Fact Check

Was Pic Taken by Apollo 11 Crew Already on Nixon's Wall When He Spoke to Them by Phone?

No, there was no strange conspiracy at play.

Published March 30, 2023

 (Screenshot via tennisstar91/Twitter)
Image courtesy of Screenshot via tennisstar91/Twitter
Claim:
As U.S. President Richard Nixon spoke to Apollo 11 astronauts on the phone after they landed on the moon in 1969, a photograph taken during the same mission was already on the wall in the Oval Office.

An old photograph of then-U.S. President Richard Nixon purportedly shows him speaking by telephone to the astronauts of Apollo 11 soon after they landed on the moon in 1969 … while a photograph taken during that same moon mission is clearly visible on his Oval Office wall.

Internet users, thinking they had spotted a nefarious conspiracy at play, pointed this out repeatedly, sharing a meme of Nixon on a phone call, stating, "Nixon talking to Apollo 11 on a landline phone with a picture taken from the moon in the background … take your time."  

This is a real photograph from the time, but the caption misrepresents the situation. Videos from the White House Historical Association and the BBC show Nixon sitting in the Oval Office as he made the historic phone call to congratulate Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on their landing on the lunar surface. 

"For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one — one in their pride in what you have done and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth," Nixon said to Armstrong and Aldrin.

A photograph showing Earth, that appears to be taken from the surface of the moon, is indeed on the Oval Office wall next to Nixon, and is visible at the 0:56 mark in the video below, 

The same photograph is visible during an ABC News special that took cameras into a recreation of the Nixon Oval Office in 2016.

The photograph is called "Earthrise," and the reason it was on Nixon's wall prior to the Apollo 11 moon landing is because it was taken during an earlier mission to the moon. 

According to NASA, it was captured by astronaut Bill Anders while he was aboard Apollo 8 and "shows Earth peeking out from beyond the lunar surface as the first crewed spacecraft circumnavigated the Moon, with astronauts Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell aboard." 

Apollo 8 launched in December 1968, and was the first crewed spacecraft to successfully orbit the moon and return to Earth. So the photograph in Nixon's Oval Office was taken long before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. 

We thus rate the viral image as "Miscaptioned." 

Sources

"1st Moon Phone Call | Moon Landing Live." BBC America. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_8tawnlwr8. Accessed 30 Mar. 2023.

Loff, Sarah. "Apollo 8." NASA, 10 Dec. 2018, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo-8.html. Accessed 30 Mar. 2023.

"President Nixon Speaks to Apollo 11 Astronauts." The White House Historical Association | Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/WhiteHouseHistory/videos/president-nixon-speaks-to-apollo-11-astronauts/186506812819904/. Accessed 30 Mar. 2023.

Smith, Yvette. "Apollo 8: Earthrise." NASA, 13 Apr. 2015, http://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/apollo-8-earthrise. Accessed 30 Mar. 2023.

"Video: A Look Inside the Nixon Oval Office." ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/video/inside-nixon-oval-office-42789931. Accessed 30 Mar. 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.