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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.”


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

  1. If it real how? How do we not go back again? Are government doesn’t care about money so why not back? Also the suit they wore was enough to use and even now we don’t have the technology in the suit. Outside it is below 200 degrees without sun. With sun its over 200 degrees. We have no suit that can keep a human alive with that. Weird I’m sure in the 60s

  2. Phil I think you need a little education. Many people deny things because they don’t know how something works. The us went to the moon six times. All real, not fake, you just need to learn more about the space program.

  3. Never underestimate what a lack of education can do! People that deny the moon landings, are not all dumb lunatics, but they are all wrong. There is zero evidence of a hoax, and plenty of evidence to support the landings. Most hoaxers tend to believe conspiracy sites filled with wrong information and outright lies. They believe all the stuff on sites, but ignore the evidence and facts. Strange. Some people just have their minds made up , and no one will ever convince them. When someone is uneducated about a subject, they find some things impossible, but one a hoaxer learns about how we made it to the moon, things become easier once you learn how it was done. Most are hoax believers, are people from foreign countries with little or no understanding. Of the space program , so they deny it. Not everything is a conspiracy.

  4. I’m just wondering. In the photo of the astronaut descending the ladder on the dark side of the lander, how is he illuminated where the shadow on that side is black. Shouldn’t he also be a dark silhouette instead of well defined and bright? Physicist Kaku said the flag was made of tin foil bent to resemble the flag waving. Somehow I never heard that theory.

  5. The plasma in the “belts” is very hot, up to 3000 degrees. Steel melts at 3000 degrees. As far as radiation, you would need a capsule with 4 foot thick lead walls to protect from that intense radiation. Also, why did NASA produce a video touting their “Orion” mission -2012-2014 to study the Van Alan Radiation Belts to make sure it is safe to send a human through it. Until then they cannot send anyone through it. It would be a one-way trip. I don’t mush-out my brains with video games and any other technological mind-stupifying device.
    Just asking.

  6. Mindy, always remember the earth is not the moon. The reason the astronaut is illuminated is the moon dust is reflecting light off the lunar surface. The reason they didn’t need feet of steel on the lunar lander to protect them from the van Allen belts, is the scientists pinpointed the thinnest parts of the belts, and just went though it fast enough to not cause the astronauts any harm. Many hoaxers tend to over estimate the radiation in space, which is one reason why some are skeptical. Most just need to be better educated.

  7. Pingback: No, The Moon Landings Weren’t Faked. (And Here’s How You Can Tell.) | Lights in the Dark

  8. Hmmmm, interesting Then why do dentists place a lead shield over your chest when they x-ray your teeth? There was never mention of any lead used, at all, on the spacecraft. I would think there is a lot more radiation in those “Belts” then in a dentist chair, where an x-ray lasts only seconds. Also, how were they able to film Armstrong disembarking from the craft with the camera way out from the craft? How did the camera get way out there on it’s own? And why did Rumsfeld and Kissinger, with Nixon’s blessings, say they would need to do a pre-filming of the stepping on the moon because there was no other way to capture this event? And how was it that, if that were the case, that it was filmed on earth first, that the quality, or lack of, was identical to the quality of all other films of the six moon walks? In the 70’s I had the privilege of escorting James Irwin through Disneyland (as his VIP tour guide) and he was very hesitant to answer any questions about his walk on the moon. The one question he did answer was, “What was it like to look down on earth from so far away?” and his answer was, “It made me realize how small my problems really were.” He was the calmest person I’ve ever met. I did a test on the lighting thing and could find nothing that could possibly convince me that on the moon, the moon dust would reflect as bright as the sun. Hmmm? Not convincing me.

  9. There are lots of interesting things mindy. All six moon landings are genuine. There is plenty of indisputable evidence to support the landings. They are a fact of history. Many people simply do not understand physics, photography, and the nasa program, so of course some are skeptical, but some do not believe what they don’t understand. The radiation from the van Allen belts can be dangerous, but scientists carfully calculated the faster and weakest points to pass through, with minimal radiation, plus the ship protected them from harm, they didn’t need feet of metal to protect them as for the camera it was connected to the leg of the lunar module, and Armstrong lowered it before he walked on the moon, it was controlled remotely on earth. And when the astronauts went to walk on the moon, it was attached to their suits. Remember the moon dust is about 10 percent reflective, and also it was daylight on the moon, people forget that part. All of this is fact and you can look it up for yourself. There was no conspiracy, as some would love to believe, the astronauts had plenty of time on earth to practice for the moon, this was one of mans greatest achievements. It really is a shame people deny history, they might as well say the sky isn’t blue, or the earth is flat. People just aren’t educated enough, and so some conspiracy theorists come up with their crazy ideas and misinterpretation s of facts. Remember, there are tons of pictures, moon rocks, and hundreds of hours of video.s, of course hoaxers will all say it is fake lol. Here’s something good…… Watch the moonrover as it kicks up dust, the dust goes up, and falls down without forming dust clouds. Why? They are in a vacum, which means there is no air. That is something that cannot be dublicated on earth, but again, hoaxers will cry fake. They are relentless with their lies and so called proof of a hoax. Also, in all the years, not one person ever came foward to expose the hoax. Why? It’s nonsense. Hoaxers think they are smarter than all the educated nasa scientists. Hope this helps you some.

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