Millions believe that Nasa hired a famed filmmaker to fake the 1969 moon landingexplores the conspiracy theories, and seeks rational answers to them.
Fifty years ago, on 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong emerged from Apollo 11 and uttered the immortal words: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.
“Happy Landing for Mooncraft,” “Moon craft makes happy landing”, ran the headline next day in the Cork Examiner, which carried a photo of the “three who made history”: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin. In an emotional speech, Pope Paul called the project a “great spatial enterprise”.
Many of us who were around back then can vividly remember where we were and what we were doing — perhaps staying up all night if we lived in Europe.
The Eagle “never landed”
But some claim that the Eagle lunar module never “landed”, that it was “fake news” mocked up in a secret film studio by NASA, in order to win the space race.
After all, travelling to the moon had always been the subject of fantasy.
In the second century AD, Lucian describes a voyage to the moon on a whirlwind, involving a confrontation with strange beasts, and men who sweat milk of such quality that cheese could be made from it, “by dripping in a little of the honey which runs from their noses”. The English knight Astolfo, in Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516), flies to the moon in a flaming chariot, drawn by mythical creatures, and brings back Orlando’s lost wits in a bottle.
In Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone (1638), a Spaniard accomplishes the journey in 12 days using a contraption pulled by geese.
Daniel Defoe (1705) describes travel between China and the moon in an engine called the consolidator, made of 513 feathers.
A bellows repairer from Rotterdam creates a giant hot air balloon to journey to the moon in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (1835).
Jules Verne’s and HG Wells’ science fiction novels inspired Georges Méliès’ 14-minute film, A Trip to the Moon (1902). Six magicians/astronomers travel in a cannon-propelled, bullet-shaped capsule that lands straight into the eye of the Man in the Moon. Walking around without spacesuits, they experience snow showers and fight off aliens, before tipping the capsule over a ledge and returning to earth. They land in the ocean — without a scratch — and are later crowned for their achievement.
Not the first hoax
Masquerading as a six-part supplement to the prestigious Edinburgh Journal of Science, The New York Sun in 1835 covered Sir John Herschel’s fantastic lunar discoveries.
Using a gigantic telescope, the renowned astronomer claimed to have seen herds of bison, reindeer and zebra, and “creatures that looked like humans, had wings, and could fly”.
The public took the reports at face value, and the newspaper had to issue an apology.
Was the July 20, 1969 episode simply another hoax — “one giant lie for mankind”?
This is what Bill Kaysing argued in We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Million Dollar Swindle (1976).
Kaysing claimed that the USA did not have the technology to get men to the moon. Instead, he theorised that 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 to a military cargo plane that dropped them eight days later in the Pacific, where it was recovered.
In the meantime, NASA officials hired Stanley Kubrick to film the “moon landing” at a high-security military base in the Nevada desert.
If proof were needed of a hoax,all you had to do was look at the ‘dodgy’ photos.
The Stars and Stripes is fluttering in the wind, but the moon has no atmosphere.
The flag had just been unwrapped, and rippled as the flagpole was dug into the ground.
No stars are visible in the sky, whereas space is full of them.
The cameras were set for quick shutter speeds and would not capture dim light from stars.
The backdrop of every photo looks the same even though they were supposedly taken miles apart.
Detailed analysis shows subtle differences in the positions of hills.
The astronauts’ footprints would have needed water to form.
On the moon, footprints can form in dry dust.
The Eagle module weighed 15.5 tonnes 17 tons but failed to produce a blast crater when it landed.
The module braked before landing, to avoid crashing into the moon’s surface.
No flame was visible from the launch rocket, proving it was a toy.
The rocket used hydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide, which produces a nearly transparent exhaust.
The spaceship and crew would never have survived the journey through the Van Allen belts without being fried by huge doses of radiation.
The craft moved through the Van Allen belts in less than two hours, when they were at their lowest intensity. The astronauts received no more radiation than from a chest x-ray.
The ‘moonrock’ was picked up on an expedition to the Antarctic two years earlier. One piece had a label, “C”, suggesting it was a prop that someone had carelessly placed the wrong way round for the photo.
The first meteorite in Antarctica was not discovered until 1981. The “C” was possibly a stray hair or thread.
Strange shadows, objects ‘pasted into photos’, and doubts about the ‘too short’ communication delay between earth and moon have also been explained away.
When film-maker Bart Sibrelto dared to suggest to Buzz Aldrin in 2002 that “the moon landings were faked,” the 72-year-old astronaut replied by punching him in the face.
So, why do a significant minority of young Americans (27% in a 2004 poll) still express doubts? Perhaps because today conspiracy theories are all the rage: there are Holocaust deniers, those who claim Princess Diana was killed by British secret agents, and climate change sceptics who deny human responsibility for global warming.
But when it comes to the moon, a cover-up involving thousands of people is a preposterous idea.
It would involve silencing astronauts and their families, scientists, technicians, and film crews: a whistleblower would have come forward during the last 50 years.
The moon landings must really have happened.
Not ‘the real thing’
Try telling that to Una Ronald.
Ronald, who lived in Perth, Western Australia, at the time, maintains that in the footage broadcast there, a Coke bottle “rolled across” the lower right quadrant of her TV screen.
“It’s a fake, it’s a set-up”, she exclaimed, “they’re not on the moon at all, they’re at some lonely site in America, or on some huge indoor set…”
While some viewers simply dismissed the image as litter thrown out of the spacecraft, others wrote letters to the newspapers swearing they had seen the bottle; therefore something was amiss.
Una was expecting things to “brew up” into a “glorious dingdong”, but there was nothing. The Coke bottle, that she claims was “edited out” of subsequent broadcasts, was never to be seen again.