Exposing PseudoAstronomy

April 3, 2017

Podcast Episode 160: Apollo Hoax: The US Flag Waving, and the Moon of No Return

Apollo Moon Hoax:
Why does the US flag wave?
And, why no return?

A return to a tried-and-true subject of skepticism: the Apollo Moon Hoax. In this shorter episode, I discuss two of the most common claims that you may hear: Why does the US flag appear to be waving in photographs, and if we went to the moon, why haven’t we been back?

There are no additional segments in this episode, and it is significantly shorter than my recent standard. This is also the episode for the second half of March.

Moon Hoax Poster

Moon Hoax Poster


December 10, 2008

The Apollo Moon Hoax: How Could the Astronauts Take So Many Photographs?


This is another, fairly short, entry into my ongoing series about the Apollo Moon “Hoax” – whether or not NASA really sent astronauts successfully to the moon. The purpose of this post is to address the claim by hoax proponents that the number of photographs returned was way too many for the astronauts to have taken, and so they must be fake.

All posts in this series:

The Facts

On each Apollo mission, there were 3 astronauts. One would stay in the command module (CM) that orbited the moon. Two would descend in the lunar excursion module (LEM) and land on the moon, then return to the CM.

There were 6 successful Apollo missions that comprised a total of 4834 minutes on the moon and took 5771 photographs (the following data is assumed to at least be mostly accurate, though it is taken from a pro-hoax site):

  • Apollo 11 ~ 151 minutes
  • Apollo 12 ~ 470 minutes
  • Apollo 14 ~ 565 minutes
  • Apollo 15 ~ 1110 minutes
  • Apollo 16 ~ 1214 minutes
  • Apollo 17 ~ 1324 minutes

Simple division shows that, with 5771 photographs in 4834 minutes, that they must have taken 1.19 photos per minute, or one photo every 50 seconds. The hoax claim then goes that, with all the other experiments (especially sample return and setting up retroreflectors and seismology equipment), there’s no way this is possible.

Why This Claim Is Faulty

To say that this claim employs faulty reasoning is fairly generous. First off, it employs bad math. Remember … there were two astronauts that were taking pictures! So now we have one photograph per astronaut every 100 seconds. This now makes it seem much less silly.

But let’s go further. This is a case where what’s going on can easily be explained by common sense. Think of your last vacation. If you didn’t have a camera, then think back to someone in your group who did. For me, it was a trip to Italy just 2 weeks ago (which is why I haven’t had many posts in the last few weeks).

On the trip, which I went on with my parents and joined my brother who was already there, we went to a different sight-seeing place every day in the area of the city of Turin. We spent probably 2-4 hrs a day sight-seeing. During that time, I took around 400 photos. Days that I actually had my camera with me were 3. Take 3 hrs times 3 days is 540 minutes. Divide by 400 and I took a photo every 81 seconds. How could I possibly have done anything else!?

The answer (duh) is that I took many photos at once from one location, then walked around and did other stuff, and then took a lot more photos from another location. Often these included up to 30+ photographs per minute when I was taking panoramas. Once you realize this, and take in the actual practicalities of taking pictures when you go someplace, 1 photo every 100 seconds seems like much less of a fantastic feat.

But wait, there’s more! When taking my photos in Turin, I spent a fair amount of time at the beginning of each shot setting it up – figuring out aperture and shutter speed. The Apollo astronauts did not. They knew what to expect for lighting conditions, and they generally used a small aperture (to permit a large depth-of-field). Without weather or an atmosphere to complicate things, they really didn’t need to spend much time – if any – figuring out what shutter speed to use. And for aiming, they used wide-angle lenses and so just pointed their bodies where they wanted to aim.


The idea that the astronauts could not have taken a photograph every 50 seconds while on the moon while still doing other things completely ignores 3 things: (1) There were two astronauts to take photos; (2) many photographs were taken from the same location of the same thing or as panoramas, allowing them to be taken in rapid succession; and (3) the astronauts didn’t need much set-up time in determining photograph composition nor exposure settings, as the settings were figured out experimentally before the mission.

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