In a recent survey conducted for E&T magazine, published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, eleven of 1009 people thought that Buzz Lightyear was the first person to make it to the Moon. The Toy Story film character was named alongside Louis Armstrong, and eight of those people thought the late jazz musician made the first moon walk. Less than three-quarters of those surveyed correctly answered that Neil Armstrong was the first step onto the Moon—and 44 percent considered the missions a waste of money. And then there are those (25%) who believe the entire thing was staged.
In 1969, the United States’ trip to the moon captivated millions of people around the world and brought glory to the U.S. space program. It was the greatest technological feat of 20th century, and inspired many to push the limits of what is possible. But some believe this was all a lie—that the historic even and the five subsequent Apollo moon landings were all staged in an effort to one-up Soviet rivals.
Conspiracy theorists have pointed to flaws in the pictures and footage from the Apollo missions as ‘proof’ that the moon landings were staged. Some have noted that the American flag appeared to be waving in a breeze. NASA confirmed the flag waved a little when deployed due to residual momentum from contact with the astronauts—but that explanation was dismissed.
“The Apollo moon landing is mankind’s most outstanding engineering event, so it’s deeply worrying that such a large number of people should think the first moon walk never happened and that the public’s belief in the legitimacy of science and technology seems to be declining over time,” Dickson Ross, Editor in Chief, commented.
If you Google “Apollo moon landing hoax,” you will see more than 1.5 billion results.
“We love conspiracies,” Roger Launius, a senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington told reporters. “Going to the moon is hard to understand. And it’s easier for some people to accept the answer that, ‘Well, maybe we didn’t go to the moon.’”
“If people don’t think we were able to go to the moon, then they don’t believe in the ingenuity of human achievement,” Stuart Robbins, a Ph.D. candidate in astrophysics, added. “Going to the moon and returning astronauts safely back to Earth is arguably one of the most profound achievements in human history, and so when people simply believe it was a hoax, they lose out on that shared experience and doubt what humans can do.”
Conspiracy theories about the Apollo missions were first sparked after the last astronaut returned from the moon in 1972. Bill Kaysing, a technical writer for the company that built rocket engines for NASA’s Apollo program, published a book in 1974 called: “We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle.” In the book, Kaysing argues that NASA lacked the technology in 1969 to safely land humans on the moon.
Instead, Kaysing theorized NASA sent the Apollo 11 astronauts up in a rocket until it was out of sight, then transferred the lunar capsule and its three passengers into a military cargo plane that dropped the capsule eight days later in the Pacific. During that time, NASA officials filmed the “moon landing” at Area 51.
As ridiculous as it may seem, there is a huge following for this conspiracy.
“I think it would have been a far greater achievement to have mocked the whole thing up AND to have kept it quiet for four decades,” leading space scientist Professor John Zarnecki commented. This is an argument many critics agree with. It would be impossible for tens of thousands of NASA employees and Apollo contractors to keep such a monumental secret for four decades.
In a statement about these hoax believers, NASA made a great point: “Conspiracy theories are always difficult to refute because of the impossibility of proving a negative.”