- There has long been a suspicion in some quarters that
the Moon landings were faked. Nasa, however, has always maintained a dignified
silence on the subject. Until now... Andrew Gumbel reports on a new twist
in the greatest conspiracy theory of all...
- To understand everything you need to know about the Great
Moon Landing Conspiracy, you don't have to go back to 20 July 1969, the
day that Neil Armstrong's celebrated moonwalk (or perhaps, given the territory
we are entering, we should say purported moonwalk) was broadcast live to
an awestruck world.
- You don't even have to go back to the summer of 1978,
the release date for a highly suggestive sci-fi B-movie called Capricorn
One, in which the first manned mission to Mars is revealed to be a colossal
fake staged by Nasa - a plotline that gave a lot of otherwise trusting
people some irresistibly scurrilous ideas about the true size of that "giant
leap for mankind" nine years earlier.
- No, the really crucial turning point in the conspiracy
came just last year - 15 February 2001, to be precise. That was the date
that the Fox television network created a headache for all right-thinking
rocket scientists by broadcasting a curious hour-long programme entitled
Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? There was only ever going to
be one way to answer that question, especially with a host such as Mitch
Pileggi, an actor from The X-Files and, sure enough, the programme claimed
to present compelling evidence that man never set foot on the Moon. Armstrong,
Buzz Aldrin et al were nothing better than frauds and government stooges,
it alleged; the whole thing had been staged inside a film studio on a US
military base somewhere in the Mojave desert.
- Why should we believe that? Well, the programme asserted,
the US flag planted on the Moon's surface is shown in the television footage
to be fluttering, and we all know there is no breeze of any kind on the
Moon. The photographs taken by the astronauts are suspiciously well-framed
and, significantly, do not include any of the Moon's night sky, even though
there would surely be a stunning array of stars on view. Even more significantly,
the shadows in the pictures are clearly coming from more than one angle
- a seeming impossibility on the Moon, where the only light source is the
sun, but more than plausible inside the confines of a film studio. As for
the famed Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts, one of them
is marked with a tell-tale letter "C", suggesting the markings
not of some alien life force but of a prop master who forgot to erase his
- It's a wonderfully alluring idea, and a good portion
of Fox's viewership was no doubt sorely tempted to swallow it. Most of
us love a good conspiracy theory and this is one to put up with the best
of them. Could it be that we've been duped all these years? Could it be
that we were right all along to think that putting a man on the Moon was
the very definition of impossibility? It's a delicious thought, and one
whose time has surely come. The world may have been naïve about the
manipulative power of the media back in 1969, but now we're all familiar
with Wag The Dog, The Truman Show and The Matrix, films that suggest we
may not actually be living in the world we perceive around us but rather
in an alternative reality created for political reasons by forces beyond
our control. Much of modern life plays out like a film or a television
drama already (just turn on the 24-hour news channels), so why should the
Moon landings be any different?
- Granted, the Fox programme was not intended as a pinnacle
of investigative journalism - this is a network, after all, whose previous
offerings have included such shameless tabloid romps as When Good Pets
Go Bad and Alien Autopsy - but it caused a sensation none the less. All
sorts of nuts started coming out of the woodwork, peddling their own twists
on the Moon hoax. The internet went crazy with theories and counter-theories.
A "self-taught engineer" from New Jersey called Ralph Rene produced
a monograph, "Nasa Mooned America", in which he referred to the
heroes of the Apollo missions as "astro-nots". (His humour, one
presumes, was also self-taught.) A squint-eyed Tennesseean called Bart
Sibrel produced a video, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon,
in which he claimed to have dug up behind-the-scenes Nasa footage of astronauts
mugging for the cameras. Sibrel also developed an obsessive habit of confronting
former Apollo astronauts and challenging them to swear on the Bible that
they really went up into space. It is a habit that came to an abrupt end
last September when a harried Buzz Aldrin lost his temper and thwacked
him on the nose outside a Beverly Hills hotel. (Sibrel tried to sue for
assault, but the Los Angeles district attorney's office refused to press
- Pretty soon, Nasa itself wondered if a reaction wasn't
in order. So it put out a press release stating, for the record, that there
had been no hoax and that astronauts really did go to the Moon. Unfortunately,
that's pretty much all the press release said, all but inviting the conspiracists
to accuse the space agency of refusing to engage with their arguments -
the implication being that they were too good to refute.
- A few weeks ago, Nasa tried again, announcing that it
was commissioning a respected popular science writer, Jim Oberg, to write
a lengthy pamphlet dismantling the naysayers' arguments one by one. An
enthusiastic Oberg explained how much he was looking forward to the task,
not just because he relished the chance to demolish the sensationalism
of the Fox programme but because he wanted people to understand why such
conspiracy theories arise in the first place. "There is no such thing
as a stupid question," he said. "Every time something like this
comes up, it is an opportunity for teaching and learning."
- But now Nasa has just played into the hands of the conspiracists
all over again by abruptly changing its mind and cancelling Oberg's contract.
Officially, the reason was that the space agency considered the Moon landing
hoax to be so preposterous as to be unworthy of a response. Unofficially,
sources close to Nasa suggested, top management was worried that publicity
over Oberg's book would distract from its current political difficulties
in shoring up the agency's budget. But in that realm that is so far off
from officialdom as to be absent from reality altogether, there was no
doubt what Nasa's decision portended. Almost in unison, every Moon-obsessed
conspiracy theorist floating out in cyberspace gasped in amazement: My
God, these people really do have something to hide!
- It's probably worth stating at this juncture that plenty
of appropriately qualified scientists have examined the evidence and unanimously
concluded that the conspiracy theorists don't have even the beginnings
of a case. Too many things about the Apollo missions were impossible to
fake, from the radio signals picked up at listening stations around the
world to the Moon rocks, which have been subjected to repeated geological
analysis and clearly date back several millennia in an environment that
was entirely devoid of water. (That "C" on the photographed rock
has since been found to have been a hair accidentally introduced when Nasa
was printing up the negatives.) If the US flag on the Moon is kinked in
photographs, it is because it was arranged to look that way. (The astronauts
hung the flag from a horizontal rod across the top to stop it drooping
in the windless atmosphere and purposely did not pull it entirely straight.)
If the shadows go in more than one direction, it is because sunlight is
reflected off the surface of the Moon itself, an effect known to physicists
as Heiligenschein, the German word for a halo. If the stars did not come
out in the photographs, it is because they were too dim in the background.
(Try taking a photo of the night sky on earth with a compact camera and
they will be equally indistinct.)
- Just because the conspiracy theorists don't have a case,
though, doesn't take away from their oddly compelling loopiness. Take the
grandaddy of them all, a septuagenarian rabble-rouser called Bill Kaysing,
whose book We Never Went to the Moon came out in 1974. Kaysing - who has
also taken an interest down the years in the suggestion that Britain paid
the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor - claims to have been in on the ground
floor of the space programme as a researcher for Rocketdyne, a major Nasa
contractor, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In his rather fevered version
of events, the Americans decided to go ahead with the faked landings years
after Russian scientists "proved" that travelling to the Moon
was scientifically impossible. The three astronauts who perished aboard
the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission in 1967 - Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and
Ed White - were, in fact, murdered after they threatened to reveal the
hoax to the world.
- The Apollo 11 mission, meanwhile, was launched with no
astronauts on board and the rocket quickly jettisoned in the South Atlantic,
he claimed. The astronauts spent the entire mission inside a film studio
either at the Area 51 military base in Nevada or at Norton Air Force Base
in San Bernardino, California, and were later dropped by parachute from
a military transport plane over the Pacific. If they were kept out of public
view for a month after their "re-entry", it was to prepare them
for the grotesque lies they were expected to tell.
- The conspiracy has never stopped. The Challenger space
shuttle disaster in 1986 was, in Kayser's opinion, another instance of
government-instigated murder: the lone civilian on board, schoolteacher
Christa McAuliffe, had refused to go along with the lie that you can't
see stars from space and needed to be silenced. Kaysing's evidence? Hey,
who needs evidence when the facts speak so eloquently for themselves?
- One recurring feature of the Moon conspiracy theorists
is their claim that Nasa astronauts have lied, distorted and covered up
the record. Curiously, though, the conspiracists themselves don't stand
up too well under close scrutiny. Kaysing, for example, did indeed work
for Rocketdyne, but as an archivist, not a scientist. His undergraduate
degree was in English literature and he has no specialist scientific knowledge
- Bart Sibrel, meanwhile, likes to say he is a former television
journalist with NBC, when in fact he did no more than work once as a part-time
editor at NBC's Nashville affiliate for a couple of months. (NBC has disowned
him entirely.) His "never before seen footage" of the faked Moon
landing turns out to be a publicly accessible Nasa tape of astronauts preparing,
without subterfuge, to go on television for an interview.
- It would be a mistake, though, to assume that all Moon
conspiracists are as low-calibre as this bunch. At the opposite end of
the spectrum from the hoax advocates is an entirely different, rather more
literate school of conspiracy-mongers whose views are every bit as sensational,
even if they happen not to have been given an airing on national television.
These are the UFO nuts, the true believers in alien life forms. Their line
is that astronauts most definitely did go to the Moon, but that they recovered
far more than a load of rocks. In fact, Nasa found widespread evidence
of an ancient alien civilisation that may or may not still exist - a discovery
so jarring that the agency has been desperately seeking to conceal its
findings from the public ever since.
- This is a natural follow-on from the touchstone of all
UFO theories, the purported alien crash-landing in the New Mexico desert
in 1947. Philip Corso, a former US Army intelligence officer, wrote a book
a few years ago arguing that the space race was at root an effort by both
the US and the Soviet Union to be the first to negotiate an interstellar
treaty with the aliens - the thinking being that whoever could enlist the
support of technologically superior life-forms from elsewhere in the galaxy
would surely win the Cold War and come to dominate political affairs on
earth. Lt-Col Corso did not mention whether such a treaty was ever signed
in the wake of the Moon landings.
- Some more recent theorists take exception to the Moon
hoax school, saying its advocates are an insult to their intelligence,
no less. "Let us be clear; we are all uniformly, unabashedly, conspiracy
theorists here. We are 100 per cent convinced that there has been a cover-up
by Nasa," the authors Richard Hoagland and Michael Bara wrote in a
recent paper published at their Star Trek-influenced website www. enterprisemission.com.
"That said, one thing they did not do, unquestionably, was fake the
Moon landings. In fact, most of the charges made... are so absurd, so easily
discredited, so lacking in any kind of scientific analysis and just plain
common sense that they give legitimate conspiracy theories like ours a
- And the authors go further: the only possible explanation
for Kaysing and his followers, they argue, is that they are themselves
government agents publicising the hoax theory as a smokescreen to mislead
the public and prevent people from asking questions about the real scandal
and the real cover-up. It's a dizzying concept. Hoagland and Bara are careful
to point out that this is only their suspicion; they don't have any evidence
to back it up. But who cares? They've stumbled upon a conspiracy within
a conspiracy. And in this Moon business, that's as good as it gets.
- From Aonghus de Barra
- Hi -
- I've seen quite a few "Moon hoax" videos, visited
Moon hoax websites, read a few books on the subject and pondered it a bit.
I'm in broad agreement with the piece's author in that most of the supposed
'evidence' for a hoax (at least in the sense that the entire thing was
artificial) is outright nonsense, that is repeatedly recycled even after
adequate explanation has been offered. However, there is still one thing
that puzzles me and the conspiracists alike.
- To quote from the aricle: "If the stars did not
come out in the photographs, it is because they were too dim in the background.
(Try taking a photo of the night sky on earth with a compact camera and
they will be equally indistinct.) "
- Now, this at least is poorly researched 'debunking' of
the kind that keeps these myths alive. The fact is, on Earth we cannot
see the stars in daytime because the Sun illuminates our atmosphere, barring
our view with that blue canopy we know so well. That atmosphere is still
there at night, reducing the clarity and brightness of the night sky -
and yet we see the stars. The Moon has no atmosphere, it's skies should
be as clear at 'night' as in 'day' and the stars should be many times brighter,
since they are not dimmed by layers of ozone, air and filth, since (in
other words) it has no 'sky'.
- If you try to take pictures of stars at night with your
compact, you will be using a camera designed for daylight or flash photography,
with a limited range of aperture widths and shutter speeds (if any variation
at all). You will be using ordinary low speed film. You will also be photographing
the stars through the night sky - air full of pollution, dust, heat distortion,
water and at high altitudes ice crystals and ozone. No wonder the lab never
bothers printing those shots.
- On the Moon, you are outfitted with a one-of-a-kind Hassleblad
camera, worth thousands even in it's terrestrial form. The light gathering
properties of the lens would be vastly superior to most Cameras.
- The film was supposedly prepared specially for the mission.And
yet, what would surely be a spectacular vista, an Astronaut by the Lunar
Rover, with the Milky Way shining in the sky behind, has never been taken.
- The official explanation as I understand it, is that
the Cameras were impossible to operate through the thick and pressurised
gloves worn by the Astronauts. So, the decision was made to make the camera
as simple as possible: Fixed focus, fixed aperture and shutter speed. Point
'n shoot. Not a big risk, as the lighting conditions on the moon don't
vary! Unfortunately, the moon is a very bright place, since the sun is
not impeded by an atmosphere - so an exposure time was required that meant
the Stars were not visible. But hang on, isn't Earth in a few shots? Surely
the Stars, being so many times brighter from that perspective would show
up? Seems not.
- No doubt this expanation may be true, but it still poses
the question: Why have no photographs of the Stars ever returned from space?
- Surely a second camera with a longer exposure, or a Camera
inside either lander or orbiter with variable settings could capture the
stars? Why don't we see Stars on the shuttle missions, since the video
cameras onboard have automatic shutters and low light sensitivity? It just
seems odd that it IS possible to photograph stars from down here, even
with a $30 "Compact" camera with good film, and yet no attempt
to capture such a scene from space has been attempted!
- Interestingly, the Astronauts themselves describe space
as ' the blackest black ' and say that they did not see stars from the
Moon. I don't get this - how can they not see what we can see from Earth,
even through our murky Atmosphere?
- Even if the explanation is that the glare of the sun
reduces visibility, all the Astronaut would need to do would be look away
from the surface, back to the sun, and they should be able to peer out,
unobstructed, at the Stars. Apparently not.
- I look forward to Mr. Oberg's book (if it ever comes
now!) as this is the one thing, for me at least, that remains uniquely
curious about not only the Moon missions, but Space photography itself.