Moon landing: The proof it really happened

Saturday marks 50 years since humans first set foot on the moon - if you believe the official story.

And you should, because despite what you might hear on YouTube, Neil Armstrong and 11 other men most definitely did the moonwalk.

The conspiracy

It's been alleged the US faked its moon landing, filming the historic moment on a Hollywood set. 

It was started by a man named Bill Kaysing, who in the 1950s and early 1960s had worked for a company that helped design the Saturn V rockets that assisted mankind's giant leap.

So-called evidence presented to back up this claim includes:

  • photograph discrepancies such as the lack of stars, similar backgrounds, lettered props, weird shadows and the implausibly high quality
  • the harsh environment of space, including radiation and solar flares
  • the US flag supposedly fluttering in the 'wind' despite the lack of any atmosphere
  • the lack of crater formed by the lander, despite astronauts leaving deep footprints 
  • the US was behind the USSR for much of the space race, yet landed people on the moon six times to the Soviets' zero.
  • the US never went back after 1972, because they never went in the first place. 

The conspiracy was given a boost in 2001 when Fox aired a documentary called Did We Land on the Moon, hosted by The X-Files star Mitch Pileggi. 

But why? What was the point?

Bragging rights. At the time, the US and USSR were in the midst of the Cold War

Space was the new frontier, and the Soviets were winning - they were first to put a satellite in orbit, the first to send up an animal, then a man, then a woman, the first to have a cosmonaut spacewalk, the first to get a craft to the moon, Venus and Mars, and the first to launch a space station.

The US was desperate for a win, so decided to put a man on the moon - or at least pretend to.

But there's ample evidence proving the US did indeed make it to the moon and back.

The proof

Let's start with the obvious - if the US didn't make it to the moon, the USSR would have called them out. Instead, the Soviet Embassy said the Apollo 11 mission "inspires into us pride for man", and called it "immeasurably more complex, dangerous and almost unrealisable aim compared with that Columbus set before himself at the dawn of the new era". 

Then there's the sheer size of the Apollo operation. If it wasn't real, it's estimated more than 400,000 people would have to be in on the secret. One expert even said it would have been easier to land on the moon for real than to keep such an unwieldy conspiracy under wraps.

There's physical evidence too. Hundreds of kilograms of rocks have been brought back from the moon, and to date not a single scientist who's studied them has suggested they aren't real. Apollo 15 astronauts left reflective surfaces on the moon, which the team from Discovery show Mythbusters were able to hit with lasers in 2008. 

As for the photographs, NASA said they were incredibly high quality because they only released the best ones, and kept the fuzzy, out-of-focus shots on the cutting room floor. The lack of stars is because the sunlight on the moon is just as strong as it is on Earth, and the stars far dimmer - the cameras were calibrated for daytime exposure. It's just like here on Earth - you can't see the stars in the daytime. 

The letter 'C' that appears on some of the images only appear in reprints, and not on the original film, says NASA - it's believed to be a stray hair. 

The infamous 'C' on this rock wasn't on the original film, NASA says.
The infamous 'C' on this rock wasn't on the original film, NASA says. Photo credit: NASA

As for the shadows, the Mythbusters recreated photographs which showed how light reflecting off the ground could illuminate astronauts that were otherwise standing in shadows cast by the lander.

As for the harsh environment of space, NASA says the Apollo craft only spent a few minutes passing through the dangerous inner Van Allen radiation belt, and there were no solar flares during any of the missions.

Video of the flags show they only wave for a brief moment after being placed, a result of the astronauts' movement. In stills they only look like they're waving because they've spent three days folded up in storage, and are creased. 

The lander didn't leave a crater because it landed so softly, NASA says. The astronauts left footprints because of the smaller size of their feet meant they exerted more pressure on the surface.

A footprint left by an Apollo astronaut.
A footprint left by an Apollo astronaut. Photo credit: Getty/NASA

The footprints remained because moon dust hasn't been subject to weathering and erosion - it's jagged and sharp, and the small pieces to lock together.

The 2008 Mythbusters episode also showed how the unique conditions on the moon could not be reproduced on an Earthly film set in 1969, without computer graphics, thanks to the differences in gravity.

If none of this convinces you, then you probably also won't believe the evidence collected by space agencies that followed in the US' footsteps. Chinese, Japanese and Indian probes have taken photos of several Apollo landing sites, including 11. 

But perhaps the best evidence of all came in 2002, when then 72-year-old Buzz Aldrin - the second man to walk on the moon - showed he was willing to risk jail in support of the truth. Aldrin was confronted by a conspiracy theorist who called him a "coward, and a liar and a thief". Aldrin socked him in the jaw.

No charges were filed.