At 22:56 on 20 July 1969 EDT (02:56 21 July GMT) as the world looked on with bated breath, Neil Armstrong took man’s first steps on the Moon. The historic landing was the pinnacle of the Apollo programme and the efforts of some 400,000 people, encompassing some of the the greatest technological and scientific advancements of our time.
There is no doubt that on 20 July 1969 history was made, but in what way? Whilst the Moon landings have continued to capture the imaginations of many, others believe we never made it to the Moon at all. Instead for these conspiracy theorists, the date marks the day that America pulled off the biggest hoax in history.
In the late 1970s, long after the dust on the Moon had settled and Saturn V had returned to Earth, Bill Kaysing, a former employee of Rocketdyne, the company that designed the Saturn V, publicised his belief that astronauts did not land on the Moon.
In his 1979 self-published pamphlet entitled ‘We Never Went to the Moon: America’s 30 Billion Dollar Swindle’ Kaysing claims that NASA did not have the capability to put man on the Moon and safely return him. Kaysing also discredited the images shown of the Moon, questioning the lack of stars, the absence of blast craters under the lunar module, among other anomalies.
In an uneasy and distrustful society rocked by the Kennedy’s assassination, an event which birthed its own conspiracy, and the lies exposed about the Vietnam War, the claims soon gained traction.
Most Moon landing conspiracy theories argue the Apollo missions never made it to the Moon, instead scenes enacting the event were filmed in a studio and were broadcast around the world. Many doubters built on Kaysing’s original claims and more elaborate theories emerged
One theory is that film director Stanley Kubrik helped NASA film the fake Moon landing footage. Whilst Kubrik’s Moon landing is a movie I am sure film fans everywhere would like to see, unfortunately it does not exists. Hard evidence exists that proves that man did indeed land on the Moon.
Images take from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show motor tracks and footprints left on the surface of the Moon which, due to the nature of Moon dust particles, still remain. These images have been corroborated by other countries, therefore discrediting claims of image doctoring. Additionally, the 382kg of Moon rock which was bought back from the lunar surface has been shared, studied and validated by scientists all around the world.
There are many facets to the conspiracy theory argument, all of which have been debunked, however the apparent fluttering of the US flag in images and videos of the landing is one of the most prevalent.
If there is one thing Moon landing conspiracy theorist are right about, it’s the airless environment of the Moon. With this in mind, the flags were fitted with a rod in order to ensure it did not flap down. As the astronauts placed the flagpole into to the ground, the fabric of the flag was disturbed and would have remained that way due to the lack of strong gravity on the Moon. The flag was also creased during travel which contributed to the rippling illusion.
In the videos, the flag appears to move back and forth. The astronauts twisted the pole into place causing the fabric to wave like a pendulum. Without air resistance the flag would have continued to swing for some time. In the videos the flag pole is shown to vibrate slightly before remaining still.
Whilst stars would have made for a prettier picture, the lack of them does not disprove the Moon landings despite claims made by doubters. The lack of stars can easily be explained by lack of visibility. The Moon landings were conducted during lunar mornings with the Sun outshining any stars.
Some claims go further, arguing that all space travel would be impossible due to the Van Allen Belts of radiation which surround the Earth. However the speed of the spacecraft travelling through the belts, combined with the protection afforded by its materials, ensured low and safe levels of radiation exposure.
Today the Moon landing conspiracy theory still prevails, nurtured by a post 9/11 climate where distrust in leaders remains high and claims that governments have spread diseases and orchestrated shootings and attacks are not unheard of. Therefore the prevalence of conspiracy theories may serve to signify greater societal issues, highlighting disillusionment with leadership.
The Moon landing joins a repertoire of conspiracy theories which are easily spread through the internet, a luxury Bill Kaysing did not have when he originally published his theory. A 2012 YouGov study revealed 1 in 6 Britons believe the Moon landings were staged or faked. Whilst 10% of Americans and, perhaps unsurprisingly, 57% of Russians believe the event was a hoax.
The appeal and spread of conspiracy theories may also be helped by a simple love of story telling. Normally the stuff of Hollywood films, conspiracy theories can provide a thrilling alternative narrative to more mundane or distressing news.