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Why Do People Persist in Denying the Moon Landings?

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In the summer of 2009 the United States celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the first Moon landing, Apollo 11. Amidst all of the hoopla virtually every news story, especially in the electronic world, made some comment about a supposedly rising belief that humans have never landed on the Moon.  Why?

Buzz Aldrin

This image of Buzz Aldrin saluting the U.S. flag on the Moon in 1969 is often used by Moon landing deniers as evidence that the landing was filmed on Earth, because the flag appears to be waving in the breeze, and we all know there is no breeze on the Moon. When astronauts were planting the flagpole they rotated it back and forth to better penetrate the lunar soil (anyone who’s set a blunt tent-post will know how this works). Of course the flag waved—no breeze required!

Of course, from almost the point of the first Apollo missions, a small group of Americans have denied that it had taken place. This group seems to be expanding as the events of Apollo recede into history. Aided by a youth movement that does not remember what went down in the Apollo era and for whom distrust of government runs high, it is among that cadre of Americans where those who are skeptical have proliferated. Jaded by so many other government scandals, these younger members of society whose recollection of Apollo is distant to begin with finds it easy to believe the questioning they see on myriad Moon hoax web sites. Lack of understanding of science and failure to employ critical analytical skills make them more susceptible to this type of hucksterism.

There has been considerable research on the parts of society that embrace conspiracy theories of all types. Arguing that conspiracism writ large represents a fundamental part of the political system, legal scholar Mark Fenster claims in Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (Minnesota, 2008), that such conspiracies represent “a polarization so profound that people end up with an unshakable belief that those in power ‘simply can’t be trusted’.”

At the time of the first landings, opinion polls showed that overall less than five percent “doubted the moon voyage had taken place.” Fueled by conspiracy theorists of all stripes, this number has grown over time. In a 2004 poll, while overall numbers remained about the same, among Americans between 18 and 24 years old “27% expressed doubts that NASA went to the Moon,” according to pollster Mary Lynne Dittmar. Doubt is different from denial, but this represents a trend that seemed to be growing over time among those who did not witness the events.

Perhaps this situation should not surprise us. A lot of other truly weird beliefs exist in society. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt has been philosophical about this turn: “If people decide they’re going to deny the facts of history and the facts of science and technology, there’s not much you can do with them. For most of them, I just feel sorry that we failed in their education.”

While it is inappropriate for us to take this denial seriously and opinion surveys show consistently that few do, for those raised in the postmodern world of the latter twentieth century where the nature of truth is so thoroughly questioned it is more likely to gain a footing.

The media, especially, have fueled doubts over the years. While this may not be viewed as a definitive statement, a child’s bib I have seen places the blame squarely on the media’s back. It reads: “Once upon a time people walked on the moon. They picked up some rocks. They planted some flags. They drove a buggy around for a while. Then they came back. At least that’s what grandpa said. The TV guy said it was all fake. Grandpa says the TV guy is an idiot. Someday, I want to go to the moon too.”

No question, the February 2001 airing of the Fox special Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? changed the nature of the debate. In this instance a major network presented a conspiracy scenario without any serious rebuttal that might have been offered. As USA Today (April 9, 2001) reported in the aftermath of the show: “According to Fox and its respectfully interviewed ‘experts’—a constellation of ludicrously marginal and utterly uncredentialed ‘investigative journalists’—the United States grew so eager to defeat the Soviets in the intensely competitive 1960s space race that it faked all six Apollo missions.”

JFK

President John F. Kennedy in his historic message to a joint session of the Congress, on May 25, 1961 declared, “…I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Shown in the background are, (left) Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and (right) Speaker of the House Sam T. Rayburn.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans made it possible to reach the Moon. This launch of Apollo 11 represents one of the most watched events in human history. It defies credulity that so many people could have perpetrated such a hoax.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans made it possible to reach the Moon. This launch of Apollo 11 represents one of the most watched events in human history. It defies credulity that so many people could have perpetrated such a hoax.

The Fox show raised the profile of Moon landing deniers. And it sparked considerable response. Marc Norman at the University of Tasmania quipped, “Fox should stick to making cartoons. I’m a big fan of The Simpsons!”

Whereas NASA had refrained from officially responding to these charges—avoiding anything that might dignify the claims—the Fox show demanded that it change its approach. After the Fox program first aired, NASA released a one-paragraph press release entitled, “Apollo: Yes, We Did,” that was minimalist to say the least. It also posted a NASA information sheet originally issued in 1977 to readdress some of the concerns and pointed people with questions to various Internet sites containing responses. NASA officials added, “To some extent debating this subject is an insult to the thousands who worked for years to accomplish the most amazing feats of exploration in history. And it certainly is an insult to the memory of those who have given their lives for the exploration of space.”

Denials of the Moon landings appropriately should be denounced as crackpot ideas. I look forward to the time when we return to the Moon and can tour “Tranquility Base” for ourselves.

Roger D. Launius is a senior curator in the Space History Division of the National Air and Space Museum.

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115 thoughts on “Why Do People Persist in Denying the Moon Landings?

  1. A very interesting piece of evidence to skeptics like Mindy, is the Apollo 15 mission back in 1971. Astronaut David Scott tested Galileos principle on the moon, by dropping a feather and a hammer , and both hit the ground at the same time. Now here on earth that wouldn’t work, there is air resistance, the hammer would drop first. The feather would be slowed down, but on the moon, they are in a vacum, so therefore there is no air resistance, and they fall at the same time. I think people should remember we didn’t have the special effects back in 1969 like we have today, so faking a moon landing is out of the question. it’s easier to just go to the moon.

  2. Conspiracists come up with many excuses for why they think everything was fake, from” the pictures are to good to be true” to the always persistent” why have t we been back?” Neither excuse offers any proof it was faked. The claim that their are no visible stars is a claim often made. First, it’s daylight on the moon, second the shudder speed was adjusted to allow for that. If not, the astronauts would be bright, and unclear, while you would then see the stars. It’s actually very simple photography logic, that’s all. I feel many conspiracy theorists jump to conclusions with these hoaxes. I personally think it would be cool if it was a hoax, but it’s true. Just watch the moon buggy, when it kicks up dirt, it falls right back down without forming clouds. That’s because they are in a vacum, they can also be in a giant soundstage with all the air removed, although that’s just crazy! Why would nasa go through all this fakery and then get caught? It’s just rediculous the kinds of things people try to think up as why they claim we never made it to the moon. I know it’s fact, and I hope someday you hoaxers finally do better research and learn.

  3. conspiracy theorists always wanted to be “proved” wrong because it is far more difficult to disprove a negative of that magnitude without something spectacular like taking them to the moon themselves…

    well..here’s the thing, you actually could be taken to the moon..or very close. what does it cost? 25 million dollars? crack open that piggy bank, get your best cameras, lighting gear and a good flag and let spacex know you need to get to the moon stat to disprove that we got there in ’69. im sure they would take ya..

  4. I agree, I looked for years, the hoax is garbage. People can’t accept the truth, it’s not good enough for them.

  5. A conspiracy theorist in his 40s who believed the moon landing was a hoax once asked me what was the point in knowing algebra. Well, poor guy won’t be able to leave a comment on here, will he? Enough said.

  6. Of course it happened. Facts! The communications between the astronauts and earth were not scrambled. So anyone could listen in including the soviets. They had no reason to lie and help the us. If communications weren’t coming from the moon, someone would have noticed it was fake. People aren’t THAT stupid! Conspiracy folks hate that one.

  7. All I needed to know was, Van Allen Belts. You can’t withstand radiation without a lead protection. The LEM’s did not have lead. Too many inconsistancies. I’d rather not believe government in anything they say or do, most likely I’ll be right. Believe what you wish. Why else does the government/NASA keep going with the lies, they know you will believe them. Of course this post will be deleted. After all NASA is watching.

  8. Gerald it sounds like your a little paranoid. Is nasa in on everything? No, just overactive imaginations. The Van Allen belts are one thing theorists try to use as evidence we never made it to the moon. You don’t need feet of shielding. The astronaus travelled through the weakest points, and they traveled quickly, so they made it safe. Now if they paused for a while that would be dangerous. It’s how it was done. Many hoaxers believe conspiracy sites without question, but refuse facts. Why? We made it to the moon six times, and never got caught? Nope, it’s real, but conspiracy folks don’t believe facts. Are the history books wrong? “In on it” too? Paranoia. Your post won’t be deleted. Not everyone is out to get you, you just have a misunderstanding with your facts.

  9. Many people overestimate the dangers of the Van Allen belts. That is right,they didn’t need feet of shielding, they traveled through the belts safeli. It’s a shame people have to be taught about the moonlandings, this stuff was taught in school. It’s not about believing everything we are told, study your facts, and you will see we landed on the moon. No conspiracy!

  10. Many conspiracy sites try to come up with as many lies as they can. Gullible people unfortunately fall for these theories, filled with misinformation. The hoax crowd is relentless trying to prove their theory, sad thing it’s all been proven wrong! It never seems to stop them though. I love conspiracies, but the moon is not one of them. The soviets were watching us, any slip up, and they would have known it was fake. The problem is people don’t bother to study history. They thing everything is a hoax. You cannot reason with these people, they will call you foolish for believing that it happened. I studied this theory, and it’s just nonsense. Any credible scientist knows we went to the moon. These hoaxers think they are smarter than the scientists at nasa. They aren’t. There many things they claim are inconsistent. Well, lighting is different on the moon. The moon dust is reflective, the moon and the earth are reflecting light. I promise the scientists at nasa are well trained, they know what they are doing. The astronauts were trained as well. I only wish hoaxers would get educated, and learn instead of believing lies from other hoaxers.

  11. Sounds like people love lies and conspiracies. the van allen belts are dangerous, but the astronauts went through quickly, and they went through a weak point, thats how they made it .There was no hoax. If there was a hoax, how come no one ever exposed it? people arent stupid, the public was watching, along with the world. the missions were tracked. If people want to believe lies, and nonsense like this, let them. Some just cant handle facts, its not interesting enough. What about the rock samples from the moon? Fake right? The government is in on it? No, just people overreacting.

  12. The van allen belts are a favorite topic of hoaxers. They are misunderstood. No one is arguing the dangers of space, but the astronauts did not stay in the belts long, they made the joutney in an hour or so, The lem provided enough shielding to protect the astronauts from the belts. Hoaxers forget we went to the moon six times. Six times and never got caught? Really people, this is what happens when people fail to get educated, and do proper research. Most will argue people believe anything they are told. What about the garbage on conspiracy sites? Accepted as the truth without question, but facts are not. Makes no sense.. It happened, people need to move on, and get over it.

  13. The Van Allen belts are dangerous but only if the astronauts stood there for a while. They passed through rapidly, so therefore they made it safe. Conspiracy sites are filled with lies, people shouldn’t listen to anything they say.

  14. A fake moonlanding? It’s 2016, there are so many proven facts available, plus evidence hoax believers didn’t know existed. I’m glad these people aren’t in charge of our country.

  15. Gerald, you can stand radiation if you are not exposed to it for too long. The Apollo craft traversed the Van Allen belts in about 10 minutes or so, thus exposing the astronauts to the equivalent radiation dose of a dental X-Ray. Also there are types of radiation, the stuff in the Van Allen regions is made up of high velocity particles – not the same kind of stuff as comes out of nuclear reactors, This type of particle radiation is actually absorbed by hydrogen rich materials so a layer of water or even polythene would actually cut down the radiation dose received by the astronauts.

    Hope this helps to understand things a bit better.

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