The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Fox documentary about fake moon landings is lame

March 29, 2001
By Franklin Harris

Last week I wrote about the bad science in the Fox television series "The Lone Gunmen." Leave it to Fox to be a repeat offender.

"Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" is a wretched little piece of science fiction masquerading as a documentary. The program first aired Feb. 15, and, apparently, someone at Fox thought so highly of it that it ran again March 21.

As the title suggests, the program presents "evidence" that the Apollo missions were faked. We never went to the moon. It was all an elaborate hoax played out on a secret soundstage.

If you think this sounds more like science fiction than science fact, you are more right than you know.

In 1978, Hollywood gave the world "Capricorn One," a TV movie about a bogus mission to Mars. It starred Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Hal Holbrook, Karen Black and a pre-bloody-glove O.J. Simpson.

The condensed version of the plot goes like this:

When NASA discovers a fatal flaw in its Mars-bound spacecraft, the agency, fearing budget cuts, decides to fake a Mars landing. The astronauts are whisked into hiding and forced to play along. It isn't long, however, before the astronauts realize how the movie they are making must end. They will conveniently "disappear," and NASA will claim their return vehicle was tragically lost in space.

If memory serves, "Capricorn One," which I haven't seen in years, is a fair suspense movie, but "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" is a lousy documentary, and it's easily debunked.

Astronomer Phil Plait is one of those leading the charge for science. His Web site,, is an invaluable resource for people interested in how space travel really works.

In addition to correcting scientific inaccuracies in sci-fi movies like "Mission to Mars" and "Red Planet," Plait takes on bad science in the news media and, of course, Fox TV specials.

One claim made by those promoting the hoax theory is that there are no stars visible in any of the footage taken on the lunar surface. But this isn't surprising at all.

Astronauts taking pictures on the moon had to adjust their camera equipment to deal with sunlight reflecting off the lunar surface and their own spacesuits. That means they used fast exposures and narrow aperture settings. Since stars are faint, the starlight simply didn't have time to register on film.

Don't believe me? Here is an experiment: Try to take pictures of the night sky using camera settings intended for daytime photography. Now, count the number of stars in your photos.

Hoax proponents also claim that it was impossible for astronauts to go to the moon because radiation from the Van Allen Belts surrounding the Earth would have killed them.

This claim plays into the public's fear of anything having to do with radiation, but it has no basis in reality. The metal shielding of the Apollo spacecraft was more than enough to protect the astronauts. In any event, the Apollo spacecraft traversed the belt in a little more than an hour, too quickly for the astronauts to be hurt, much less killed.

And the Fox broadcast doesn't even try to explain all of the moon rocks brought back from the lunar surface. Any geologist can tell you that those rocks are not from around here.

Fox has a long track record of broadcasting TV specials promoting all sorts of dubious paranormal claims. The most infamous example is "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?" which alleges that the U.S. government recovered the bodies of extraterrestrials and that scientists dissected at least one of them, recording the procedure on film.

For the record, this means that Fox seems to believe that alien beings come to the Earth all the time, but that we can't even get to the moon.

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