Did astronauts really go to the Moon, or is it a hoax? (Beginner)

I've seen a segment on the news on how some people are believing the idea that we (U.S.) were never on the moon. Stating, pictures and video can be proven wrong by analyzers and scientists. What do you think or know about what's behind this dilemma?

Most scientists are surprised and appalled when they hear about this whole "Moon Hoax" notion. The idea seems to be spread by a few cranks and conspiracy theorists who (like most conspiracy theorists) have fixed on a strange idea and will not be convinced by any argument or any amount of evidence that they are wrong. And they sure don't mind making some money off of books, videos and television programs that claim we never went to the Moon.

To anyone who works in the field of planetary science, it is quite obvious that the Apollo astronauts did indeed walk on the Moon. We have rocks and soil samples from the Moon that have been analyzed by several independent laboratories--including labs in the former Soviet Union! It is unlikely that they were all tricked or bribed or threatened into silence. We have many images taken by the astronauts that have been analyzed and re-analyzed for their scientific content. If it's so obvious that these photos are faked, could all the scientists who examined these photographs be in on the conspiracy, or dupes of it?

Many people were exposed to the "moon hoax" idea when the Fox television network aired a program titled, "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" that presented the "moon hoax" very sympathetically, and did not offer scientists much time to refute the conspiracy theorist's claims.

Scientists are very upset about this program. It had a lot of scientific errors in it, of course, and because the program focused on the conspiracy theorist's point of view, the audience didn't get to hear the scientific explanations, so it seems to have convinced a lot of people, and caused a lot more to be doubtful. The program also implied that many, many scientists are either in on the conspiracy (that is, they were lying to their colleagues and the public, the opposite of what a good scientist does!), or have been tricked by it (that is, they were too stupid to tell an Arizona sound stage from the surface of the Moon!).

But the most shocking and awful thing about the program was that it suggested that, to prevent an astronaut from talking to the press about the "hoax," NASA deliberately set the fire in the Apollo 1 capsule that killed three American astronauts: Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom.

This is a very upsetting accusation. The NASA engineers, astronauts and scientists working on the Apollo program were America's finest, all dedicated to the goal set by John F. Kennedy: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth." For the people who worked on the Apollo program, the safety and success of the mission were of the greatest importance, and Apollo 1 was a tragedy, a terrible accident that weighs on the soul of everyone who was connected to it.

To suggest that it was intentional is beneath contempt, and does a terrible disservice to the brave astronauts who died.

Our favorite page that addresses, point-for-point, the issues raised by the program is Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy page on the Moon hoax show.

Page last updated on June 25, 2015.

About the Author

Britt Scharringhausen

Britt studies the rings of Saturn. She got her PhD from Cornell in 2006 and is now a Professor at Beloit College in Wisconson.