Third-party evidence for Apollo Moon landings is evidence, or analysis of evidence, about Moon landings that does not come from either NASA, the U.S. government (the first party), or the Apollo Moon landing hoax theorists (the second party). This evidence serves as independent confirmation of NASA's account of the Moon landings.
In this section are only those observations that are completely independent of NASA—no NASA facilities were used, and there was no NASA funding. Each of the countries mentioned in this section (Soviet Union, Japan, China, and India) has its own space program, builds its own space probes which are launched on their own launch vehicles, and has its own deep space communication network.
In 2008, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) SELENE lunar probe obtained several photographs showing evidence of Moon landings. On the left are two photos taken on the lunar surface by Apollo 15astronauts in July or August 1971. On the right is a 2008 reconstruction from images taken by the SELENE terrain camera and 3D projected to the same vantage point as the surface photos. The terrain is a close match within the SELENE camera resolution of 10 metres.
The light-coloured area of blown lunar surface dust created by the lunar module engine blast at the Apollo 15 landing site was photographed and confirmed by comparative analysis of photographs in May 2008. They correspond well to photographs taken from the Apollo 15 Command/Service Module showing a change in surface reflectivity due to the plume. This was the first visible trace of manned landings on the Moon seen from space since the close of the Apollo program.
As with SELENE, the Terrain Mapping Camera of India's Chandrayaan-1 probe did not have enough resolution to record Apollo hardware. Nevertheless, as with SELENE, Chandrayaan-1 independently recorded evidence of lighter, disturbed soil around the Apollo 15 site.
China's second lunar probe, Chang'e 2, which was launched in 2010 is capable of capturing lunar surface images with a resolution of up to 1.3 metres. It claims to have spotted traces of the Apollo landings, though the relevant imagery has not been publicly identified.
Apollo missions tracked by independent parties
Aside from NASA, a number of entities and individuals observed, through various means, the Apollo missions as they took place. On later missions, NASA released information to the public explaining where third party observers could expect to see the various craft at specific times according to scheduled launch times and planned trajectories.
Observers of all missions
The Soviet Union monitored the missions at their Space Transmissions Corps, which was "fully equipped with the latest intelligence-gathering and surveillance equipment."Vasily Mishin, in an interview for the article "The Moon Programme That Faltered," describes how the Soviet Moon programme dwindled after the Apollo landing.
The missions were tracked by radar from several countries on the way to the Moon and back.
On December 21, 1968, at 18:00 UT, amateur astronomers (H.R. Hatfield, M.J. Hendrie, F. Kent, Alan Heath, and M.J. Oates) in the UK photographed a fuel dump from the jettisoned S-IVB third rocket stage.
Dr. Michael Moutsoulas at Pic du Midi Observatory reported an initial sighting around 17:10 UT on December 21 with the 1.1-metre reflector as an object (magnitude near 10, through clouds) moving eastward near the predicted location of Apollo 8. He used a 60-cm refractor telescope to observe a cluster of objects which were obscured by the appearance of a nebulous cloud at a time which matches a firing of the service module engine to assure adequate separation from the S-IVB. This event can be traced with the Apollo 8 Flight Journal, noting that launch was at 0751 EST or 12:51 UT on December 21.
Justus Dunlap and others at Corralitos Observatory (then operated by Northwestern University) obtained over 400 short-exposure intensified images, giving very accurate locations for the spacecraft.
The 2.1m Otto Struve Telescope at McDonald Observatory, from 01:50–2:37 UT on December 23, observed the brightest object flashing as bright as magnitude 15, with the flash pattern recurring about once a minute.
The Lick Observatory observations during the return coast to Earth produced live television pictures broadcast to United States west coast viewers via KQED-TV in San Francisco.
An article in the March 1969 issue of Sky & Telescope contained many reports of optical tracking of Apollo 8.
A compilation of sightings appeared in "Observations of Apollo 11" by Sky and Telescope magazine, November 1969, pp. 358–359.
At Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK, the telescope was used to observe the mission, as it was used years previously for Sputnik. At the same time, Jodrell Bank scientists were tracking the unmanned Soviet spacecraft Luna 15, which was trying to land on the Moon. In July 2009, Jodrell released some recordings they made.
Larry Baysinger, a technician for WHAS radio in Louisville, Kentucky, independently detected and recorded transmissions between Apollo 11 astronauts on the lunar surface and in the Command Module. Recordings made by Baysinger share certain characteristics with recordings made at Bochum Observatory by Kaminski, in that both Kaminski's and Baysinger's recordings do not include the Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in Houston, Texas, and the associated Quindar tones heard in NASA audio and seen on NASA Apollo 11 transcripts. Kaminski and Baysinger could only hear the transmissions from the Moon, and not transmissions to the Moon from the Earth.
Chabot Observatory calendar records an application of optical tracking during the final phases of Apollo 13, on April 17, 1970:
"Rachel, Chabot Observatory's 20-inch refracting telescope, helps bring Apollo 13 and its crew home. One last burn of the lunar lander engines was needed before the crippled spacecraft's re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. In order to compute that last burn, NASA needed a precise position of the spacecraft, obtainable only by telescopic observation. All the observatories that could have done this were clouded over, except Oakland's Chabot Observatory, where members of the Eastbay Astronomical Society had been tracking the Moon flights. EAS members received an urgent call from NASA Ames Research Station, which had ties with Chabot's educational program since the 60's, and they put the Observatory's historic 20-inch refractor to work. They were able to send the needed data to Ames, and the Apollo crew was able to make the needed correction and to return safely to Earth on this date in 1970."
Paul Wilson and Richard T. Knadle, Jr. received voice transmissions from the Command/Service Module in lunar orbit on the morning of August 1, 1971. In an article for QST magazine they provide a detailed description of their work, with photographs.
At least two different radio amateurs, W4HHK and K2RIW, reported reception of Apollo 16 signals with home-built equipment.
Bochum Observatory tracked the astronauts and intercepted the television signals from Apollo 16. The image was re-recorded in black and white in the 625 lines, 25 frames/s television standard onto 2-inch videotape using their sole quad machine. The transmissions are only of the astronauts and do not contain any voice from Houston, as the signal received came from the Moon only. The videotapes are held in storage at the observatory.
Sven Grahn describes several amateur sightings of Apollo 17.
Independent research consistent with NASA claims
In this section is evidence, by independent researchers, that NASA's account is correct. However, at least somewhere in the investigation, there was some NASA involvement.
Existence and age of Moon rocks
A total of 382 kilograms (842 lb) of Moon rocks and dust were collected during the Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 missions. Some 10 kg (22 lb) of the Moon rocks have been used in hundreds of experiments performed by both NASA researchers and planetary scientists at research institutions unaffiliated with NASA. These experiments have confirmed the age and origin of the rocks as lunar, and were used to identify lunar meteorites collected later from Antarctica. The oldest Moon rocks are up to 4.5 billion years old, making them 200 million years older than the oldest Earth rocks, which are from the Hadean eon and dated 3.8 to 4.3 billion years ago. The rocks returned by Apollo are very close in composition to the samples returned by the independent Soviet Luna programme. A rock brought back by Apollo 17 was accurately dated to be 4.417 billion years old, with a margin of error of plus or minus 6 million years. The test was done by a group of researchers headed by Alexander Nemchin at Curtin University of Technology in Bentley, Australia.
AS11-40-5952: Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment as left on the Moon by Apollo 11
Plot of arrival time of photons (Y axis) for each of many laser pulses sent to the Moon (X axis). This data, along with similar data from the other landing sites, shows there are man-made objects on the Moon in the locations of the Apollo landings. Credit: The APOLLO (Lunar Laser Ranging) Collaboration
"For those few misguided souls who still cling to the belief that the Moon landings never happened, examination of the results of five decades of LRRR experiments should evidence how delusional their rejection of the Moon landing really is."
The NASA-independent Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, McDonald, Apache Point, and Haleakalā observatories regularly use the Apollo LRRR. Lick Observatory attempted to detect from Apollo 11's retroreflector while Armstrong and Aldrin were still on the Moon but did not succeed until August 1, 1969. The Apollo 14 astronauts deployed a retroreflector on February 5, 1971, and McDonald Observatory detected it the same day. The Apollo 15 retroreflector was deployed on July 31, 1971, and was detected by McDonald Observatory within a few days.
The image on the left shows what is considered some of the most unambiguous evidence. This experiment repeatedly fires a laser at the Moon, at the spots where the Apollo landings were reported. The dots show when photons are received from the Moon. The dark line shows that a large number come back at a specific time, and hence were reflected by something quite small (well under a metre in size). Photons reflected from the surface come back over a much broader range of times (the whole vertical range of the plot corresponds to only 30 metres or so in range). The concentration of photons at a specific time appears when the laser is aimed at the Apollos 11, 14 or 15 landing sites; otherwise the expected featureless distribution is observed. The Apollo reflectors are still in use.
Strictly speaking, although the reflectors are strong evidence that human-manufactured artifacts currently exist on the Moon, and their locations are consistent with NASA's claims, they do not prove humans have visited the Moon. Smaller retroreflectors were carried by the unmanned landers Lunokhod 1 and Lunokhod 2. The Lunokhod 2 reflector has been in use since 1973. The location of Lunokhod 1 was unknown for nearly 40 years but it was rediscovered in 2010 in photographs by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and its retroreflector is now in use.
After the images shown here were taken, the LRO mission moved into a lower orbit for higher resolution camera work. All of the sites have since been re-imaged at higher resolution.
Further imaging in 2012 shows the shadows cast by the flags planted by the astronauts on all Apollo landing sites. The exception is that of Apollo 11, which matches Buzz Aldrin's account of the flag being blown over by the lander's rocket exhaust on leaving the Moon.
Higher resolution image of the Apollo 17 landing site showing the Challenger lunar module descent stage as photographed by the LRO
Apollo 14 landing site, photograph by LRO
Apollo 12 landing site
Apollo 15 landing site
AS16-123-19657: Long-exposure photograph taken from the surface of the Moon by Apollo 16 using the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph. It shows the Earth with the correct background of stars (some labeled)
Apollo missions tracked by non-NASA personnel
This section contains reports of the lunar missions from facilities that had significant numbers of non-NASA employees. This includes facilities such as the Deep Space Network, which employed (and still employs) many local citizens in Spain and Australia, and facilities such as the Parkes Observatory, which were hired by NASA for specific tasks, but staffed by non-NASA personnel.
Although most MSFN stations were NASA-owned, they employed many local citizens. NASA also contracted the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, to supplement the three deep space sites, most famously during the Apollo 11 EVA as documented by radio astronomer John Sarkissian and portrayed (humorously and not quite accurately) in the movie The Dish. The Parkes Observatory is not NASA-owned; it is, and always has been, owned and operated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), a research agency of the Australian government. It would have been relatively easy for NASA to avoid using the Parkes Observatory to receive the Apollo 11 EVA television signals by scheduling the EVA at an earlier time when the Goldstone station could provide complete coverage.
^Swaim, Dave (December 22, 1968). "Apollo 8 Mission Leaves Earth on Historic Voyage". Independent Star News (Pasadena, CA). p. 1. Retrieved May 9, 2013. "The TLI firing was begun at 7:41 a.m. (PST) while the craft was over Hawaii, and it was reported there that the burn was visible from the ground."
^Hautaluoma, Grey; Freeberg, Andy (July 17, 2009). Garner, Robert, ed. "LRO Sees Apollo Landing Sites". NASA. Retrieved July 18, 2007. "NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has returned its first imagery of the Apollo Moon landing sites. The pictures show the Apollo missions' lunar module descent stages sitting on the moon's surface, as long shadows from a low sun angle make the modules' locations evident."
^Astronomy (Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Publishing): 22. November 2009.