The Moon Landing Debate

Astronaut John Young, Apollo 16 mission, 1972 (NASA)

Published: July 2022
Updated: November 2023

Did the United States send men to the moon? Watch the best skeptical documentary on the moon landing question and read the best counter-arguments to that documentary.

1) Documentary: American Moon (2017)

A documentary by Italian filmmaker Massimo Mazzucco (210 minutes; website).

2) Counter-arguments to the documentary

The strongest counter-arguments to the 42 points raised in American Moon.

3) Screenshots from “American Moon”

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4) Lunar gravity and sound analysis

Skeptics argue that lunar gravity was simulated using monofilament wire suspension and variable frame rates (i.e. dynamic slow-motion), but that some scenes reveal Earth gravity. Furthermore, skeptics argue that some scenes reveal sound transmission, despite the lack of a lunar atmosphere.

Skeptics have also argued that in Apollo moon footage, all movements, not just vertical (free fall) movements, appear to be in (variable) slow-motion. In addition, skeptics noted that astronauts in Apollo moon footage were jumping merely knee-high, while astronauts in (transverse) lunar gravity simulation experiments are able to jump well over one meter high.

A detailed frame rate and gravity analysis was first performed in a three-hour video investigation titled “Make Believe” that was released in March 2015 by an anonymous author. The following short video clips show examples of this analysis reproduced by the Apollo Project.

Figure: Apollo frame rate and gravity analysis

Apollo frame rate and gravity analysis (AP)

5) Moon landing simulations

Prior to the Apollo moon missions, NASA performed several highly realistic moon landing simulations. In 2003, Apollo Flight Director Gene Kranz stated that: “The simulations were so real that no controller could discern the difference between the training and the real mission.”

Figure: Gene Kranz in Failure Is Not An Option (2003 documentary)

Gene Kranz in Failure Is Not An Option (2003 documentary)

6) The Saturn V rocket

Saturn IB rocket (1975), Apollo 15 (1971), and Space Shuttle Atlantis (2011) during liftoff (SPR/NASA)

While the moon landing debate has mostly been focused on the actual moon landings, additional questions concern the Saturn V rocket used for the Apollo moon missions (center in figure above).

According to official data, the five F-1 engines of the Saturn V rocket (1968-1972) produced a combined thrust of 3400 tons at liftoff. This was almost five times more powerful than the Saturn IB rocket (1966-1975), whose eight H-1 engines produced a combined thrust of only 740 tons at liftoff. Moreover, it was almost 20% more powerful than the total thrust of the Space Shuttle (2950 tons, 1981-2011), which used two solid rocket boosters in addition to the three RS-25 main engines.

However, skeptics have pointed out that the actual thrust of a Saturn V rocket appeared to be rather similar to the thrust of a Saturn IB rocket and much lower than the thrust of a Space Shuttle (see photographic comparison above). Furthermore, skeptics have argued that the measurable acceleration of Saturn V rockets during liftoff and ascent was three times lower than required to transcend low Earth orbit (see video comparison). In addition, skeptics have argued that reported Apollo atmosphere re-entries appear to have been staged. In short, skeptics suggest the F-1 engine never reached its stated power and, thus, the Saturn V rocket was unable to reach the moon.

According to official data, the F-1 engine produced almost eight times more thrust than any other American kerosene rocket engine ever built and almost four times more thrust per combustion chamber than the largest Soviet kerosene rocket engine (see chart below). The F-1 engine was beset by instabilities during its development in the 1960s, but apparently worked without a single failure during the Apollo moon missions. Nevertheless, it was scrapped in 1973 and can no longer be built today because “there are simply not enough people with the necessary skills”.

Video: NASA Rocket Launch Comparison (SPR, 2023)

Figure: The Saturn V F-1 engine compared to other US and Russian kerosene rocket engines

The Saturn V F-1 engine vs. other American and Russian kerosene rocket engines (Konovalov)

7) Prior NASA achievements

Prior to the manned Apollo moon missions, NASA launched several unmanned lunar missions that were designed to achieve hard landings, soft landings, lunar orbits, and lunar liftoffs.

However, prior to the manned Apollo 11 mission in July 1969, NASA had achieved only one unmanned lunar liftoff of just four meters (by the Surveyor 6 mission in November 1967) and no complete lunar liftoff and return to Earth. Moreover, prior to the reportedly manned Apollo 8 mission in December 1968, NASA had not sent any animals through the Van Allen radiation belt.

The first lunar mission to include animals (two tortoises), transverse the Van Allen radiation belt, circle the moon and return to Earth was the Soviet Zond 5 mission in September 1968. The first unmanned spacecraft to successfully lift off from the lunar surface and return to Earth was the Soviet Luna 16 mission in September 1970. Even so, the USSR never sent men beyond low Earth orbit.

In 2004, US President George W. Bush announced a program to enable a “return to the moon”, but twenty years later, NASA had only completed a single uncrewed moon orbiting mission.

Figure: The Earthrise photograph reportedly taken during the Apollo 8 mission (1968)

The Earthrise photograph reportedly taken during the Apollo 8 mission (1968)

8) Photographs of Apollo landing sites

To date, no high-definition photographs of the Apollo lunar landing sites have become publicly available and no robotic lunar mission of any country has visited the Apollo landing sites.

In 2012, when private moon missions participating in the Google Lunar X-Prize announced their intention to visit Apollo landing sites, NASA imposed no-fly zones and ground-travel buffer zones to “protect and preserve the historic and scientific value of US government lunar artifacts”.

In 2011, NASA released low-resolution photographs of Apollo landing sites taken by NASA’s own Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO, see below). Skeptics disputed the authenticity of these images and argued that the LRO camera should have been able to provide far more detailed photographs.

In 2012, a Chinese official stated that Chinese scientists “spotted traces of the previous Apollo mission” in images taken by the Chang’e 2 lunar probe, but the images were never released.

In 2021, during a Youtube webinar, an official of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) briefly showed two low-resolution photographs of the Apollo 11 and 12 landing sites reportedly taken by the Indian-American Chandrayaan-2 lunar exploration mission. Skeptics again noted the lack of any details and disputed the authenticity and origin of the images.

Read more: Third-party evidence for Apollo Moon landings (Wikipedia)

Figure: A NASA LRO image of the Apollo 17 landing site released in 2011 (NASA)

A NASA LRO image of the Apollo 17 landing site released in 2011 (NASA)

9) Doubts about the Soviet space program

Prior to the Apollo moon missions, some American scientists and engineers suspected that the Soviets partially faked their own manned space missions, including the first “spacewalk” and the first manned orbital space flight, as documented in a 1966 issue of Science and Mechanics.

Figure: Alexei Leonov (left), reportedly the first human to conduct a spacewalk (1965)

Alexei Leonov (left), reportedly the first human to conduct a spacewalk (1965)

10) Additional articles and videos

Additional articles on technical, historical and political aspects.




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