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Today sees the anniversary of that famous day in 1969 when the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on ground that was not our Earth.Â Yet over forty years later, many people still think that these events never happened and that the whole moon landings sequence was an elaborate hoax. But why do people think the moon landings were faked?
Man on the moon
Growing up we were all taught that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, having travelled there with Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin Jnr. They left the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on July 16th in Apollo 11, the fifth manned mission in the Apollo series. The craft entered lunar orbit on the 19th July and circled the moon for 30 orbits before landing on a relatively flat and smooth area already scouted by Ranger 8 and Surveyor 5 landers. They landed on the moon’s surface and as the 20th July became the 21st, Armstrong climbed down onto the surface of the moon. He gave him famous quote and began collecting soil samples as well as planting the US flag and the accompanying plaque. Three days later, the three men were back on Earth, having splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 24km from the recovery ship, USS Hornet.
Or did they?Â Despite all the photographic and video evidence provided at the time and since to show that the Apollo 11 and later crews did in fact reach the moon, there are still a large number of people who believe that they never left earth and that the landings were faked. In fact, in opinion polls, anywhere from 6 to 20% of Americans believe this as well as 28% of Russians. So why are they so sure it was all a hoax?
The first person to voice doubts over the moon landings was an author called Bill Kaysing. He wrote a book in 1974 called We Never Went to the Moon; America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle. Kaysing was a senior technical writer hired in 1956 by a company called Rocketdyne, who built the F-1 engines used on the Saturn V rockets powering the Apollo missions. He alleged that the chance of success of the missions was 0.0017%.
The idea was seized by the Flat Earth Society who were the first to accuse NASA of faking the landings, saying they were staged by Walt Disney and made in Hollywood with a script based on Arthur C Clarke’s writings and directed by Stanley Kubrick. The idea was given a boost when the 1978 film Capricorn One showed a hoaxed Mars journey using a spacecraft that looked identical to the Apollo craft. This was a time of distrust of authority in the US following the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal so there was a willingness to believe anything of their government.
As the idea spread, a number of points were put forward as proof that the whole landing was a fake. First among these were the lack of stars in the background of most of the NASA pictures released from the moon. The big black void of space is shown without its typical pinpricks of light and since the moon has no atmosphere, these stars should be easier to see. Of course, it is argued that if all this money was spent to fake the pictures, surely someone would have thought to turn on the stars in the background?
A mysterious rock is cited as another example of the created nature of the landscape, also known as the ‘C’ rock. This is a moon rock on the pictures that appears to have a C stamped on it and is used as an example of the created nature of the scene. NASA’s answer is that this is merely a photo glitch when a stray hair came into contact during the photo developing process or that the photo itself is the hoax. It may even be an example of the phenomena known as pareidolia – the mind sees something familiar in an object, such as faces in clouds.
The shadows of the astronauts have a degree of inconsistency that raised many questions from those studying the pictures. Despite being close together, the shadows seemed to be of different lengths, perhaps due to a faulty light system. The official answer – hilly landscape causing strange effects on the shadows.
The moon has no atmosphere so therefore cannot have any wind but there are images that seem to show the American flag planted by the astronauts flapping in the wind. The explanation for this one does have some merit – the flag was especially made with taut wire along the edges to ensure it didn’t simply fall flat when put into the ground due to the lack of wind and that the movement of putting the pole into the ground caused the flap.
Why fake it?
These are just a few of the examples of proof of a hoax that are given by those who believe one was perpetrated. But perhaps the most interesting question isn’t so much how as why? Why would the US government and its space agency construct such an elaborate plot to con the world?
To understand the possible reasons, head back to the 1960s. It was the Cold War and the US was in fierce competition with the Soviet Union for domination of space. When President John F Kennedy said in his 1962 acceptance speech that the US would put a man on the moon before the decade was out, a new era of the space race began. The Soviets had been putting unmanned spacecraft on the Moon since 1959 and in 1962, released various craft that were getting closer to the manned mission. If the hoax was perpetrated by the government then perhaps the realisation that the mission could not be accomplished meant they decided to pretend that it had. Some say the Soviets would have known the spacecraft never left earth but others point out they didn’t have the technology to track deep spacecraft until well into 1972, three years later.
Another theory is that it was NASA itself without the knowledge of the larger government that created the fake landing to ensure it continued to receive the huge funding it currently had. They needed to fulfil the goal set by President Kennedy and wanted the money to keep coming, so they faked the landings to ensure their budget for years to come.
Finally, with all good hoaxes there may be casualties when those involved get cold feet and decide to tell the truth of what they were involved in. The moon landings fake has a group of these potential casualties, as documented by a program on Fox Entertainment. They allege that ten astronauts and two civilians were killed as part of the cover-up.
One example is Theodore Freeman who was killed when ejecting from a T-38 in 1964 that had suffered a bird strike. Both Elliot See and Charlie Basset were also killed in a T-38 crash in bad weather in 1966 while Edward Givens died in a car accident in 1967. Another T-38 death was Clifton Williams, also killed while ejecting in 1967. Finally, Thomas Ronald Baron died when his car was hit by a train in 1967, six days after testifying before the House Subcommittee on NASA Oversight convening the Apollo 1 fire. Even the man sent by NASA to debunk the Fox show, Brian D Welch, died of a heart attack aged 42.
Whether you believe in the moon landings or their status as a hoax, there is something enduring about the idea that someone created the whole spectacle for some reason. Perhaps until we go back to the moon and show conclusive proof that others have been there before, the debate will remain.