July 20, 1969 was a very important Wednesday. It was one that left the infamous broadcaster Walter Cronkite speechless and grinning for a moment. It was the day that two humans, in full NASA astronaut gear, descended to the surface of our moon in a landing vehicle while their compatriot orbiting overhead. It was the day living rooms were filled across America and the world, as families and friends huddled around grainy high-contrast black and white images of an awkward humanoid making his way down to the lunar surface for the first time.
This was the culmination of years worth of effort, inspired by the charge of the President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University in 1962: that Americans would go to the moon, and do the other things “because they are hard.”
But there are many who believe that the moon landing never took place, and that the whole thing–technical marvel though it would be–was fabricated from the start. If not during the start of the broadcast itself, then any flames of doubt were certainly fanned with the release of an explosive 1976 book put out by a former NASA contractor with background in technical writing and journalism, and purporting the whole of the landing was an expensive put-on.
Techniques and “Theories”
Following the societal turmoil of the 1960s, and the political bombshells of the early 1970s, distrust in US government was at a relative high point. Like so many other conspiracy theories, the seeds of doubt had already been planted, and need only be harvested. According to evidence presented at the University of Manchester, this atmosphere of distrust lent itself to more people buying into the idea of faking the moon landings. According to one source, up to 28% of the American public doubted the moon landings were real.
Among the more popular beliefs include the idea that Stanley Kubrick’s expertise in filming space was put to special application to help convince American audiences. There’s also the idea of the apparent lack of follow-up when it comes to Moon missions. The idea is here are it could have been done in Hollywood, and if it was something the American government accomplished, why didn’t we keep doing it?
Other conspiracy theories rest on too much radiation exposure, the lack of stars in the photos presented, apparent “wind” from Aldrin’s jostling of the American flag, improper shadows, and so on. Many of these are easily disproved, though.
Our subsequent innovations seem to speak volumes, too: Skylab, the Space Shuttle, Mir, the International Space Station, and the legacy of human spaceflight. It’s the most obvious counter to the questions about going to the moon: NASA haven’t stopped spending large sums of money in space since we left those lunar footprints.
Let’s Go Back
While it seems likely that the ongoing Artemis missions will serve, in part, to further debunk this conspiracy theory, there is at least a lingering need to uncover information to the contrary. Witness Reuter’s fact checking the claim that lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin purportedly said he hadn’t been on the moon’s surface, never mind him being the iconic photo of just that event.
As someone who has roamed the halls of NASA and toured the facilities of the Apollo Mission Control, seeing the history of loss and triumph that forged the American space industry, it’s disheartening to think that for some people, it’s easier to believe that we simply can’t–and therefore didn’t–go to the moon. Because the reality is far more beautiful.