Newspapers did not publish high quality photos of 1969 moon landing before astronauts returned to Earth

17 May 2024
What was claimed

Eight newspaper front pages carried high quality images taken by astronauts on the day of the 1969 moon landing, the day after it occurred and before Apollo 11 returned to Earth.

Our verdict

This isn’t the case. None of the newspapers (aside from a satirical front page produced much later by The Onion) printed these photos until after the astronauts returned to Earth. Most of the newspapers published stills from the live broadcast, and some also used training images taken prior to it.

A series of newspaper front pages covering the 1969 moon landing are being shared on social media with an implication that the landing was faked.

Posts shared in several Facebook groups include eight images that appear to be newspaper front pages, several of which were published on 21 July 1969, the day after the moon landing took place. 

A caption with the posts says: “It took them 3 days to come back to earth, and yet this article was released with pictures taken on the moon the same day [sic].”

But the post is misleading, and the newspapers used stills from video footage beamed back to Earth, or alternatives produced before the Apollo 11 mission, not film photographs taken on the moon's surface

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How was the moon landing reported?

Newspapers were able to publish images of the moon landing the following day, 21 July 1969, because of a camera feed which broadcast the mission live in black and white. Several of the newspapers used stills from this feed.

The video was transmitted from an antenna at the top of the lander, lined with 38 miles of gold-plated wire which was thinner than human hair, which transmitted the signal 250,000 miles to Earth

The signal was received most clearly by antenna in Australia then uploaded to satellites orbiting the Earth before being transmitted back to NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Centre in Houston, and then via satellite to TV receiving centres worldwide. The resulting low quality live video was then broadcast.

Stills from this feed were what many newspapers featured on their front pages, including some of those shared with the post.

Altered front pages and early editions

The New York Times front page featured in the post has been edited to include two photographs taken from the moon and the lunar module by the Apollo 11 crew, which were later developed and published after the astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins returned to Earth on 24 July 1969. The third picture is from the Apollo 15 mission in 1971, the fourth crewed mission to land on the moon. 

The real “late city edition” of the 21 July edition of the paper actually used stills from the low quality video stream. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer front page that appears in the post has not been edited, and appears to show an early edition from 21 July 1969, which used an image, captioned as a “simulated moon landing”. This was one of several photos taken during training exercises in April of that year. But the “final city edition” of the front page also featured a still from the live broadcast.

The Herald, an Australian newspaper, also initially printed an image from a ground training simulation in April 1969, which is also featured in the post. An image from the live broadcast was used for that day’s “final” edition.

Two other newspapers featured in the Facebook post, the Wisconsin State Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle, both featured images taken during the ground training sessions which rehearsed and trained for the moon landing prior to July 1969.

And the El Paso Times used a promotional artist depiction of the moon landing, as well as a real image from the live stream on its front page.

Contrary to the claim, none of these seven newspapers included in the post used the film photographs taken by the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission on the moon until after their return to Earth.

Another front page shared in the Facebook post appears to be from The Onion, a satirical newspaper. However, the paper was launched in 1988, and this cover comes from a book written by its editors which mocked up fake front pages for famous news events from the 20th century.

We have previously fact checked several false claims about the moon landings, including that video clips showed Buzz Aldrin admitting he never went to the moon, and that film director Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing.

Image courtesy of NASA

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