On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and left the first human footprint. As he famously said, “It was one small step for a man and one giant leap for mankind”. However, some conspiracy theorists falsely think the step was never taken at all. To support this, people compared the famous photo of a footprint on the moon with the soles of the boots from the mission display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The two do not match, but further research debunks this “faked moon landing” theory.
Am I Missing Something?
Neil Armstrong’s moon landing outfit, housed at the Smithsonian Museum, presents an intriguing detail regarding the tread pattern on the boots. It’s a curious fact that the tread pattern on the boots in the exhibit does not exactly match the treads seen in the historic pictures of Armstrong on the lunar surface.
How Does It look On The Moon?
Neil Armstrong’s footprint treads captured in the historic picture from the moon landing remain a captivating testament to that epochal event. What’s truly remarkable is that the pattern of his bootprints has remained unchanged over time. This enduring pattern is primarily due to the moon’s unique environmental conditions. Unlike Earth, the moon lacks an atmosphere and the erosive forces like wind and weather that would gradually erase footprints.
The Truth Behind the Footprints on the Moon
Armstrong and the rest of the crew did wear the Apollo/Skylab A7L suit on display but they also had additional gear. Namely, overshoes with treaded soles that match the footprint on the moon. These overshoes helped protect the astronauts from unfiltered solar radiation as well as provided extra traction. In other photos of the moon landing, you can see more footprints matching these overshoes. And speaking of which, that footprint wasn’t made by Armstrong; it was from Buzz Aldrin. 
This isn’t a new conspiracy for people who believe the moon landing was fake. Cathleen Lewis, a space history curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. stated the fixation on the pattern of the footprint was “a recurring trope from moon landing deniers.” 
What Is The State On The Moon?
What’s fascinating is that these very footprints should still be on the moon, where there is no wind or weather to cover them. As NASA writes on their website about these photos, “The first footprints on the Moon will be there for a million years. There is no wind to blow them away.”
Additionally, you can also find almost 100 items left on the moon. The Apollo 11 crew had to leave things behind to reduce the weight of the ship. This included these overshoes, tools, empty containers, magazines, TV lenses, camera equipment, body waste, and of course, the United States flag.  “These items remain on the surface of the moon at the Sea of Tranquility, as they were considered to be excess cargo for the Eagle’s crew to return to the Columbia Command Module and then to earth,” Lewis said. “Every gram that they left on the surface of the Moon meant that they could bring back an additional gram of lunar samples.”
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The Impossible Hoax
Conspiracy theories about the “faked moon landing” have been around for years. Essentially, the theory is that the moon landing was just a hoax staged by the U.S. government to win the space race against the Soviets. But the “proof” tends to become repetitive and easily debunked.
Rick Fienberg, the press officer for the American Astronomical Society, who holds a Ph.D. in astronomy, rose to fame nearly 14 years ago when he debated one of the first renowned moon landing deniers, Bill Kaysing, on TV. One of the biggest proofs of the legitimacy of the moon landing is that this kind of grand deception would’ve been practically impossible.
“About 400,000 scientists, engineers, technologists, machinists, electricians, worked on the Apollo program,” Fienberg said. “If in fact the main motivation for believing in the moon hoax that is you don’t trust the government, you don’t trust our leaders, you don’t trust authority, how can you feel that 400,000 people would keep their mouths shut for 50 years? It’s just implausible.” 
More “Fake Moon Landing” Theories
Another popular theory points to the famous photo of Buzz Aldrin next to the American flag, which looks like it’s flapping in the wind. But there is no wind on the moon. Is this proof of a hoax? Well, no, since the flag has a horizontal rod on the top edge. Plus, that rod is easily spotted in the very same photo.
One of the most entertaining theories is that Director Stanley Kubrick was hired by the government to stage the fake moon landing. This began after the release of his film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film depicted such a realistic image of outer space, it inspired this theory. However, the realism didn’t come from Kubrick; it came from the astronomical artists and aerospace engineers he had hired. 
In general, this denial is “more of an ideological thing—a political thing—than it is a scientific thing,” said Fienberg. This is why trying to debate a denier is often futile. Many conspiracy theories are based on suspicion of science and the government, so trying to use evidence from these sources won’t change firm believers. But it is important to share evidence to properly educate those who are uninformed or susceptible to false theories.
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Editors Note: This article was originally published in August 2022 and has since been updated.
- “Fact Check-Apollo 11 astronauts left their space boots on the moon.” Reuters. August 10, 2021
- “Fact check: Moon landing conspiracy theory misrepresents lunar footprint.” USA Today. Devon Link. September 20, 2021
- “Archeological Inventory at Tranquility Base.” NM State University.
- “The Wildest Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories, Debunked.” History. Becky Little. June 10, 2019
- “Did Stanley Kubrick Fake the Moon Landings?” Snopes. Dan Evon. December 11, 2015