On July 20th, 1969, half a billion people gathered around televisions to watch the iconic, shadowy images of Neil Armstrong climbing down from the lunar lander to take mans first step onto the moon. The Apollo 11 mission was one of mankind's most awe-inspiring technological feats and captured the worlds imagination. But many people believe that the giant leap for mankind was really a historic hoodwink and that Armstrong never set foot on the moon. Instead, they claim the famed astronaut walked around a fake lunar landscape built on a massive Hollywood-style soundstage, a scenario that inspired the plot of the 1977 conspiracy film Capricorn One.
A Gallup poll in 1999 found that six percent of Americans doubt that the moon landings ever happened. A 2005-06 poll by space consultant Mary Lynne Dittmar found that 27 percent of U.S. 18- to 24-year-olds question the reality of the moon landings. And a 2009 survey in Great Britain found that one in four believe the moon landings never occurred.
Rumors of a Conspiracy Started Early
Speculation that the moon landings were faked began circulating almost as soon as the Apollo 11 capsule splashed back down to Earth. Bill Kaysing, author of We Never Went to the Moon: Americas 30 Billion Dollar Swindle, is often credited with being the father of the moon-landing conspiracy theories. A former writer and librarian at Rocketdyne, a major aerospace contractor, Kaysing was among the most vocal and visible hoax adherents from the publication of his book in 1976 until his death in 2005. He was featured prominently in Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?, a 2001 film that presented the evidence skeptics claim as proof that the missions were staged. The show created a stir and is credited with reviving waning speculation that the landings were a hoax. Following the broadcast, NASA was bombarded with so many questions from the public that it was compelled to post an official rebuttal on its website.
On the program, Kaysing claimed that in the late 1950s, Rocketdyne conducted a feasibility study that concluded the probability of a successful trip to the moon by 1969 was only .0017 percent. He said this report made it clear that a lunar landing was virtually impossible. On May 25th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy stated his belief that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. And the end of the decade was looming. So conspiracy buffs say the United States, compelled by Kennedys self-imposed ticking clock, was forced to fake the landings in order to secure a key victory in the space race with the Soviet Union, thus achieving a major propaganda coup in the Cold War.
Other theorists claim the motivation was to draw attention away from the unpopular war raging in Vietnam, raise national pride and quell growing political unrest at home. Wernher von Brauns place at the helm of NASAs space program at the time is reason enough to question the entire operation, many hoax adherents say. During World War II, Braun headed the German team of scientists who developed the V-2 ballistic missiles for the Nazis, and is thought by some film historians to be one of the real-life figures that inspired the title character from Stanley Kubricks classic cold war comedy Dr. Strangelove. The missiles, used against targets in Europe during the war, were allegedly built by forced labor.
A Phalanx of Hoax Theories
Among the most prominent hoax theorists carrying Kaysings mantle today are David Percy and Mary Bennet, coauthors of Dark Moon: Apollo and the Whistle Blowers, and Bart Sibrel, who produced the film, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Moon. Sibrel is notorious for a 2002 incident in which he ambushed Apollo 11 lunar-module pilot Buzz Aldrin in an interview and asked him to swear on a Bible that he'd been to the moon. The astronaut not only refused, but famously punched Sibrel in the face in front of news cameras after the conspiracy theorist called him a coward, a liar and a thief. Sibrel and other advocates of the hoax theory maintain websites where photos and videos from the moon landings are pored over to discover new evidence that they were faked.
Some make the specific charge that footage of the first moonwalk was shot by Stanley Kubrick, acclaimed director of the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which won an Academy Award for its special effects. The lack of visible stars in the photographs of the Apollo moon landings is most often cited as proof that the astronauts were actually bounding around a soundstage and not on the surface of the moon. But scientists, photographers and firm believers in the moon landing have set up websites of their own to debunk point by point the hoax theories.
Phil Plait, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog for Discover magazine, says the simple explanation for the starless heavens is the extreme brightness of the moons surface, caused by the lunar dawn. The brief exposure times required in these conditions were too fast to register the faint stars on film. Then there's the infamous photo of a moon rock that appears to have the letter C on it. Moon-landing skeptics say it is a prop marking that was carelessly left visible. But debunkers say the C has been found to be a fiber on the original print that was digitized and reproduced. There is no sign of the C on the original negative.
How Can a Flag Wave on the Airless Moon?
In images from the Apollo missions, the American flag appears to be rippling in the breeze. But hoax believers point out that this is impossible without an atmosphere. They are right. However, a special flagpole was constructed with a telescoping rod along the top to hold the stars and stripes out. The Apollo 11 astronauts weren't able to deploy the rod fully, leaving folds in the flag like those in a curtain. On subsequent missions, the astronauts chose to only partially expand the rod because they liked how the flag appeared to be waving.
Conspiracy theorists claim the camera crosshairs in many photos disappear as though blocked by objects within the picture. But debunkers point out that the crosshairs always disappear over a bright white object, which causes overexposure and the resulting crosshair fade-out.
The Hoax Theories Keep Coming
Shadows of a Doubt
Moon-Landing Skeptics Kicking Up Dust
Apollo Missions and the Van Allen Belts
Hoax believers say shadows cast by the astronauts, the lunar module and moon rocks go in different directions, which would be impossible with the sun as the sole light source. They believe the lack of perfectly parallel shadows reveals the use of multiple light sources, like those employed on a film set. However, NASAs website and other hoax debunkers counter that the uneven lunar surface caused the divergent shadows, a phenomenon that can be viewed on sunny days even here on Earth. Photos where the astronauts are clearly in the shadow of the lunar lander, yet are lit enough to show details on their space suits, are held out as more evidence of multiple light sources. But debunkers counter that sunlight bouncing up off the brilliant lunar surface would illuminate any astronaut or object that was in its shadow.
Doubters point to multiple clues in the fine, light quality of the moons soil. They offer pictures where the lunar modules disk-like feet are completely free of dust following the landing. Others question why footprints are visible in the dust mere yards from the spacecraft. Wouldnt exhaust from the landing have cleared a larger swath of the lunar surface? Moonwalk adherents state that these theories rest on a misconception that dust on the moon would act like dust on Earth. Without air, they say, any particles moved around by the landing would drop like rocks the moment they were no longer being pushed by the exhaust. Dust doesnt kick up, swirl and drift in a vacuum, so it makes sense that the landers feet were clean and dust stayed pretty close to the module.
Kaysing and other hoax adherents claim a moon mission was impossible because the astronauts would have become gravely ill or died when passing through two powerful bands of radiation that encircle the Earth. The donut-shaped Van Allen Belts are filled with high-energy particles from the solar wind and the Earths ionosphere that are trapped by the planets magnetic field. But debunkers say conspiracy buffs dont have their science right. While extremely radioactive, the belts were of little danger to the astronauts, who passed through them quickly and within the relatively safe confines of their shielded command capsule. Monitoring devices found the astronauts exposure was minimal for the round trip.
How do hoax believers account for the complicity and 41-year silence of hundreds of NASA employees involved in the massive scheme to fool the world? And what of the spectators who watched the Apollo rockets lift off with their own eyes? Kaysing and other theorists claim only a handful of key players actually knew about the fraud and most of the people in mission control were also duped. They say the astronauts took off in the rocket and orbited the Earth until it was time to splash down again in front of a worldwide audience.
Some hoax adherents say many would-be whistle-blowers were too fearful to reveal the truth. Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil Gus Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger Chaffee died in a flash fire that erupted in the cockpit of their rocket during a launch-pad test in 1967. Kaysing said the three astronauts were killed because they were threatening to tell the truth. An extensive investigation into the fire found no evidence of sabotage. The report concluded, however, that conditions in the command module were extremely hazardous and the accident could have been prevented. The Apollo missions were put on hold as major safety modifications were made.
Footage Destroyed to Preserve the Hoax?
In 2006, news broke that the original taped footage from the Apollo 11 moon landing had been misplaced. The famous dark, hazy images were the result of conversions necessary for broadcast, but clear recordings of the direct transmissions were also made. In July 2009, days before the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, NASA revealed that an investigation found the magnetic tapes had been mistakenly erased in order to be reused. This revelation was heartbreaking for most people. For hoax theorists, it was more convincing evidence of a cover-up.
Then came news that, in an odd way, brings the possibly faked first moon landing full circle from claims that it was originally filmed on a movie set by 2001: A Space Odyssey director Stanley Kubrick. NASA announced that the best available Apollo 11 footage would be digitally restored by a Hollywood production company. Chosen for the job was none other than Lowry Digital of Burbank, California, the company that was the force behind the digital remastering of George Lucass Star Wars trilogy. More fuel for the conspiracy theorists fire, no doubt.