5.27 Why is this photo of the LM on the moon so obviously fake?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because it’s not an official photo: it’s a montage, clearly stated as such in the original source. This montage, however, sometimes is used as real even by experts and by some lunar astronauts. It is not part of NASA’s official catalog of photos taken on the Moon and NASA has never claimed that it’s authentic.

THE DETAILS: The photograph shown in Figure 5.27-1 shows the Apollo 11 lunar module on the Moon, as Buzz Aldrin gets ready to climb down the ladder to set foot on the lunar surface. It is often used in books and articles about the Moon landings. It is featured in NASA’s Apollo Lunar Surface Journal and has also been used by Apollo astronaut Walt Cunningham in his public talks.* But it’s not a real photograph.

* Mission to the Moon, Alan Dyer, Templar Publishing (2008); AstVintageSpace (Twitter.com, 2015); So haben Sie Apollo 11 noch nie gesehen, 20min.ch (2014); The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Liveblog, Gizmodo.com (2009); ALSJ, Nasa.gov; Walt Cunningham’s public talk in Tradate, Italy, 2011 (Youtube.com).

Figure 5.27-1. Composite image created by Ed Hengeveld (2008).

This photo is a montage created by Ed Hengeveld in 2008 by blending several real photographs of the Apollo 11 landing and by adding a computer-generated Sun.* But there is no intent to deceive: neither its creator nor NASA claim it to be authentic.

* The genesis of this image is explained in detail in Italian in Sì, questa foto Apollo è un falso. Ma dichiarato, ComplottiLunari.info (2015).

This montage is indeed featured in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, but in the section of the Journal dedicated explicitly to montages and entitled More Creativity - Fun and Inspiration. It is not included in the official catalogs of Apollo 11 photographs.

An expert observer will notice several clues that this photo is not real: it’s not square like all other Hasselblad photos taken on the Moon; there are no crosshairs (reseau marks or fiducials), whereas all the Apollo 11 photos taken outside the lunar module have them; the perspective is distorted and inconsistent; and the reflections of the sunlight on the right are not oriented correctly.

However, as time goes by and direct recollections fade, there is the risk that this kind of realistic and believable composite image, might be presented unwittingly as authentic even by people who wish to document the moon landings and even by people who were part of the Apollo program, such as indeed Walt Cunningham, and that the original, non-deceptive intent of the photograph might be lost. And of course there’s also the risk that conspiracy theorists might claim that this inadvertent use of a montage is evidence that NASA fakes its photographs.

Figure 5.27-2. The montage presented at the beginning of the book Mission to the Moon by Alan Dyer (2008) without giving any indication of its true nature. From the author’s personal collection.