped up to the third rung of Apollo 11's LM ladder, which was “easily five or six feet [150-180 centimeters] above the ground”. His leaps are visible in the recordings of the TV transmission of his moonwalk. However, Armstrong refrained from further experimentation, because he noted that “there was a tendency to tip over backward on a high jump. One time I came close to falling and decided that was enough of that.”*

* Apollo 11 Technical Crew Debriefing, 31 July 1969, Section 10, pages 61 and 28.

6.8 Is this an outtake from the fake TV broadcast?

IN A NUTSHELL: No, it's a prank, specifically a viral video shot in 2002 by a British advertising company.

THE DETAILS: A video widely available on the Internet is often presented as a leaked outtake from the faking of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, showing Neil Armstrong as he climbs down the ladder of the Lunar Module and pronounces his famous “One small step...” remark until an overhead bank of studio lights comes crashing down and a film crew comes into view. It can be recognized by the caption (Figure 6-20) and is actually an Internet prank created in 2002 by The Viral Factory, an advertising agency based in London, United Kingdom, to promote itself through word of mouth and create buzz (pun intended) about its work.

Figure 6-20. A still from the Moontruth viral advert (2002).

Today is an empty shell, but in 2002 it was owned by the British ad company (as documented by a Whois ownership query conducted at the time) and it contained text that claimed that the video was an “Apollo 11 Moon Landing Footage Out-take.” However, easily revealed hidden pages explained the prank:

The clip is FAKED. It is not an out-take leaked from a NASA top secret reel. It was done in a studio, for fun, and to entertain webheads like us.

Yes, the clip is fake. It was shot in a studio in London in spring 2002. It was based on an idea by director Adam Stewart, who was a space exploration nut. He had read the conspiracy theory sites and decided he wanted to make a spoof based on the idea that the Apollo 11 moonlanding was faked. [...]

We shot on original 1960's Ikegami Tube Camera in Mount Pleasant Studios in London. The guy in the suit is an actor. The rest of the 'cast' were basically the crew, who thought the idea was very funny and wanted to be in it.

The landing craft and 'moonscape' were a set built by our art director, Richard Selway. The ladder that 'Neil' descends was made according to original blueprints that were downloaded off the Net. The rest of the set was built to match the original as closely as possible.

The moon surface was cement dust. It was disgusting. Even with the studio ventilation on full it got everywhere, and at one point there was so much of it floating round, the lights were flaring really badly.

The footage was treated in post-production to give 'Neil' his weightlessness and the ghosting effect of the original. We re-recorded and processed the soundtrack to recreate the effect of sound traveling all the way from the moon.

We think it's pretty convincing, and one thing's for damn sure – it was a lot cheaper than really going to the moon.

This explanation is currently preserved at and the true origins of this video are recorded in detail by the well-known hoax debunking site.

6.9 How come Kubrick’s widow, Buzz Aldrin and others have confessed on film?

IN A NUTSHELL: The “confessions” are part of a 2002 French mockumentary, Opération Lune, which includes interviews with Buzz Aldrin, Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Christiane Kubrick and other authoritative figures, who openly admit that the Moon landings were faked. But in the final part of the mockumentary the interviewees reveal that the confessions are just an art prank.

THE DETAILS: There is a series of videos with astonishing confessions about the Moon landings made by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Christiane Kubrick (director Stanley Kubrick's widow) and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, among others. These are not lookalikes and there is no lip-synching by voice impersonators: it’s actually them saying these things. But it’s all part of a cleverly orchestrated prank, directed in 2002 by William Karel and broadcast by European network Arte as Opération Lune (also known as Dark Side of the Moon).

Karel's Dark Side of the Moon was originally a single, 52-minute fake documentary intended to test the gullibility of viewers and play with their sense of reality until the end, when the trick is revealed, but it soon found its way onto the Internet, where it was cut into shorter segments, which were presented out of context and often without including the explanation at the end. Accordingly, it is often cited as evidence by Moon hoax theorists, thus proving Karel’s point about gullibility, albeit in an unintended way.

The mockumentary actually contains several hints to its true nature: for example, if one listens carefully to what Aldrin, Kissinger and Rumsfeld say, it becomes evident that their words are being taken out of context; many of the historical events mentioned are blatantly wrong or false; and several of the names of the interviewees are lifted from famous movies, such as Jack Torrance (from Shining), David Bowman (from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Figure 6-21), Ambrose Chapel from Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, Eve Kendall and George Kaplan (both from North by Northwest). The end credits also include the bloopers made by the famous people interviewed and turned into improvised actors by Karel.

Figure 6-21. A still from William Karel’s Opération Lune (Dark Side of the Moon) (Arte TV, 2002).

6.10 How could NASA conveniently “lose” the tapes of the first Moon landing?

IN A NUTSHELL: They didn’t: they lost the direct, raw recording of the first landing, which would have offered a higher image quality than the recordings made from the live TV transmission, was degraded considerably by the electronic conversion required to adapt the signal from the Moon to the standards used by terrestrial television. The lower-quality converted recordings have not been lost. The loss of the raw recording is due to the fact that it was made in a special video format on expensive telemetry tapes, which were later deleted for reuse because it was believed at the time (before the advent of digital image processing and restoration techniques) that no better conversion was possible. The lost tapes did not contain extra footage or different views.

THE DETAILS: As described in the technical primer at the beginning of this book, achieving a fuzzy, black-and-white live broadcast from the Moon for the first landing required a substantial technological effort. At the time, television was fully analog and could not benefit from pristine digital transmission and processing. Due to technical constraints, a non-standard TV camera and signal had to be used on the Moon and the pictures had to be converted on Earth, on the fly, for worldwide live broadcast. This caused considerable loss of quality.

NASA recorded this converted television signal on standard videotape reels of the best quality available at the time. These tapes have not been lost (Figure 6-22).

Figure 6-22. One of the converted videotape reels of the Apollo 11 flight. Credit: DC Video.

The non-standard direct signal from the Moon could not be recorded with ordinary video recording equipment, so NASA stored it on a track of the telemetry tapes of the flight. However, these tapes were labeled as ordinary mission telemetry and were placed in storage with all the other technical records at the end of each mission. Several years after the end of the Apollo project, the stored telemetry was deemed of no further interest and its expensive tapes were sent to be wiped for reuse. The best-quality recordings of the Apollo 11 lunar excursion were thus deleted unintentionally.

These are the so-called “lost tapes”: they included no extra footage or different shots compared to the recordings that we've seen for over forty years. However, they would have offered a far better view, in terms of detail and clarity, of that unique moment of history (Figure 6-23).

Figure 6-23. Neil Armstrong in the live TV signal as broadcast from Houston (left) compared with the original signal received from the Moon at Goldstone (right, NASA image S69-42583) as recorded by taking a Polaroid photograph of the TV screen of the receiver on Earth.

It should be noted that at the time it was widely believed that nothing better could be extracted from the master tapes. The digital image processing that we now take for granted was still in its infancy, the existing footage was considered good enough, and it was assumed that the master tapes would be preserved anyway.

All is not lost, however. There are photographs and film recordings of parts of the direct, unprocessed transmission from the Moon, taken by Bill Wood and Ed von Renouard, who worked at the receiving stations in the United States and Australia, which offer tantalizing glimpses of what could have been preserved, including the only existing recording (made by von Renouard on a Super 8 movie camera) of the jettison of the astronauts' backpacks after they reentered the Lunar Module. Other unofficial copies of the raw transmission might still surface from various sources.

In 2009, NASA published a detailed report on the extensive international search for the missing master tapes* and hired Lowry Digital, a film restoration company, to enhance the best available converted recordings with assistance from many of the engineers who had worked on the original transmission. The restored Apollo 11 moonwalk is now available commercially.

6.11 Did astronauts fake TV footage of Earth seen from deep space?

IN A NUTSHELL: No. Had the footage been faked by shooting it from Earth orbit through a circular window to make the Earth look small and distant, as some conspiracy theorists claim, the clouds would have changed continuously as the spacecraft flew over different parts of the planet. But in the footage the clouds remain unchanged.

THE DETAILS: Moon hoax theorist Bart Sibrel, in his video A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon (2001), shows an Apollo 11 video recording that he claims to be “never before seen or heard footage” in which the astronauts allegedly faked being far from Earth when they were actually still in low orbit around it.

According to Sibrel, they “placed the camera at the back of the spacecraft and centered the lens on a circular window in the foreground, outside of which it is completely filled with the Earth in low orbit. The circumference of the window then appears to be the diameter of the Earth at a distance, with the darkened walls of the spacecraft appearing to be the blackness of space around it.” (Figure 6-24).

Figure 6-24. A frame from the allegedly faked Apollo 11 video.

In other words, according to Sibrel's theory, the astronauts used the circular window to mask the bulk of the Earth and only show a circular portion of its surface, thus creating the illusion of a distant floating sphere.

In actual fact, the footage is not “never before seen or heard” as Sibrel alleges. It is part of a series of color TV transmissions made by the Apollo 11 astronauts on their way to the Moon, 10.5 hours and 34 hours after liftoff, when they were respectively 94,500 and 240,000 kilometers (51,000 and 130,000 nautical miles) from Earth. The full recording has been available for a long time, for example on the Apollo 11 DVDs published by Spacecraft Films. Sibrel's version is recut out of sequence: the unedited footage simply shows the astronauts preparing for TV transmissions and testing the camera settings. This is evident by listening to their communications in full, as available in the Apollo Flight Journal, instead of taking selected quotes out of context.

Moreover, the camera trick alleged by Sibrel wouldn't have worked even if the astronauts had tried it. If the Apollo spacecraft had been in low orbit around the Earth, with its TV camera peeking at a small portion of the planet below through a circular mask, the footage would have shown ever-changing clouds and parts of the planet rolling by as the spacecraft rapidly circled the globe. The uncut, less grainy version of the video presented by Sibrel instead shows exactly the same unchanging cloud patterns for as much as fifteen minutes.

The original footage reveals that the frame shown in Figure 6-24 includes the outline of all of the western coast of North America and of Baja California in the upper left region (north is down and to the left). This is confirmed by photograph AS11-36-5337, which was taken approximately at the same time as the TV transmissions and shows the same cloud patterns, allowing to determine that the TV picture actually shows the entire North American continent and most of the Pacific Ocean. This would be impossible from low Earth orbit.

6.12 Why is there no exhaust from the LM’s ascent rocket engine?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because the propellant of the Lunar Module didn’t generate a visible plume. The same occurs in other vehicles that use the same propellant type, such as the Titan launchers used for the Gemini program.

THE DETAILS: Bill Kaysing, in Fox TV's Did We Land on the Moon? (2001), objects that “In the footage of the ascent stage going up, what you don’t see is an exhaust plume coming out of the rocket engine nozzle... What do we see? We see the ascent stage suddenly pop up without any exhaust plume whatsoever as though it were jerked up by a cable”.

Actually, there’s no visible exhaust plume for a very simple reason: there shouldn’t be one. Not all rocket propellants produce a bright plume, especially in a near-vacuum such as the Moon’s surface. In particular, the Apollo LM used a mix of Aerozine 50 (50% hydrazine, 50% unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine) and dinitrogen tetroxide, which are hypergolic, i.e., they react spontaneously as soon as they come into mutual contact. This allowed a simple and highly reliable engine design. The product of the reaction of these substances is colorless and transparent: that's why there's no visible plume under the LM. A layperson might expect a plume and flames because that's what is usually seen during rocket liftoffs. But most large rockets use different, cheaper and less toxic propellants, which generate a bright, fiery exhaust.

The same type of propellant used in the LM was also used in the massive Titan launchers used in the Gemini manned spaceflight program (and also used as nuclear warhead delivery missiles), and their liftoffs produced a surprisingly small and colorless plume, with no flames (Figure 6-25). The Space Shuttle's maneuvering thrusters also used hypergolic propellants and likewise produced no significant plume.

It’s true, however, that NASA is partly to blame for this widespread misconception, because many artist’s illustrations published by the space agency actually show a plume both for the ascent stage and for the descent stage of the LM. However, there was no other self-explanatory way to illustrate the fact that the spacecraft was being propelled by its rocket motor.

Figure 6-25. Liftoff of a Titan rocket carrying the Gemini 12 spacecraft on November 11, 1966. Note the almost colorless engine exhaust and the lack of flames.

6.13 Why did Apollo 11 transmit color TV from space but not from the Moon?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because the crew used different cameras and transmitters. Apollo 11 sent color TV pictures during its flight to the Moon, but the TV transmission from the Moon itself was in black and white because the main spacecraft, the Command Module, had better and more powerful transmission equipment than the Lunar Module and could send a good color TV signal to Earth. Also, Apollo 11's color TV camera was used only inside the spacecraft and therefore didn't have to withstand the vacuum and temperature extremes of the lunar surface; the first moonwalk camera had to be more rugged and simple. Later missions carried improved cameras and equipment that allowed color TV from the Moon as well.

THE DETAILS: It may seem rather suspicious that Apollo 11 sent color TV pictures during the flight to the Moon (Figure 6-26) but then switched to black and white for the all-important moonwalk.

Figure 6-26. Buzz Aldrin in the LM, in a frame from the color TV
transmissions sent by Apollo 11. NASA image S69-39532.

Indeed, Bart Sibrel, in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon, notes this discrepancy and suggests that the perpetrators of the hoax decided it would be “better to open their debut mission with fuzzy pictures and numerous blackouts rather than show too much revealing detail of a false scene that was yet unproven”.

The actual reason for the switch was that the color transmissions were made using the Command Module's TV camera and onboard transmission equipment, which was far more sophisticated and powerful than the Lunar Module's and also had a better antenna. The Command Module was powered by fuel cells, while the LM only had batteries, and this allowed the CM to spend more power on the TV signal.

Moreover, the transmission gear of Apollo 11's LM lacked the bandwidth needed to send a color signal, while the CM had no such limitation, and the addition of color doesn't necessarily provide significant detail. However, the CM could not be used as a relay because it orbited around the Moon every two hours and therefore was often out of contact with the LM or Earth or both.

6.14 Why does the Moon look the same in two different places? Recycled Moon sets?

IN A NUTSHELL: In a NASA documentary, two video clips of Apollo 16's lunar excursion are said to have been shot in different places on different days, but the landscape and the terrain around the astronauts are identical, but this is not evidence of a recycled movie set: it’s an editing error. In the original raw footage, the two clips are only seven minutes apart and belong to a long, unbroken sequence that occurs in a single location.

THE DETAILS: Bart Sibrel's video The Rocks Cry Out: Apollo 16 Anomaly and the Fox TV show Did We Land on the Moon? accuse NASA of using the same location or movie set for two different sites of the Apollo 16 mission, which according to other NASA documents were located four kilometers (over 2.5 miles) apart and were visited on two different days (Figures 6-27 and 6-28).

Figure 6-27. A frame of the first clip disputed by Fox TV and Sibrel.

Figure 6-28. A frame from the second clip in dispute.

The first clip (Figure 6-27) shows a single astronaut and is captioned “Day One” by Fox, while the second one (Figure 6-28) features two astronauts and is labeled “Day Two”, but the location is unquestionably the same. Even the camera angle is identical. According to the Fox show, “NASA claims the second location was two and a half miles away, but when one video was superimposed over the other, the locations appear identical.”

However, reviewing the full set of TV transmissions from Apollo 16 (as published for example by Spacecraft Films) reveals another story. In the original transmissions, the images in the two video clips are not referred to two separate days: they're just seven minutes apart and belong to a single, unbroken sequence recorded during Apollo 16’s second day on the Moon, at 144 hours and 48 minutes and 144 hours and 55 minutes in mission elapsed time. They also refer to the same location. In other words, the accusations of fakery are bogus.

Moreover, the audio in the clips presented by Fox TV and Sibrel doesn't match the recordings of reference. For example, according to NASA's Technical Air-to-Ground Voice Transcripts the phrase “Well, I couldn't pick a better spot” in the first clip actually comes from the first day of Apollo 16 on the Moon, at 123 hours and 58 minutes, and the words “That is the most beautiful sight” and “It’s absolutely unreal!” occur at 124 hours and 3 minutes and 144 hours and 16 minutes respectively.

The most likely source of this mismatch is a documentary commissioned by NASA to A-V Corporation in 1972 and rather ironically entitled “Nothing So Hidden...”, in which the clips have the same, incorrect audio presented by Sibrel and Fox TV and are shown as if they had been taken on different days.

In other words, the entire accusation stems from an editing error that occurs only in a NASA-sponsored documentary but not in the full, original video recordings, which are the only true reference material and which the conspiracy theorists apparently failed to examine. Editing mistakes in documentaries are not evidence of NASA fakery; they’re merely evidence of inaccurate editing. Unfortunately, such mistakes or artistic licenses are frequent in supposedly faithful documentaries and often alter the understanding of an event. For example, as space historian James Oberg notes,

A far more serious distortion appears in most — but not all — television documentaries of the mission. Since the “small step” was really so small and his body movement so subtle, the video of this event is not dramatic enough for some programs. Instead, the audio track of the first words is transferred forward about a minute to coincide with Armstrong’s first jump down the ladder to the footpad. This turns the poetic “small step” into an awkward big hop. That may satisfy action-oriented entertainment values but it is false history. It is untrue to the significance of Armstrong’s words.*

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