It’s been half a century since Neil Armstrong said those famous words, but there’s still a shockingly large number of people who think that giant leap for mankind was a Hollywood fabrication. Estimates go as high as 20% among the US population, that’s not even including the tinfoil hat-wearing critics of the American government around the world.
There’s a whole bunch of interesting psychological phenomena behind conspiracy theories. Despite the enormous amount of evidence disproving them, moon landing truthers are locked into their beliefs by confirmation bias – basically, it’s a hell of a lot easier to be convinced by the ‘proof’ if you already suspect that something suss is going on. Plus, when believers are confronted by the facts, they’ll do anything to avoid the cognitive dissonance of changing their minds.
It must be frustrating for the heroes of the Apollo 11 mission to have to defend their careers from armchair expert skeptics all the time. In fact, Buzz Aldrin eventually got sick enough of the harassment to punch a very confrontational conspiracy theorist in the face in 2002. NASA itself has to repeatedly issue a fact sheet in the moon landing’s defense.
So as a homage to Buzz, Neil, and Michael, and all the other astronauts who followed in their footsteps, here’s a brief debunking of some of the most ridiculous theories about the moon landings.
When scientists take photos from space they use reticules to provide a point of reference for distance, which comes in handy if the images get distorted. That’s why most of the photos from the Apollo missions had ‘crosshairs’ all over them. Theorists have pointed out that some of the crosshairs appear to be behind pieces of equipment, as if the pictures had been later edited. But there’s a simple reason for it- the camera technology being used to project the reticules onto the image was very susceptible to exposure issues, and as a result sometimes they aren’t fully visible.
Continuing with the theme of photographic over-analysis, theorists have drawn a tonne of red circles around suspicious objects in the pictures from the moon’s surface. One of them is the ‘C-rock‘, allegedly a set designer’s mistake (or alien trolling). Then there’s the apparent reflection of a stage light in the visor of Apollo 12’s Pete Conrad. The explanation for the crosshairs works here too- it’s probably nothing more than a photo development flaw, or a helmet scratch in the case of the visor.
The Missing Impact Crater
It seems obvious that the jet propulsion of a landing spacecraft would create a crater in the ground, or at least a huge dust cloud- especially on a gritty surface like the moon’s. But this falsehood comes out of several very obvious scientific misconceptions. For one, the atmosphere is a vacuum, plus the lunar soil is way denser than it looks. Then there’s the weight of the module itself- on the moon, it weighs about one-tenth of a car tyre.
The Van Allen Belt
The boldest claim of them all is that no astronaut could even survive the trip to the moon. This was the logic that inspired Bill Kaysing to start the conspiracy theory in the first place, and it argues that the radiation-filled field around the Earth known as the Van Allen Belt was a deadly force that NASA had no clue how to overcome. There’s only one problem with that. Astronauts would only be exposed to a sixth of the lethal dose of radiation on a four hour trip- and that’s if they were floating around outside of their spacecraft, a la Sandra Bullock.
Who better to film the fake landing than celebrated film director Stanley Kubrick? After all, his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey would more than qualify him for the role.
The US government certainly did a good job of keeping him quiet if he was involved in such a secret project, but artists are brilliant at finding creative loopholes. People who believe the moon landing was a hoax think that Kubrick left easter eggs in his later films, and that The Shining was an extended metaphor for Stanley suffering in silence with the secret. It’s actually kind of compelling.
A documentary maker named Jay Weidner pieced it all together. The twins in The Shining represent Apollo’s predecessor, Project Gemini. The haunted room is number 237, and the Moon is 237 000 miles from Earth (only it’s not, it’s actually 238 855 miles but don’t let that stop you, Weidner). And of course, the centerpiece of the theory: Danny is wearing a sweater with Apollo 11 knitted on it. Seems a little on the nose for a creative genius like Kubrick.