10 reasons the Telegraph needs a science writer


This week being the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, it isn’t really surprising that the Moon Landing Deniers are getting some coverage in the press. Not in The Telegraph, however. To mark this historic occasion, a newspaper with less self discipline might have printed a puff piece for an MLD group; or perhaps ran an uncritical interview with some conspiracy nut.  But not The Telegraph, no. They cut out the middle man and print the Moon Hoax story as if it were fact.

Cheers, guys.

One at a time then.

When the astronauts are putting up the American flag it waves. There is no wind on the Moon.

No, it doesn’t. There, that was easy… this debunking lark is a piece of cake, isn’t it? No? What do you mean you need more detail than that? Oh, okay, okay fine.

They’re right to say there is no wind on the moon. That’s because there is no atmosphere. With no atmosphere, there is no drag. You might remember this one from school, when your teacher dropped a feather and a piece of lead in a vacuum. With no air, no drag to slow the feather down, they fall at the same rate.

What people interpret as the flag “waving” is actually the flag swaying from the momentum of being adjusted by the astronauts as they put it up. With no drag to slow it down, a flag will keep oscillating like this for quite a while – giving the impression of it waving in a non-existent breeze.

No stars are visible in the pictures taken by the Apollo astronauts from the surface of the Moon.

There are no stars outside my window when I look up at the sky now either. That’s because it’s 2.30 in the afternoon. It’s no different on the Moon; there are no stars because it is day time. With no atmosphere to scatter the light, the sky on the Moon remains black during the day, but the Sun still produces enough light to drown out the stars. If the camera shutter had been left open long enough for the stars to be visible, then everything else would have been ridiculously over-exposed.

No blast crater is visible in the pictures taken of the lunar landing module.

Who says there should be a blast crater? As the lander descended, there was only around one-and-a-half pounds per square inch of thrust coming off the rockets. That’s not a lot of pressure. Plus, there is no atmosphere on the Moon. Any exhaust from the rockets will dissipate very quickly, not billow like it would on Earth. There is no blast crater because there wasn’t enough pressure hitting the ground to produce one.

The landing module weighs 17 tons and yet sits on top of the sand making no impression. Next to it astronauts’ footprints can be seen in the sand.

Actually, the lander would have weighed less than three tons on the Moon – one-sixth gravity and all that – but that’s beside the point. It’s not weight that determines the depth of the impression one leaves in the lunar regolith, it’s pressure. Although the lander was much heavier than the astronauts, it’s weight was spread across the four, one-metre wide landing pads. The weight of the astronauts, on the other hand, was concentrated on to the soles of their relatively tiny boots.

The footprints in the fine lunar dust, with no moisture or atmosphere or strong gravity, are unexpectedly well preserved, as if made in wet sand.

Who didn’t expect them to be well preserved? You? That’s a clear argument from ignorance. Again, the Moon has no atmosphere, thus no weather. With nothing to weather rocks, the lunar regolith isn’t smooth and rounded, like Earth sand, it’s jagged and spikey. The spikes lock together like a dry stone wall, holding the impression of the footprint in place. Next!

When the landing module takes off from the Moon’s surface there is no visible flame from the rocket.

That’s right. So? Oh, I see. You think there should be a flame? Well, you’re wrong. The fuels used by the landing module, hydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide, don’t produce a visible flame. That’s why you can’t see one.

If you speed up the film of the astronauts walking on the Moon’s surface they look like they were filmed on Earth and slowed down.

The excellent Mythbusters recently spent some time trying to recreate the “look” of the Moon’s low-gravity environment using camera tricks and special effects. They had Adam Savage bounce around in a space suit, messed with the frame rate, hoisted him up on wires… every trick they could think of. The only way they found to make him move the way astronauts do was by putting him in a vomit comet and actually shooting in one-sixth gravity.

Even assuming that, somehow, in the 1960s they found a way to use camera tricks to simulate the low-gravity look of the footage – that doesn’t explain the moon rover. As it moves around, you can see the lunar dust being thrown up by the rover’s wheels in perfect parabolas. On Earth, the dust would billow out from the wheels, like Jeremy Clarkson in the Mojave Desert.  The only way to achieve this effect would be to put the entire sound stage in a vacuum – something we’d struggle to do today, much less 40 years ago!

The astronauts could not have survived the trip because of exposure to radiation from the Van Allen radiation belt.

Contrary to what you may have heard in Doctor Who and the Silurians, the Van Allen belt is not the same thing as the ozone layer. The Van Allen belt is actually a belt of charged particles around the Earth, held in place by Earth’s magnetic field.

It’s true that an unprotected astronaut would not survive too long when exposed to the radiation in the Van Allen belt – but then the astronauts on Apollo 11 weren’t unprotected. They had a whacking great tin can around them called a space ship which blocked out most of the radiation. Apollo 11 would been through the Van Allen belt and out the other side in an hour or so. There wasn’t enough radiation exposure, or enough time, to cause anyone any harm.

The rocks brought back from the Moon are identical to rocks collected by scientific expeditions to Antarctica.

Depends on which rocks you’re talking about, and what you mean by identical. Lunar meteorites – bits of the Moon that have been ejected and then crashed on Earth – have been found in Antarctica. And so, to that extent, “identical” rocks have been collected by scientific expeditions to Antarctica. However, these rocks were not discovered until 1979 and weren’t recognised as lunar rocks until 1982. They’re also very rare. How NASA is supposed to have recovered 300 kilos of them, 10 years before anyone knew they existed, is beyond me.

There are no scientific accounts published in peer-reviewed journals disputing the origin of the rocks retrieved by the Apollo missions. The rock also matches the rocks later recovered by the Soviets so, if there was a conspiracy to fake the Moon landing, the Russians were in on it.  Not very likely in the middle of the Cold War.

All six Moon landings happened during the Nixon administration. No other national leader has claimed to have landed astronauts on the Moon, despite 40 years of rapid technological development.

This is a new one on me, I have to admit. I’m not entirely sure what they’re trying to say? Some attempt at poisoning the well, perhaps? Nixon was a crook, therefore the Moon landings never happened? Sorry guys, I’m afraid that’s a complete non-sequitur.  The reason no other national leader has claimed to land astronauts on the Moon is because no other nation has!

As for why that is, I think it’s because the political will hasn’t been there.  After the Soviets put Gagarin into space, Kennedy wasn’t going to sit there and let them be first to the Moon as well. This gave a huge political impetus to the whole affair.  Not because they are easy, but because they are hard, etc.  There was money and talent being thrown at the fledgling NASA.

There has always been a million scientific reasons why people should return to the Moon but, from a political perspective, what would be the point?  Who is there to beat?  Uncle Sam has been resting on his laurels.

Happily, it looks like that is changing.  With the US looking to the Moon and then Mars, it’s exciting times for space fans!

So there you have it…  and if I could work that up in the space of a couple of hours, I don’t understand why The Telegraph can’t?

Update: To their credit, the Telegraph have now added a video to the article, which goes through many of the common MLD claims and debunks them.

If you want the real low down on Moon Landing Deniers, and why their claims are so much BS, head on over the the excellent Bad Astronomy website and blog – and speak to Phil Plait.  Cheers, Phil.  I’d never have done it without you.

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  1. #1 by Pete E on July 16, 2009 - 17:52

    Actually in one or two moon photo’s stars can be seen but since they dont fit the theory that we didnt go, that evidence is ignored!!

  2. #2 by Colonel Molerat on July 17, 2009 - 08:49

    I’ll believe the moon is real when you bring me some cheese from it.

  3. #3 by Andy on July 17, 2009 - 18:54

    At least the video link debunks the points against.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newsvideo/?bcpid=4464161001&bctid=29663290001

  4. #4 by Barbara on July 25, 2009 - 00:55

    Well, sadly I never could be bothered to look at the evidence for myself, so thanks.

    but hey Molerat, I have some cheese that I think might be lunar material, it stinks and tastes horrible. It was bogof in Morrisons.

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