In a previous Aulis article1 I deconstructed the key premise of the Adam Ruins Everything television show on conspiracy theories. The episode titled Adam Ruins Conspiracy Theories starts off with the host, Adam Conover discovering that his girlfriend character is a vivid supporter of Apollo Moon landing conspiracy theories. Conover – whose arguments are often based on misrepresenting and even cherry picking his own references – argues that faking a lunar landing would be more difficult than going to the Moon for real. Here I will be referencing only one of the many points that the host used to support his theme, so if you have not read that article, please read it first.
Conover, together with a video forensic analyst Mark Schubin, established to their mutual satisfaction that the supposedly parallel shadows in the Apollo photographs could only be created on Earth in 1969 using an array of millions of laser lights and computer graphics (CG) for colour correction. As neither concept was feasible in those days, Q.E.D. the Apollo photos were not faked. This is absurd. Anybody can debunk this claim just by watching The Making of ‘From the Earth to the Moon’, which demonstrated parallel shadows could be accomplished by shining an array of large xenon spotlights into a large convex mirror.2
Figs 1a and 1b. Lighting array, as used in From the Earth to the Moon, consisting twenty 10K xenon arc lamps shining into a 6ft convex mirror and resulting parallel shadows. Images HBO.
This claim propagated in Adam Ruins Conspiracy Theories3 was so ridiculous and demonstrably false, that I honestly wondered if the television show which is described as an educational comedy was more comedic than anything else. Surely, nobody could be stupid enough to buy this nonsense. I figured it would be long forgotten in a few days. I was wrong! Somehow, this flawed premise found its way into a whole slew of news articles and social media platforms. They echoed and amplified the same ridiculous argument nearly word for word, almost as though they had copied and pasted it from some bible or manifesto.
Sophie Weiner published an article in Popular Mechanics titled "Why Faking the Moon Landing Was Impossible: Tech in the '60s wouldn't allow for an accurate simulation of the landing" which repeated Conover’s nonsense verbatim. She wrote:
The only way to recreate this on Earth would be to light the scene with millions of super-bright lasers. Lasers were incredibly expensive in 1969, and the only color they came in was red. In modern times, we could just change the color with CG, but back then, altering images with computers wasn't possible.4
Let’s not forget the fact Popular Science reported that by 1968 xenon spotlights existed “with qualities close to Sunlight”.5
Fig 2. This article from Popular Science’s 1968 issue reports the use of powerful xenon spotlights on tanks and helicopters used in the Vietnam War. Such lights would later be used by HBO to create parallel shadows in their miniseries – no lasers required!
Rebecca Jennings of Vox wrote in her article:
The technology was there (although this Adam Ruins Everything segment explains why actually, it wasn’t), because 2001: A Space Odyssey had come out a year before and showed realistic footage of a studio-simulated space.6
This nonsense also found its way into an episode of Today I Watched published to Facebook on July 14, 2019 with the title: The Moon Landing Was Impossible to Fake. The narrator stated:
Emmy-winning motion picture analyst Mark Schubin says faking the moon landing footage would have been impossible due to the shadows and light sources alone [...] The only way to recreate this lighting condition on Earth in 1969 would be by using millions of lasers.7
I’m tempted to start a letter writing campaign demanding the Emmys revoke Schubin’s award for propagating such nonsense. Especially as the category of said award is for Live Stereo Simulcasting,8 not studio lighting. Stereo simulcasting is the transmission of stereo sound from a music event that is simultaneously being broadcast on TV and radio. It could be argued that Conover and his followers are appealing to authority, misleadingly citing Schubin's Emmy when it's not related to the episode's subject matter. For comparison, From the Earth to the Moon earned cinematographer Gale Tattersall a nomination for an Emmy,9 wouldn’t he have been an appropriate consultant for the subject of lighting a moonset? However, it would appear that Schubin has since backed up a bit and retracted his claim that only millions of lasers could recreate the lighting. See the Afterword.
The fact that these journalists are not fact-checking Conover’s claims nor the category of his technical expert's Emmy should be indicative of their agenda. But by far the most egregious example of this mindless parroting was in a YouTube video published by the channel Professor Stick. This video, entitled Black Hole Collects More Sweet Sweet Flat Earther Tears was intended to debunk claims by Flat Earth idiots alleging the first image of a black hole was faked.10 Apparently not realizing that the image was derived using an array of radio telescopes spanning an entire hemisphere, one Flattie begged the question: "why can we get clear and distinct telescopic views of a black hole but none of the Apollo artifacts?"
Professor Stick responded by propagating the same nonsense from Adam Ruins Everything. But as a visual aid, he used a screenshot from my Aulis article Adam Ruins His Credibility – even the SBS Viceland logo was clear as day. Evidently: Professor Stick either saw my article but didn’t read it; or he did read it and chose to ignore my easily verifiable rebuttal to Conover’s claim.
Fig 3. Screenshot from Professor Stick’s video response to Flat Earth idiots. Note that the Adam Ruins Everything freeze frame image he used is in fact Fig. 5 of my article debunking that episode. Despite obviously having seen the article, Professor Stick echoed the same false claim that my article debunked.
This mindless parroting of what they saw on a lightweight TV show demonstrates the sheer abandonment of logic and reason that Moon landing believers and propagandists alike are willing to go to, in order to prop up this delusion and falsely claim victory. But the nonsense from Adam Ruins Everything is just one drop in an ocean of dubious claims that somehow attain undeserved attention and popularity in the mainstream and social media platforms. I’ve seen everything from “it would be easier to go to the Moon than fake it” to “this is impossible to fake”. There is a perfect visual analogy for how this nonsensical propaganda is circulated. If you are squeamish, I strongly advise skipping the next two paragraphs. Because what I’m about to say may disturb some readers.
In 2009, Dutch filmmaker Tom Six released the first in a trilogy of body horror films. The movie was called The Human Centipede (First Sequence). I never watched it – the synopsis was enough for me – but the premise is that a retired surgeon, who specializes in separating conjoined twins, kidnaps and mutilates a trio of tourists in order to reassemble them into a human centipede, created by stitching their mouths to each others' rectums.
I’m not trying to be disgusting here. But this is exactly what we have with propagandists and their followers in the mainstream media and social networks. They unquestioningly and uncritically swallow at face value whatever nonsense they find so long as it supports their confirmation bias. This is why I consider these propagandists to be the Human Centipede, or as I like to call them The Propagandapede. All they do is feed excrement to their followers who in turn feed the same recycled excrement to others. Unlike Tom Six’s Human Centipede, whose predicament was one of humiliation and anguish, the Propagandapede seems blissfully gratified by its coprophagous activity.
The problem has only become exacerbated since social media platforms and search engines began blacklisting conspiracy videos and websites from search results in recent years.11 Back when YouTube was in its infancy if you wanted to look up “Apollo Moon Landing Hoax”, you got just that. The search results were generally a mixed bag of videos for and against the Apollo hoax theory, but the split was about even. Nowadays if you search “Apollo Moon Landing Hoax”, all you get now is the Adam Ruins Everything clip and other so-called debunk videos.
There are some videos debunking Conover’s mistakes on other topics. Video responses like Adam Ruins Everything is WRONG About Gamers or Real Doctor Reacts to Adam Ruins the Hospital and Adam Ruins Everything Can’t Stop Lying. But even if you try to search for something specific, like ‘Adam Ruins Everything Debunked’ or ‘Adam Ruins Conspiracy Theories Debunked’ you won’t find my video response to his nonsense. It will not show up unless you know the exact title to type into the search engine: MoonFaker: Adam Ruins His Credibility, and even that’s no guarantee. When YouTube finds a video it considers ‘disinformation’, it is slapped with a link to the Wikipedia’s pointless article on the Apollo program and blacklisted from search engines.
Beginning around 2012, after the internet exploded with videos and websites countering the pro-Apollo propaganda from Bad Astronomy or Clavius, the Apollo hoax debunk videos began to die down and were replaced with a resurgence of nonsensical videos falsely alleging that the Earth is flat and lumping the Apollo hoax investigations together with such nonsense. For the longest time after that, the propagandists didn’t need to lift a finger.
The Apollo hoax had seemingly overnight become so synonymous with Flat Earth baloney that the only debunk videos that appeared on YouTube were those responding to Flat Earthers – disinformation agents, idiots and con men who in the same breath claim ‘nothing gets to space’ yet cite the Van Allen radiation belts as ‘evidence’ of a ‘firmament dome’.12 In many ways, this blacklisting can be attributed to Human Centipedes of a different kind. Propagators of Big Lies that have ultimately ended with self-destructive and even lethal consequences – this particular Big Lie ultimately culminated with involuntary suicide, when US Dare Devil Mike Hughes got himself killed in a rocket crash trying to “prove” that the Earth is flat.13
Fig 4. Promoters of the Flat Earth Big Lie all have blood on their hands, their nonsense got Mike Hughes killed.
Arguably worse than the opinions held by Flat Earthers are the various splinter groups which also practice the Donald Trump approach to life – Global Warming deniers, QAnon and so forth. All these groups are dangerous in that they threaten people’s lives and free speech. There is no place for intelligent discussion: everything that suits the agenda is justified, if necessary by ‘Big Lies’. Everything that does not suit the agenda is immediately labelled ‘Fake News’. The analysis of these splinter groups’ ideologies together with that of the political lies that have led to wars generated since 2001 in the name of ‘freedom’ is beyond the remit of both this website and this article. Suffice to say that the results of their actions are plain to see: with the rampant spreading of the dangerous Big Lies propagated by these Human Centipedes, social media platforms and internet search engines have begun actively suppressing anything that goes against the mainstream narrative.
All this blacklisting wouldn’t be a big deal if it was just the demonstrably false disinformation they were targeting, but even proven and or plausible conspiracy theories have become casualties of this suppression. And unfortunately, the Apollo hoax theory has become caught in the crossfire and blacklisted. And that’s despite the fact that we live in a world in which space conspiracies and cover-ups have been established and confirmed as such.
Specifically the USSR covering up the deaths of cosmonauts or missions that failed; F1, 14 15 the US and USSR hyping spectacular firsts in space as examples of technical superiority when in fact they were pulled off at great risk or as a last ditch effort to upstage the other; F2, 16 17 18 19 films of Alexei Leonov walking in space confirmed to be faked; F3, 20 21 the Zond 5 circumlunar mission initially thought to be manned and thus providing a proof of concept on how to fake a Moon mission such that radio operators would be fooled;22 and NASA sweeping safety violations under the rug has led to many close shaves and several utter disasters, to name but the most well-known, the Apollo 1 fire on Pad 34 and the Columbia and Challenger shuttle crashes.23 24 25
At this point one more confirmed or otherwise plausible space ‘conspiracy’ added to the laundry list should hardly register as a surprise. Instead, the Apollo hoax theory has become a taboo topic. All but overtly banned from social media, its internet presence has been replaced by pro-NASA propagandists echoing the same baseless counter arguments over and over again. The Propagandapede has gone into overtime overnight.
So it is no surprise now that if you visit YouTube or search Google and try to find videos refuting Adam Ruins Everything’s claims that the Moon landing could not have been faked, chances are all you’ll get in the search results are mirrors of his original video or followers citing it.
This is out of control to the extent that I have sometimes wondered what is the point of making such videos if nobody can find them? But then I remembered the principles of Chaos Theory and its attendant fractals.26
In this new series of articles, I am going to deconstruct many of these ridiculous claims in a succinct little package. I doubt they will make much of a dent in the internet’s armour of suppression and blacklisting. But even the wings of a butterfly can cause a hurricane.26
Aulis Online, September 2021
Since producing my YouTube video and writing my previous article debunking Adam Ruins Conspiracy Theories, I was able to track down Conover’s technical expert guest. Apparently Mark Schubin runs a YouTube account called SchubinCafe, where he publishes lectures on television technology and broadcasting. I left a comment on one of his videos asking if he retracted the claims made in Adam Ruins Everything given what HBO used to get parallel shadows – and the fact that the shadows seen the Apollo photograph they cited are not even parallel to begin with. To avoid allegations of misrepresentation, you can read our full exchange here.
I happen to agree with you about what was shown in the Adam Ruins Everything episode. They were trying to make something complex simple, and they probably didn't quite succeed. I had nothing to do with the editing or images in that (except what was behind me). The divergences of the NASA shadows are due to both non-orthogonal objects and uneven terrain. If you do photographic analysis (and many people, around the world, have done so over many years), you find that the light source had parallel rays. The Apollo spacecraft is considerably smaller than the view of the cameras used on the mission. As for faking parallel rays, you can do that with a concave [sic] parabolic mirror but no wider than the mirror, or you can try with an array of lasers.
There is a lot to unpack from this. Schubin’s comments imply that the convex mirror would enable parallel shadows, but it would need to be as large as the studio set itself. He added:
You've pretty much hit on the answer in your word "huge". What was said to be the world's largest convex mirror in 2019 had a diameter of 4.25 meters, so you could arrange for parallel beams that wide. That's fine for some movie shots, but the actual moon landing shots covered a wider area.
First, for all intents and purposes, the 6ft mirror HBO used for their miniseries perfectly recreated the parallel shadows that were Conover’s point of contention. As can be seen in Figs 1 and 3, the relevant objects casting the shadows in both scenarios are only a few meters apart at most.
Second, if the mirror needs to be as big as the Moon set, there were ways to do that with 1960s technology. For example, we had radio telescopes in 1969 – their dishes are essentially concave. The largest in the world at the time was the Arecibo Telescope at 305m (1,000ft) across (although it was built into the crater of a natural sink hole), the largest steerable one was the Lovell Telescope at 76m across.
Fig 5. Built in 1963 and famous for its appearances in films such as Goldeneye and Contact, the Arecibo Observatory Telescope was the largest radio telescope at 305m across – until the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) succeeded it in 2016. Image University of Central Florida.
Fig 6. The largest steerable radio telescope is still the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory at 76m across. If it was necessary to illuminate an entire moon film set with parallel rays, a similar reflective dish-shaped object could be built for such a purpose. CC BY-SA 3.0 Delusion23.
For comparison, Little West Crater supposedly explored by Neil Armstrong is 60m east of where lunar module Eagle is said to have landed. It is not outside the realm of 1960s technology to build a similar sized dish-shaped object and coat the convex side with a highly-reflective material like aluminium foil as a makeshift mirror. In any case, while astronauts supposedly travelled vast distances, especially on the later missions with the lunar rover, the television transmissions were always restricted to one much smaller isolated area. On Apollo missions 11, 12 and 14 the television cameras only showed the immediate area surrounding the LM. While on missions 15-17, the television feed mostly stuck to the immediate area surrounding the rover on which the camera was mounted. The traverse between stations was not broadcast on television.
An argument might be made that films and TV coverage from the final parking spots of the lunar rovers show a much wider area than normal. Eric M. Jones estimates Apollo 15 to have the furthest final rover parking spot at 165m away. For argument's sake, I downloaded a high resolution copy of image AS15-88-11895 and measured the pixels. The photograph itself is 2,340 pixels across. The LM itself is only ~110 pixels. If 110pixels = 4meters, this means the photo shows an area 85m across. This is comparable in size to the diameter of the Lovell Telescope. By extension, the estimated 165m distance between the LM and the rover and field of view of 85m gives us a visible area of 14,025m2.
Fig 7a. Click to view a larger version of the high resolution scan of AS15-88-1189 – this is the Apollo 15 Lunar Module Falcon as seen from the rover's final parking space. The LM is measured as being ~110 pixels wide. Click to view details in Fig 7b.
By comparison, the lunar sets used in From The Earth to the Moon were housed inside "a 298,000 square foot blimp hangar" that's over 27,000m2. Thus we see even in this extreme scenario, the area between the LM and the rover's final parking space would fit in a studio environment. And this is not even considering the use of artificial backdrops, or miniatures which would have allowed for the use of a smaller studio set.
Third, Schubin attributing the divergent shadows to uneven terrain contradicts Neil Armstrong’s statement from the mission: “We're essentially on a very level place here.”27 Script problems?
Fourth, Schubin did not specify which photo analysists have confirmed the rays to be parallel. But Luis E. Bilbao of the University of Buenos Aires used ray-tracing techniques to determine the Sun angle in the Apollo 11 photos and concluded that the shadow angles were inconsistent with the purported position of the Sun.28
In any case, I would like to thank Mark Schubin for taking the time to answer my questions. The next time you see a member of the Propagandapede claiming that the supposedly parallel shadows in Apollo photographs could only have been achieved with millions of lasers, feel free to inform them that Schubin has acknowledged the same effect can be done with a large convex mirror reflecting light from an array of xenon spotlights shined into it.
About the Author
Jarrah White is an Australian filmmaker, astrophysicist and geologist. He has Certificate III & IV qualifications with distinctions in Screen and Media at the Sydney Institute of TAFE NSW, Australia; and a BSc with Major in Geology and a Minor in Astrophysics completed in November 2017 and July 2019 respectively.
F1. The Soviet Union’s modus operendi was to never even announce their space missions until they were considered successful enough to gloat about for propaganda purpose. They were not even given official mission numbers – instead internally referred to as E-1 No 1, E-1 No 2, etc., or Zond 1967A, Zond 1967B, etc. If something went wrong, they had no hesitation in covering it up. Perhaps the most notorious cover-ups of the Soviet space program were the Nedelin launch pad catastrophe of 1960, the death of cosmonaut Valentine Bondarenko in 1961, and the failed launches of the N-1 Moon rocket.
F2. Despite being the first to put humans into space, the Soviets initially did not reveal that the Vostok spacecraft required the cosmonaut to eject during reentry and parachute the rest of the way down. To qualify as a space milestone as per the FAI regulations, it was required that the spacecraft occupant landed within his or her spacecraft. Ejecting from the capsule as Vostok cosmonauts had done would disqualify them, regardless of their historical accomplishments.
Voskhod was even worse. Because their Soyuz would not be ready to fly until after NASA’s Gemini program, the Soviet solution to beating the US to the milestone of first multi-crewed spacecraft was to simply strip a surplus Vostok capsule of its interior and shoe-horn three couches into the cabin. The limited space meant none of the cosmonauts could wear spacesuits. And the additional retrorocket package necessitated by the need to make the capsule land at a survivable speed meant no launch escape system in the event of a launch failure. It was reckless, it was a flagrant violation of flight safety. But to people in the West, not knowing any of this, it looked as though the Soviets already had an equivalent of the three-man Apollo craft as early as 1964! Which is exactly the illusion the Soviets wanted.
On the American side, the Mercury program was not without mishap. The emergency explosive bolts on Liberty Bell 7 blew prematurely during recovery and sank the capsule, nearly drowning Gus Grissom. And John Glenn needed to return to Earth with the aft-mounted retrorocket pack still attached over fears the heatshield on his Friendship 7 capsule was loose.
While the Gemini program is widely recognized as the missions that took NASA into the lead, they too rushed their astronauts to space to set spectacular space milestones. Gemini 8 accomplished the first docking in space but nearly ended in tragedy when a jammed thruster caused the capsule to spin out of control. And on Gemini 9 Eugene Cernan nearly sweated himself to exhaustion trying to assemble a rocket pack in space, all because NASA did not take into consideration very basic necessities like a suit cooling system or even hand rails outside the capsule or even visor defog.
F3. Science & Mechanics published a book by Lloyd Mallan disputing the authenticity of the Voskhod 2 EVA films. NASA’s Jim Oberg confirmed this, but attributed it to error rather than hoax: “Mr. Mallan is right when he says that most of the Leonov spacewalk movies are not genuine. They are shots underwater, shots from wire-suspension training sets, shots in simulations and practices. The Russians were often careless in describing the sources of these films. The spacewalk itself was real.” Would it really be necessary to release fake footage of the spacewalk if it were real? And why has there been no attempt to cease that 'carelessness'? The photo pages of Alexei Leonov's book Two Sides of the Moon feature frames from the same reel of film that Mallan proved was anomalous, yet they are all captioned as being taken "Outside Voskhod 2 spacecraft".
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