(In)visible Evidence: Photos from the 1969 Apollo Moon Landing

In honor of the 45th anniversary of humankind’s historic first steps on the surface of the moon, I am re-visiting my first published academic piece: a journal article with David Perlmutter, Dean of the College of Media & Communications at Texas Tech University. The article, “(In)visible Evidence: Pictorially Enhanced Disbelief in the Apollo Moon Landings,” considers the idea that “believing is seeing” as related to the historic photographs from the 1969 Apollo moon landing.

Rooted in theories of photographic iconicity and visual evidence, the research examines photographs of the 1969 Apollo moon landing, as “evidence” for conspiracy theorists. The research examines such key photos as Buzz Aldrin standing on the surface of the moon, Aldrin’s bootprint in the lunar dust, and the “waving” American flag planted in the lunar soil. We closely read the photos with contrasting interpretations (moon-hoax believers versus NASA advocates) in an effort to understand within a framework of rhetoric and visual historical interpretation.

The article highlights details of the photos themselves that both moon-hoax believers and NASA advocates use as evidence to support their arguments. For example, in the photo of the “waving” American flag, moon-hoax believers ask the question, “If there is no atmosphere and no wind on the moon, why does the flag appear to be waving?” Moon-hoax believers claim that this image provides proof that the photos were staged inside and that the waving of the flag was caused by air conditioning.


Conversely, NASA advocates argue that because NASA officials knew that there was no wind on the moon to make the flag stay horizontal, the flag had a horizontal bar attached to it at the top, so that the flag would stand out from the flagpole. The bar was also not quite the full width of the flag, so that the flag would be forced to “gather” slightly to give it a “wave” like appearance. Additionally, NASA advocates use evidence from the photo to argue that the flagpole was made from a lightweight aluminum that is pliable. Even after the astronaut let go, the pole would continue to vibrate, which, in turn, would shake the bar and cause the flag to “wave.” And, without any atmosphere to dampen the effect, it would continue to “wave” for longer than may be expected.

The article has been written about by Tom Jacobs on the Pacific Standard website.

The article is published by Sage in Visual Communication.

Perlmutter, D. D., & Dahmen, N. S. (2008). (In)Visible evidence: Pictorially-enhanced disbelief in the 1969 Apollo Moon Landing. Visual Communication, 7(2), 229-251.


Photo credit: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands next to a U.S. flag planted on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Courtesy of NASA.


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