Exposing PseudoAstronomy

July 16, 2009

The Apollo Moon Hoax: All the Photos Are Way Too Good!


As part of my continuing series on the Apollo Moon Hoax, I am going to address a fairly common claim of all the Apollo photos being too good to be true. I’ll be writing a related post soon about the related claim dealing with how the astronauts actually took the photos (exposure settings, focusing, aiming, etc.).

All posts in this series:

The Claim

This is a pretty common Apollo moon hoax claim, and it was featured towards the beginning of the 2001 FOX docudrama. The basic premise shown during that TV special where they quote Bill Kaysings: “The pictures that we see that were allegedly taken on the moon are absolutely perfect.”

Another version, this time from Ralph Rene: “All the photographs brought back from the moon are correctly exposed, correctly framed, and crisply in focus. This seems suspicious.”

Is This True?

In a word: No.

What’s humorous about this claim in this this day and age is that it is demonstrably false given a computer, the internet, and less than 5 minutes. You can go to any number of websites that archive all the Apollo photographs and see quite plainly, for yourself, that many of the pictures, in a word, SUCK.

The Project Apollo Image Gallery is one of my favorite. I clicked randomly on the Apollo 12 mission. I clicked on three photos, in a row, selecting the position at random. One was good (AS12-46-6821), one was framed poorly with the horizon going down at around a 20° angle while photographing the astronaut’s butt (AS12-46-6820), and the third showed a lens flare of ghosting around the astronaut (AS12-46-6818).

And then there’s the one I’m showing below, AS12-47-7010. The label on the picture is, “Reflection of astronaut.” Quite, um, interesting, but hardly a “perfect,” “correctly exposed,” “correctly framed,” nor even “crisply in focus” photograph.

Bad Apollo Photograph - AS12-47-7010

Bad Apollo Photograph - AS12-47-7010

Why the Claim?

So that bears the question as to why this claim even exists if it’s so demonstrably wrong? The answer is that it’s really cheap to duplicate images these days (17¢ at Costco!!) or to place them online in a digital archive. But back in the 1960s and ’70s, that was not the case. It was expensive to print up images, and it took quite a bit of time.

Since this entire Apollo program was a massive public relations campaign – not only to the American public but to the rest of the world – NASA only released the best of the photographs. After all, of the literally thousands of photographs from the Apollo missions, it simply does not make sense for a press office to release all of them, rather they would want to control the release and only put out the best ones.

And not only that, but ones that may have been cropped and rotated to make them the best … but that’s an issue to address on a separate hoax proponent claim.

Final Thoughts

This claim is, in my opinion, one of the silliest that’s out there. It may seem like a good one, but literally any amount of effort to look into it will show that it’s simply wrong. This is a case of anomaly hunting where there isn’t even any anomaly.



  1. Hi Stuart,

    Thank you for your work in this blog at addressing some of the claims in the Apollo Moon Hoax.

    You were quoted in an CNN article online, and I just wanted to point out what I think is a logical fallacy in your comment.

    The CNN article is available here:

    Specifically, I refer to:
    “But Stuart Robbins, a Ph.D. candidate in astrophysics at the University of Colorado who gives lectures defending NASA from Apollo hoax theorists, believes their influence can be harmful.

    “If people don’t think we were able to go to the moon, then they don’t believe in the ingenuity of human achievement,” he said. “Going to the moon and returning astronauts safely back to Earth is arguably one of the most profound achievements in human history, and so when people simply believe it was a hoax, they lose out on that shared experience and doubt what humans can do.” ”

    In the context of your comments, the link between (1) not believing in humans being able to go to the moon and (2) not believing in the ingenuity of human achievement does not seem to have a place in a scientific discussion, or an impassioned examination of the evidence we have of moon landings.

    I do realize media reports are limited, so I can only say so much based on what I read on CNN.

    Good luck with your work, and keep up your good effort!

    Comment by CF — July 17, 2009 @ 7:53 am | Reply

    • Thanks. The quote was taken somewhat out of context (unsurprisingly). Among other questions, the reporter specifically asked me: “Are these conspiracy theorists just harmless wackos, or do their books, films, etc., have a negative impact on public perceptions about space exploration? Do these people do our astronauts a disservice by undermining their accomplishments?”

      So it wasn’t a response to a scientific question — I gave him plenty of other information about the science in response to his other questions, but like the Florida Today reporter, this one failed to use any of it and just went for one of the “softer” parts of my response.

      Comment by astrostu206265 — July 17, 2009 @ 8:25 am | Reply

  2. I am not sure what to believe really. But in one of your other explanations about the conspiracy theorists claim that the number of photographs taken was too high to be reasonable, you made the case that with the two astronauts taking photos as well as multiple shots taken quickly from a single position, makes it far less unreasonable than the conspiracy theorists claims. However, if by your explanation above that NASA only released the “good” shots and that due to the mobility limitations of the camera, there were surely a lot of “bad” photos that were not processed, doesn’t this again bring into question about the “reasonableness” of the number of photos taken in the time the astronauts were on the moon?

    Comment by John — July 17, 2009 @ 1:15 pm | Reply

    • John – No, it doesn’t. The claim of the number of photographs deals with ALL the photos taken from Apollo, not just the ones initially released to the media. I honestly don’t know how many were initially released, but I would guess no more than a few dozen from each mission. This is a relatively small number of the total number that were taken, and I’m sure that the total number was known at the time.

      Comment by astrostu206265 — July 17, 2009 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

      • Thanks.

        Comment by John — July 17, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  3. why is it people are so easily fooled by the magician that steals souls with the evil black box? If you only knew how many frames get wasted to capture that one properly exposed, correctly oriented and perfectly cropped image that actually means something… of course, in these days of digital it’s hard to appreciate what it once took to get a good shot by someone like Brady or Stieglitz or Adams.

    Comment by danish — July 18, 2009 @ 4:32 am | Reply

    • Some years ago I attended a lecture by a famous photographer whose work had appeared many times in National Geographic. He said there’s really only one important difference between an amateur photographer and a professional:

      The professional doesn’t show every picture he takes.

      Very profound. Explains a lot.

      Comment by Phil — July 9, 2012 @ 10:29 am | Reply

  4. I’m actually surprised they were able to get even one decent picture! with the camera being strapped to their chest, one can only wonder what a professional photographer would’ve picked up.

    I think this is all bogus… Nothing did actually happen, back then it was only a matter of who’s showing more muscle, the Americans or the Soviets… When Sputnik was launched, the Americans crapped themselves, “we cannot allow the soviets to have lunar rocket launching capabilities”… riiiiight! like I understand people are stupid and ignorance is the weapon to control the masses but it eludes how silly people were to believe this nonsense! Soooo they cooked up this whole “We went to the Moon” production at NASA, which was run by ex-Nazi officials who were smuggled into the states after WWII as the main rocket scientist. The Saturn V rockets were also a flop, their minuscule size wouldn’t have been enough to get to the moon. Which brings me to another point, the MASSIVE “investment” (some 40 Billion $) into the Apollo program had to “yield” results or else the American public, not to mention the whole world watching, would practically come down on NASA like wildfire for it’s incompetency and failure.
    Another main point that has yet to be proven; how did they manage to cross the Van Allen radiation belt without getting hurt or dying – not to mention develop cancers – when every animal the now-Russians and Chinese sent into space died horribly also not to mention their own astronauts’ suffering.

    my 2 cents,
    Fredo The Freedom Fighter

    Comment by Fredo — July 29, 2009 @ 6:31 am | Reply

    • It’s hard to know where to start in answering some of this nonsense. Starting right up there with ignorance as the weapon to control the masses. Ignorance of the physics needed to calculate how big a rocket is needed to get a payload to the moon–the mighty Saturn V rocket, far from being “miniscule”, was capable of lifting 1000,000 lbs to the moon.

      The spectacular results of the Apollo program incluyde over 800 lbs of moon rocks studied by thousands of scientists around the world and verified beyond doubt to be authentic and not from the Earth.

      The amount of time the astronauts spent traveling through the Van Allen Belts was far too short to get anything close to a lethal dose of radiation. They had rad monitors and reported the levels regularly to Houston. And where did you get that totally bogus info about every Russian and Chinese animal sent into space dying horribly? Totally wrong wrong wrong. Do a little research first before spewing such nonsense. A few dies from botched reentries, and at least one on purpose (Laika) because the did not have a viable reentry system. And astronaut suffering due to radiation? You can’t just make sensational allegations like this without providing any evidence. Every reputable source in every country which has flown people in space for the last 50 years –including the space travelers themselves–will attest to just the opposite.

      Comment by Don — December 17, 2009 @ 11:45 am | Reply

      • If you want to see how Apollo avoided the Van Allen radiation belts, here you go:

        These two clips show the trajectory of one of the Apollo missions starting with TLI – Translunar Injection – against the earth’s two (inner and outer) Van Allen belts. As you can see, the belts are not at all uniform. They’re more like two doughnuts, a little one inside of a big one. Inside the red contours is the most intense radiation. Note how Apollo neatly avoids them by threading through the least intense parts of the belts.

        Those rocket scientists sure were clever, weren’t they?

        Comment by Phil Karn — March 31, 2010 @ 1:43 am

      • to settle these issues…..
        NASA has “high cutting edge” technology of Space Shuttles (as compared to the jurassic technology of the 1960s)…Why don’t they return to the moon?
        …the Space Hubble Telescope is set to view what lies beyond the galaxy….why not refocus its lenses to the moon & show to the world (if there really was) the remnants of their “exploration”?
        …all these controversies are still hanging in the balance as well as NASA’s credibility and integrity…not until they deal w/ it decisively & w/ factual evidences, clouds of doubts & disbelief will continue to haunt them or to whatever they may claim about anything in the future.

        Comment by eaglehorn — September 6, 2011 @ 3:26 am

      • Do you bother to do any searching before you post? Does this not mean anything to you?

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 6, 2011 @ 9:42 am

  5. In the Apollo 11 mission footage — at least I think it’s the Apollo 11 — when the astronauts are departing from the Moon, the event is filmed by a stationary camera. As their capsule detaches, “something” conveniently nudges the camera so that it slips and pans upwards, in order to better follow the receding capsule. Now, the logical thing to think would be that it was the blast from the capsule’s nozzle(s) that did that — only that, the camera appears to be placed too far away from the lunar module for the DIRECT blast to reach it, and there’s no atmosphere to make an INDIRECT transfer of blast power (winds/turbulences) possible.
    Now, I’m not saying that “somebody” moved the camera or anything. That’s extremely improbable. What I’m saying though is that the camera slipping of its own accord, with such perfect timing and at such a perfect angle is just as improbable. Of course improbable coincidences do happen, no doubt about that. It’s only that, to get them on film, you usually have to take several — or several hundred — takes to “get it right”. In this particular footage, as in several others, including some of the static photos, this is exactly what appears to have happened. It’s like an enormous amount of footage was taken, and only the best was selected. Now, that doesn’t remind me of reality’s modus operandi; it reminds me of Hollywood’s modus operandi.
    We have to remember that this was 1969. JFK had said that we should land a man on the Moon and have him return safely WITHIN the decade. Time was severely running out. Do you really, honestly think that the US government of the Sixties would accept failure as an answer? That it would let luck/chance decide? With that mess in Nam already going on? With the riots at home? If you do, you should probably read up on how governments actually work.
    Knowing how governments, and superpowers specifically, work, it’s safe to assume that, just as Nixon had an alternative speech prepared in case of a flop, other viable scenarios — such as faking the mission and either producing fake footage or blaming the absence of footage on equipment failure, or making an unmanned mission and passing it for a manned one, or any combination thereof — were considered and, probably, pursued in parallel.

    Comment by Bine — January 9, 2011 @ 4:04 am | Reply

    • And it’s not possible that – gee – it was remotely controlled from Earth?

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — January 9, 2011 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

    • There was no live video of the Apollo 11 ascent from the moon. A 16mm film camera did record the event from inside the lunar module, mounted over the window by Buzz Aldrin. But you’re undoubtedly thinking of the live video from the lunar liftoffs of the later Apollo missions, specifically A15, 16 and 17. It came from the TV camera on the lunar rover, which had its own independent communication link to earth. And that camera was remotely controlled – pointed, zoomed, focused – from Houston.

      As for several ‘takes’ to get it perfect, guess what? That’s exactly what happened. On A15, the elevation clutch on the camera failed so the operator didn’t even try to follow the LM as it rose. On A16, he tried but did not succeed in keeping it in frame because of the long lag in controlling it from earth.

      Finally, on the very last opportunity, the NASA camera operator managed to keep the A17 LM within view until it went out of range. But it took three tries and a lot of practice and preparation to make it happen.

      Comment by Phil — January 10, 2011 @ 1:19 am | Reply

  6. Have you ever just considered that it is easier to get to and land on the moon than you think. Maybe taking photos on the moon is reasonably easy (with a bit of practice). The reason you can’t believe they landed on the moon is because you think it was incredibly difficult and therefore unlikely. It is a bit like when people see a jumbo jet and can’t believe that it can fly. They are just conceptually confusing volume with mass and don’t realise that jumbo jet are very light because they are hollow and therefore can fly. But, their brain tells them BIG therefore HEAVY therefore shouldn’t be able to fly. Or in the case of the moon landings… long way away and never been done before, therefore difficult therefore probably didn’t land there therefore it is a hoax. It’s just rocket science after all.

    Comment by Steve — January 10, 2011 @ 6:02 am | Reply

    • Good points. Nearly everyone who thinks Apollo was a hoax argues merely from personal incredulity.

      Just because YOU don’t know how to reach the moon doesn’t mean it was impossible for a large group of talented people who spent a lot of time and money working on it.

      Comment by Phil — January 10, 2011 @ 9:26 am | Reply

  7. News headlines… NASA drive car all the way across America……
    Conspiracy Theorists say “it is a hoax”.
    “Well my car would never make it says Michael Horn.”

    Comment by Steve — January 10, 2011 @ 6:22 am | Reply

  8. Subscribers to the moon hoax theory need to ask themselves one question. How have the 400,000 people that worked on the Apollo program kept the secret for 40 years? I’m not saying some of the evidence isn’t compelling, that simple fact, I just can’t get over http://ficksitall.blogspot.com/2012/12/fact-or-faked-america-wins-moon-race.html

    Comment by Chelsea — December 3, 2012 @ 9:17 am | Reply

    • They actually have an answer for this: those 400,000 people were all duped into thinking they were doing it for real, and only a handful of the people at the very top knew it was a hoax.

      To make it even more surreal, some hoaxers invoke the magic word “compartmentalization” as though Apollo were a small black CIA skunkworks project instead of the most public and well-documented large engineering project in human history.

      Not only is this utterly absurd, it insults the intelligence of every Apollo worker, even those who emptied the contractors’ wastebaskets.
      The hoaxers must think all those Apollo workers were just as stupid and gullible as they are.

      I think Apollo denial is driven by two things: a complete lack of understanding of how it was done, and a conceit that they (the hoaxers) are the smartest humans who ever lived. To accept that Apollo was real would create an intolerable cognitive dissonance, so they resolve it by simply denying that Apollo actually happened. Then they can also think of themselves as crusaders for truth and justice and the most moral (as well as smartest) humans who ever lived.

      Comment by Phil — December 3, 2012 @ 12:53 pm | Reply

  9. What about the crosshairs not being over the top of the images in all the pictures as you’d expect them to be? Debunk this one please.

    Comment by mmavidtrail — December 21, 2012 @ 5:48 am | Reply

  10. The direction of the shadows is a tough one to debunk also. I’m not buying the contours of the moon thesis…

    Comment by mmavidtrail — December 21, 2012 @ 5:50 am | Reply

    • Why? Have you ever looked at trees on a sloping hill? The shadows go in different directions. It’s also perspective. This is not weird magical stuff — this is basic art 101.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — December 21, 2012 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  11. “Going to the moon and returning astronauts safely back to Earth is arguably one of the most profound achievements in human history, and so when people simply believe it was a hoax, they lose out on that shared experience and doubt what humans can do.”

    This is blind faith without rational analysis of evidence. The Van Allen Radiation Belts on the other hand,,,are
    reality….you fly through them….you DIE. When the reality of the Van Allen belts (real science) is accepted then
    we can actually move forward. NASA is FLOUNDERING…why? NASA is now having to reinvent every aspect of
    an unmanned capsule in its Orion program. It has admitted publicly NOTHING can be used from the legacy
    Apollo program. Why ? Simple…there is nothing from the Apollo program of value.

    Comment by SS NN — September 15, 2016 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

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