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Episode 31: Photography Claims of the Apollo Moon Hoax, Part 1

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Recap: In this Part 1 of a two-part series (to be continued in a month or so), I go over the basic claims made for why the astronauts could not have taken the photographs. Part 2 will focus on what's actually in the photographs.

Puzzler: Figure out how to take a photograph of the moon so you can see detail. Then figure out how to take a photograph of the stars - they don't have to be sharp or not show trails - just so that you can actually see them. Then use the settings on the camera you used for the moon and see if you can see stars with that setting, and then use the settings you used for stars to take a photo of the moon. To get "full credit" on this, you'll need to provide the four photographs which I will post with your name or handle to the show notes for Episode 33 when we go over this.

Q&A: Donovan W. from Mobile Alabama, USA, AKA "Ravenhull" on the SGU message boards who asks: "How strong, if we know, are the magnetic poles of the other 'inner' planets? I do know that the Jovian planets have rather strong magnetic fields surrounding them, but I've not heard much about Mercury, Venus and Mars. I do seem to remember it said that Mars does not have a significant equivalent of our Van Allen belts, which allowed the solar wind to strip away much of the planet's atmosphere. And what of our Moon?"

We know a great deal about the inner planets' and lunar magnetic fields. Venus has no field. The Moon has no magnetic field, but there are some areas that are faintly magnetized. Mars has no global magnetic field, but we think it had one at one point because there are parts of the crust that are very strongly magnetized. Work that I'm doing based on follow-up work from a 2008 study puts the death of the Martian dynamo at around 4.1 billion years ago, fairly soon after its formation.

Mercury on the other hand, has a very strong and very active magnetic field. We're not really sure why, and figuring out why it has a stronger field than Earth is one of the principle goals of the MESSENGER mission that has been orbiting Mercury for a year and was just renewed for an extended mission for another Earth year.

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Claim: It's been awhile since I talked about this subject, so for those who forgot or are not familiar with it, the basic claim here is that somehow, NASA faked the Apollo moon landings in some way, shape or form. There are various claims of evidence that people point to, and I've talked about some of them in Episodes 5, 7, and 11. I've avoided talking about the photography because this is a podcast. And because well over half of the claims have to do with photography, this is a Part 1 episode, and I'll do a Part 2 edition later on. The theme this time is going to be more towards lines of photographic evidence where you DON'T need to be staring at photos to get the idea. Next time, you will, so I'll be trying to paint pictures with my eloquent and mesmerizing voice.

Astronauts Didn't Have Enough Time to Take All the Photos

The first claim is really one of the more minor ones, even though it's one that people frequently link to my blog about, and that's the idea that the astronauts did not have enough time to take all the photographs that NASA claims were taken on the Moon.

The numbers go like this, and I promise this is the only math and it's simple algebra in this episode: During the six successful Moon-landing missions, there were 5771 photographs taken during a time of 4834 minutes. Simple division shows that they must have taken 1.19 photos per minute, or one photo every 50 seconds. Seems kinda rapid if they're also supposed to planting flags, taking samples, setting up experiments, tipping the chauffeur, and other things.

You can start to see why this is a faulty claim by first doubling the number of astronauts on the surface -- there were two. That math only accounts for one. So right away, instead of 4834 minutes on the lunar surface to take these photos, it's more like 9668 minutes, or about 161 person-hours. So that's 1 minute 40 second between shots.

Another reason why this is wrong is that it assumes a constant photography rate, with one photo taken exactly 100 seconds apart. That's not how photographs are taken. For example, if both astronauts got out of the craft and each took two photos right then, they have over three minutes before they would "need" to take another photo to account for this average. Or if they took four photos quickly, then they'd have over 6.5 minutes before needing to take another for the average to work out.

Think of the last time you went on a sight-seeing trip. For me, it was to Washington, D.C. where I was on the National Mall and visited a few museums. I spent a total of 4 hours on the Mall and I took a total of 240 photos, which means I must've taken a photo once every minute. How could I have had time to do anything else?!

The answer of course is that I would walk for 15 minutes or a half hour, take a bunch of photos of, say, the White House, and then walk another 20 minutes to the Washington Monument, take another dozen photos over the span of 30 seconds, walk 40 minutes to the Lincoln Memorial, take a 6-photo panorama in 4 seconds and then a bunch of photos inside, etc.

People shoot in bursts. That's what the astronauts did: They set up equipment or collected samples, and then would take a 20-photo panorama in the space of a minute or so. Or they would snap a quick photo while they were setting something up or collecting their samples. A single 20-photo panorama means they didn't need to shoot anything else for over 15 minutes to still make that average.

Photos Were Too Good

Which brings us to the next claim that you might be wondering about with rapid-fire photos: The photographs were too good. [Clip from FOX's "Did We Land on the Moon?"]

The reason why this claim is out there but is very incorrect is one that I'll return to in the follow-up episode: The Apollo missions were in part a science endeavor, but let's face it -- a big part of them was a public relations campaign and to prove to them red Soviets and the world that a "free" country was better than a communistical type.

This was also 1969 and the early 1970s. Photographs were expensive to print and reproduce. So if you have rolls upon rolls of film, with nearly 6000 photographs taken, your PR department is going to go through them and pick out maybe the top 10 from each mission and those are what are going to be released. If the astronaut accidentally took a photo of their leg, that's not what they're going to spend a few $hundred reproducing and sending out to newspapers and television stations when there's another photo of the astronaut saluting the American flag, the flag of freedom, truth, and justice.

And that's what they did.

Nowadays, pixels and electrons are cheap, and you can go to any number of archival websites from Apollo and see almost every photograph the astronauts took. You will see panoramas that I spoke of before. And you will see hundreds of really bad photos that weren't released to the media in the 1960s and 70s, but are freely available now.

Astronauts Couldn't See Through the Lens, Focus, Etc., nor Operated the Cameras with Gloves on

Often, a follow-up claim to the photos just being too good are that, well, the astronauts on the moon could not have taken them. [Clip from FOX's "Did We Land on the Moon?"]

This is an interesting argument from authority, getting the guy who designed the cameras. What's really interesting here is if we ignore the context that Agent Skinner set up for us and listen just to what the camera designer said :[Clip from FOX's "Did We Land on the Moon?"]

What he said is exactly the way they did this: The cameras were mounted on the astronauts' chests. They aimed by moving their body. Not really that hard when you're using a very wide-angle lens so you only have to be aiming in the general direction of what you want to photograph to actually photograph it.

And of course, the astronauts were trained how to do this. For years. Remember: This was a PR campaign. One of the first things of importance, beyond getting people there and back, was to take photos. If the astronauts would not have been able to manipulate the cameras while there with their spacesuits on, this would have been caught in like 1965 and figured out.

Which is why they designed the cameras with extra-large buttons and adjustment mechanisms. They did not bring cameras like the $200 point-and-shoots you have today with buttons that are only a few millimeters across. These were DESIGNED to be operated by people with bulky gloves and equipment on.

So in addition to being able to manipulate the camera elements easily, and being able to just orient their bodies in the general direction that they want to take a picture in, the last part to this claim is the focusing issue.

This gets into a little bit of optical physics. If any of you have at least a semi-manual camera, something you can do is place it into an "Av" mode which in this case I mean "aperture-value." This is where you can set what is called the "aperture" of the lens.

In an exposure, there are three things in film that control how much light reaches the film plate and is recorded. The first is the film speed - how sensitive the film is. That was fixed in this mission and we're not going to worry about it. The modern digital equivalent is ISO. The second piece that controls the amount of light is the shutter speed -- how long the shutter remains open to let light in.

The third is the aperture. If you're not familiar with that term, it means opening. So the aperture of your refrigerator is your refrigerator door. The aperture of your eye is your pupil. And your pupil can go from really wide open, a large aperture, to really small to let less light in. Just like your pupil, the maximum aperture of a camera is the diameter of the lens. But you can change the aperture to let less light in.

The third is the aperture. If you're not familiar with that term, it means opening. So the aperture of your refrigerator is your refrigerator door. The aperture of your eye is your pupil. And your pupil can go from really wide open, a large aperture, to really small to let less light in. Just like your pupil, the maximum aperture of a camera is the diameter of the lens. But you can change the aperture to let less light in.

You might be wondering how this has anything to do with focus. A side-effect of aperture is that this will change how much of an image is in focus. If you have a really open aperture, a large aperture, which is also a very small f/number - like an f/2 lens - then the focus is going to be very limited. So if you photographed a ruler going away from you, only a small part of that ruler that you focused on will be in focus.

If you use a smaller aperture, or a bigger f/number - like f/11 - then when you photograph that ruler pointing away from you, a lot more of the ruler will be in focus.

So the astronauts used larger f/numbers, or smaller apertures, in their photographs to make sure more of the photograph was in focus.

And they also had adjustment rings on the camera that they could turn to have them be in focus for an object that they guestimated the distance to.

So in the end, for this claim, the astronauts used wide-angle lenses or in the later missions with narrow angle lenses had sighting rings. So they just had to point their bodies in the general direction they wanted to take a picture. They adjusted the camera's focus with the extra-large adjustment mechanisms to approximately the distance they thought the object was. And they used smaller apertures to have more depth in focus so they didn't have to be too accurate in their guestimates of distance.

X-Rays Expose the Film

A fourth photography claim that has nothing to do with what's in the photographs is a claimed study found repeated by Bennett and Percy in their book, "Dark Moon:" "David Groves, Ph.D., has shown that the x-ray environment of space would quickly render any photographs unusable."

Now, this is an interesting claim. One that you'd surely think NASA would have thought about. But then, you have this guy with a friggin' Ph.D. who says it's impossible!

When I used to give talks on the Apollo Moon hoax claims as a graduate student, it was very easy for me to say that all because someone has a Ph.D. after their name does not mean they know what they're talking about. And now that I have a Ph.D. after my name, and a "Dr." in front of it, I can verify that all because someone has a Ph.D. after their name doesn't mean they know what the heck they're talking about. Those of you who've been with this podcast for awhile know that I've made mistakes, or said wrong things, that I've later come back and corrected.

And that's really what this study was - it was wrong and full of mistakes.

To start with, David Groves, Ph.D., did not use the same film, same shielding, nor even the same brand of camera. You'd think that might be important -- for example, if NASA had figured out a way to shield from some of the radiation by putting, say, a thick layer of plastic around something, you'd think that might be important to duplicate in your experiment.

But it gets worse. Groves exposed the film to 8 MeV x-rays as opposed to the average x-ray energy from space, which is 5 keV. It's not important for this what an eV or electron-Volt is, what's important is that M versus k. M means million, like Megabyte. k means thousand, like kilogram. So he exposed the film to over 1000x the strength radiation that the Apollo film experienced.

But it gets worse. Groves not only exposed the film to stronger radiation, but he exposed it to more radiation -- about the equivalent of 6 years' worth of radiation instead of 1-3 weeks' worth.

To create an analogy that I'm hopefully now famous for being good at, this is sort of like taking a trolly car, attaching some sort of motor to it, and then trying to drive it around the Indy 500 race track for a month. When it crashes and burns and falls apart, you would claim that it is physically impossible for a car to survive the Indy 500, so it's all a sham and all those Indy drivers and sponsors and fans are in on the conspiracy.

Heat/Cold would Melt/Crack Film

The final claim I'm going to talk about in this episode is similar to the last -- not that the film would be rendered unusable by x-rays, but that it would either freeze and crack in the extreme cold of space, or it would melt in the extreme heat. After all, the temperature on the moon goes from -200°F at night to +200°F during the day!

First of all, those are the minimum and maximum temperatures. Not necessarily the temperatures the astronauts experienced, especially considering that they landed on the day side during early morning. If they landed on the night side, they would not have been able to communicate with Earth, which would have been extra-stupid, and is one of the reasons I have issues with the third Transformers movie ... but that's a different episode.

Another problem with this claim is that it assumes that as soon as you are in an environment that has a given temperature, you become that temperature. And that the moon has an environment.

So let's start with the first part, why the film didn't immediately heat up or cool down to the claimed temperature. Please use common sense for this one: If you put something on the stove or in the oven, it does not immediately heat up. It takes time. If you put something in the refrigerator or freezer, it does not immediately cool down. It takes time. The same would happen on the moon if you were stupid enough to put film canisters on the lunar surface - it would take time to change the temperature.

The second part is more subtle and gets into what I talked about in my previous episodes on the moon hoax: All because stuff happens on Earth and your common sense is attuned to that does not mean it happens the same way on the moon.

There are three ways to transfer heat. One is called radiation, and that's the least efficient. The radiative method is basically how the sun's heat gets to Earth and other planets and moons. It's also the idea behind heat lamps in cafeterias.

The second method is called conduction, and that's where you transfer heat by physically placing an object in contact with another where the two have different temperatures. An example of conduction is putting a cake in the oven where the heated air physically touches the batter. Or if you put a pot of water on the stove to boil, the heating element of the stove physically touches the bottom of the pot that physically touches the water to heat it up.

The third is convection, which is the most efficient, and that's where you physically mix things together. For example, fill two cups with water. Put an ice cube in each. Let the ice cube sit in one, and stir the other. You'll see that the ice melts much faster in the one that you stir because you are mixing the material together.

So on Earth, the way we move heat around is that the sun's radiative heat is absorbed by the ground and ocean. The ground and ocean physically touches the bottom of the atmosphere, conducting heat to it. The atmosphere then mixes around, convecting the heat.

On the moon, we stop at Step 1: The sun's energy is absorbed by the lunar surface. That's it. Since there is effectively zero atmosphere - unless you believe John Lear - then there is no way for that heat to move except radiate back to space, or conduct through the surface of the moon. When astronauts were on the lunar surface, they could conduct heat through the bottoms of their boots, but that's a slow process and the boots were insulated. And the lunar surface is also a poor conductor. And the film had extra insulation. And the astronauts wore white suites to reflect that radiated heat.

And that's why the film wasn't in danger from the ±200°F heat of the lunar surface.

Finally, I'd like to remind everyone that by going through these, I am not directly trying to show that we did go to the Moon. I'm demonstrating that we didn't not go to the Moon.

I also think it's important to point out in this and other conspiracy-featuring episodes that there will always be claims I did not address. And I'm sure people who believe in the conspiracy will point those out. What I ask you, as hopefully thinking listeners, is to remember that the claims I have addressed are many of the MAIN ones that conspiracy people point to as iron-clad evidence that we did not go to the Moon. Even if you don't believe one of my debunkings or explanations, what about the others? And if I've successfully shown that some of the BEST claimed evidence is wrong, and in fact shows they did go to the moon or that it's at least not evidence the Apollo astronauts didn't, then that should cast serious doubt upon the hoax idea.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 7. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

Richard   London

2:39pm on Thursday, December 8th, 2016

It's my go to argument too, I tried that, and I was simply laughed at! And they just flatly stated it was impossible and howls of "Oh, you believe NASA!" with extreme sarcasm... I frankly gave up with them...

Stuart   Lyons, CO, USA

11:40am on Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Richard– I haven't looked at this specifically, but my default answer is: Do you (they) think that NASA is really stupid enough to not have thought about this? As in, when testing, they would not have come up with a mechanism to quickly - or at least easily - load and unload new film?

Richard   London

11:32am on Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

I had an argument in my office about the cameras, (I'm afraid I didn't do well)...
The argument they made was the camera could not take that many pictures AND be reloaded with film.
Any idea on the counter to this?

Mercinario   wWLhOloVgQEh

2:47am on Thursday, May 24th, 2012 

Bruce Sterling, I think, had a good article on this sucejbt in Wired a few months back he had a great comment to the extent that nothing would re-ignite US interest in space exploration like the Chinese landing on the moon and taking down our flag!But yes, a Mars race with China would be really interesting, and the tech development fallout from such a race could be staggering- the sort of funding that would be pumped into nanomaterials, nuclear energy, and medicine for the mission alone would be enough to set off the next three tech revolutions. It would be a far better economic stimulus than giving Rummy another $200 Billion But there are problems. Foremost, NASA's leadership needs to be given the boot. They went from the foremost tech agency in the world to a has-been old boy's club in only 15 years time. This is a sad state of affairs, to say the least. We need to get real about what were doing with this worthless ISS boondoggle. We need a real next-generation launch platfor... read more »

Traveler   Location unknown

2:05pm on Sunday, April 22nd, 2012 

You said, "If they landed on the night side, they would not have been able to communicate with Earth".

I can't possibly be the first person to point out that night side =/= far side. Unless every landing took place during a full moon then there would have been some portion of the night side facing Earth.

Stuart Robbins   Boulder, CO, USA

10:09am on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

An interesting coincidence of which I was not aware, I'm afraid. The audio used was "technically" "My Country 'tis of Thee," definitely an American song, but I did not know that the basic song had been adapted from "God Save the King/Queen." They don't exactly teach us that in elementary school here when we learn that and other patriotic American songs.

Ciaran   Ireland

5:13am on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 

Great show. One trivial question though: why when talking about saluting the American flag etc., did you play the British national anthem in the background? Seemed weird to me!

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