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Debunking the moon landing hoax

They say you should ‘fake it till you make it’ and according to a recent YouGov poll, one in six Brits believe JFK’s government lived by that philosophy when they ‘supposedly’ faked the 1969 moon landing to get one up on the Soviets.

At the time, the Americans had fallen behind their Cold War rivals in the Space Race. History tells us however that the U.S. claimed victory after successfully landing on the moon on 20 July, 1969. The conspiracy theorists want you to believe this never happened. Instead, they believe that NASA, with the full support of the U.S. government, decided to bypass America’s technical shortcomings and hoax a moon landing instead.

The truth of the matter is and has always been the reverse; in 1969 America had the technology to go to the moon but not to fake it. Here’s why.

The video equipment required did not exist

There are a myriad of different conspiracy theories linked to the moon landing (absent stars in the photographs, the ‘waving’ flag, the rock with the letter ‘C’ written on it), all of which have been debunked a thousand times over.

The fact that multiple nations, including the Soviets, verified NASA’s achievement at the time should be evidence enough that man landed on the moon. If anyone was going to cry foul play it would have been the Russians, yet they didn’t. Any conspiracy would also have involved the 400,000 men and women across the U.S. who worked on the Apollo programme. That’s one hell of a cover-up!      

Putting those rather convincing arguments aside, the hoax theory falls over again when you focus on the film and video technology available in 1969. In our world of advanced CGI and special effects, it’s all too easy for us to imagine that Hollywood could have helped NASA concoct a credible moon landing. The truth is the technology to do that just didn’t exist back then, a fact that has been confirmed by a number of film experts.

I cannot think of any way they could have faked the moon landing with the technology they had at the time.

Mark Schubin, video forensic expert

Conspiracy theorists have claimed that famed director Stanley Kubrick was asked to film a fake moon landing after the success of his 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although the film was pioneering in its use of special effects, the film’s technical achievements would have paled in comparison to what would have been needed to fake the moon landing. But for argument's sake, let's say Kubrick accepted the challenge. What would he have needed to do to achieve it?

‘There are two different ways of capturing moving images,’ Howard Berry, the Head of Post-Production and Programme Leader for MA Film and Television Production at the University of Hertfordshire, explains. ‘One is film, actual strips of photographic material onto which a series of images are exposed. Another is video, which is an electronic method of recording onto various mediums, such as moving magnetic tape. With video, you can also broadcast to a television receiver.’

If the moon landings were filmed in a TV studio in 1969, the footage would most likely have been 30 fps (frames per second) video, the television standard at the time. However, we know that the moon landing was recorded at only ten fps in SSTV (Slow Scan Television) with a special Apollo TV camera. That would mean that Kubrick would have needed to use that specific camera when filming the forgery. Let’s say he did.

Footage captured from Apollo 11 showed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking around in the low gravity environment of the moon’s surface. Theorists have argued that the astronauts were in fact made to look like that by slow motion. Again, does the technology hold up to the argument?  There are two ways to make slow motion video – shoot at normal speed and playback at slow speed or shoot at fast speed and playback at normal speed. The latter is known as overcranking and produces the smoother and more realistic result of the two.

In 1969, overcranking was only possible with film cameras and as we’ve already established, the Apollo footage was shot at 10 fps by the SSTV. To achieve the slow-motion effect then, Kubick would have had to have artificially slowed down the 10 fps video footage using a magnetic disk recorder – a device capable of capturing normal speed video and playing it back slow.

Whilst disk recorders did exist back then, they could only capture 30 seconds of real-time footage. Played back at 10 fps that would give a total of 90 seconds of slow motion video. The Apollo 11 footage lasted some 143 minutes. To capture that amount in slow motion video, Kubrick would have needed to record and store 47 minutes of live action. A technological feat that was simply impossible in 1969.

But what if Kubrick had somehow shot it on film, not video? That would have allowed him to overcrank it by shooting the footage at 30 fps and playing it back at 10 fps. Whilst technically correct, it’s not quite so simple as that, as film has its own set of drawbacks. To film 47 minutes of live footage, over 5,000 feet of film would have been required. The reels would have then had to be spliced together and successfully transferred to video. That gigantic feat would have needed to be accomplished without any scratches, film grain or other common film artefacts becoming visible on the footage. If they did, the hoax would immediately be exposed.

Kubrick would also have had to repeat that process, without mistakes, for the five further lunar missions undertaken and filmed by NASA. Those later missions were shot at a higher frame rate as well, meaning twice as much work for the forgers. As filmmaker and longtime cameraman, S. G. Collins suggests, ‘You think maybe it would be easier to just go to the moon?’

The lighting equipment did not exist

Although conspiracy theorists have argued that there are multiple light sources visible in photographs from the moon landing, suggesting artificial lights had been used, counter-arguments about the reflective lunar surface have all successfully debunked this theory.

Studio lighting in 1969 was also not advanced enough to create the moon-landing images, as video forensic analyst and production technical supervisor Mark Schubin argues. ‘Creating that lighting would have essentially been impossible in a studio. Using image forensics I can tell you that the light source we see in the moon footage is actually parallel sun rays with no diffusion. If you look at the photos from the Apollo mission, you can see that all the shadows are parallel because the lights source is 93 million away.’

In contrast, studio lighting from a nearby spotlight creates diverging shadows. Schubin continues, ‘Back in the 60s the only way to recreate the sun’s effect would be to build a wall of millions of laser lights so close together they’d be like pixels on a TV screen. Back then lasers were big and costly, so rigging together that many at that size would have required an enormous apparatus that probably would have cost more than the Apollo project.’

If this wall of a million lasers were somehow accomplished, it would have been done so with red lasers, since they were the most practically available at the time. Creating a colour photo of the moon landing, of which we have many, would have been impossible with just red laser lighting.

Without the computer graphics of today’s world, Schubin concludes, ‘I cannot think of any way they could have faked the moon landing with the technology they had at the time.’