Universe University

A journey through astronomy and space history to the outer boundaries of the universe.

One Giant Leap for Truth

One Giant Leap for Truth
By Chris Grant

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.”
-Laurence J. Peter

Starting in 1969, astronauts began leaving the planet earth and landing more than 200,000 miles away on the moon… at least according to the United States government. President Kennedy called it the most hazardous, dangerous, and greatest adventure that human beings had ever embarked upon. Even today, nearly half a century later, it could be called the most striking accomplishment in all of human history. Yet not everyone is convinced it actually happened. ‘Engineering and Technology’, a British publication, found 25 percent of their respondents said the U.S. did not land on the moon. A 1999 Gallup poll concluded 6 percent of Americans believed lunar landings were a hoax while 5 percent of Americans said they were undecided. (Other American polls since have placed the number of doubters in the United States as high as 20 percent.)

Is this really so surprising? Americans’ trust in government has declined drastically within the last 50 years and it holds true for trust other institutions like the media. (88 percent of millennials say they only sometimes or never trust the press.) Conspiracy theorists like radio show host Alex Jones seem more mainstream in our politics today than in decades past. Some say we are in the “post-truth” era of American politics. The Rashomon Effect was a term recently coined in 2015 to describe different individuals with starkly contradictory interpretations of the same current event. Our distrust of each other, rival political parties, government, and media all distort our perception of truth.

So is there any way to know whether humans did in fact land on the moon? At a glance, it is easy to see why many have their doubts. Deception at the highest levels has permeated American politics for some time, particularly during the Vietnam War. In 1971, the publishing of the ‘Pentagon Papers’ made it clear President Johnson was lying both to the American people and congress about the war. In 1974, President Nixon resigned in disgrace when it became apparent that he was covering up the infamous Watergate burglary. This was precisely the time frame when Americans supposedly landed on the moon. Can we really trust any of the claims made by these administrations?

Let’s consider the arguments of those who believe lunar landings were a hoax. The evidence for the first moon landing, seen by most Americans, was a grainy black and white TV broadcast. The company that constructed the rocket engines that carried Americans to the moon had one employee who would later claim that the engines didn’t work. His name was Bill Kaysing and he says we never had the technology to go to the moon. The earth is surrounded by massive belts of intense radiation. Yet with minimal shielding, astronauts passed through this radiation with no ill effect and lived to a ripe old age. Radiation destroys film images, yet the stills from the moon look perfect. Some say they look a little too perfect – like they’ve been fabricated in a studio on earth. Just prior to the moon landings, three NASA astronauts also died, on earth, under mysterious circumstances just as one of them expressed a lack of faith in the program. NASA recently admitted the Apollo telemetry data has now mysteriously disappeared! NASA claims that they taped over this telemetry data… though some claim that telemetry data simply never existed in the first place. Now we may never know. Supposedly astronauts brought back moon rocks, occasionally giving them as gifts to foreign nations. But in 2009, at least one of these moon rocks at a museum in Holland turned out to be petrified wood! Many other moon rocks are missing. It seems understandable that some would be skeptical of the ‘official’ story of the moon landings. Is there any real evidence? Should we simply take the United States government at their word? Or are we looking at the biggest and most expensive hoax in human history? Perhaps, at the very least, we should conclude that it’s impossible to know whether we really landed on the moon?

Let us look at these claims one by one. Perhaps the grandfather of moon landing hoax theories is Bill Kaysing, who was the first known proponent of these theories to write about them in detail in the 1970s. Kaysing was hired in the 1950s to work as the senior technical writer for Rocketdyne and worked there until 1963. He had no degree in engineering but maintained that one does not need such a degree to know that the lunar landings were a massive hoax. Rocketdyne designed the engines of the 363 foot tall Saturn V rocket for America’s Apollo moon landing program. Kaysing claimed that the extremely powerful F-1 engines in the first stage of the Saturn V were far too unreliable to have launched astronauts to the moon. Indeed, there is some truth to this. Initially, during Kaysing’s stint at Rocketdyne, combustion instability in these engines was a serious problem. The ‘controlled’ explosion of the liquid fueled rocket wasn’t always so well controlled. Engineers labored for years to get the engines to function properly.

Even so, in July of 1969, over a million people on the Florida coast watched the mighty Saturn V rocket launch Apollo 11 into space. Several successful Saturn V launches followed in subsequent missions. Kaysing claimed that clusters of smaller rocket engines were hidden inside each individual engine bell to give the illusion that the F-1 engines worked… He says the rocket really couldn’t carry three astronauts to the moon. Depending on which hoax theorist one speaks to, the Saturn V either only carried astronauts to earth orbit or it was launched empty and without any astronauts at all. Since each stage of the Saturn V rocket was jettisoned over the Atlantic Ocean when its fuel ran out, Kaysing’s claim was difficult to prove or disprove for many decades.

Then, in 2012, billionaire Jeff Bezos used deep-sea sonar to find and later recover these rocket stages, including the F-1 engines. There were no smaller clusters of tiny rocket engines hidden within the F-1. The deep sea, space artifacts showed that the F-1 engines worked in their entirety and succeeded in launching the Saturn V. This shouldn’t be so surprising. German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun had perfected liquid fueled rockets that were 45 feet tall while working for Nazi Germany in the 1940s. After he and his fellow engineers surrendered to American forces, he began building progressively larger ballistic missiles, which were of particular interest to his military employers, who wanted to have the capability to launch nuclear weapons thousands of miles. As early as 1920, a rocket scientist named Robert H. Goddard said that it was possible to use a liquid fuel rocket to send spaceships to the moon! One thing is certain at this point: the Saturn V rocket certainly did launch and the F-1 engines worked. Launching any rocket taller than the statue of liberty is quite a feat. Is it really so implausible to think that Von Braun successfully built a Saturn V and that this rocket did its job? Even if the Saturn V was not powerful enough to carry three astronauts to the moon, why not simply send one astronaut to the moon rather than orchestrate an elaborate hoax?

Kaysing and other moon hoax theorists have claimed that the Saturn V rocket wasn’t the only reason humans never made it to the moon. They often mention the Van Allen Belts: huge donut shaped regions around the earth filled with massive amounts of radiation. Some claim that this radiation is far too dangerous for human beings to survive traveling through. Much like Kaysing’s engine claims, there is a kernel of truth here as well. In 1962, James Van Allen (whom the belts are named after) spoke publicly about how the inner Van Allen Belt in particular would be extremely hazardous to astronauts. Dr. Stanley C. White from NASA presented similar findings. Yet the lightweight materials of 1960s spacecraft provided very little protection. Moon hoax theorists claim that, for this reason, astronauts have never left low earth orbit. Thus, they claim astronauts have obviously never been to the moon. Is there any truth to such a claim?

Some hoax theorists recently pointed to a video interview with NASA engineer Kelly Smith. In the video, Smith talks about a recently tested spacecraft called Orion, which may soon return astronauts to the moon. In talking about the Van Allen belts, he says, “Radiation could harm the guidance systems, onboard computers, or other electronics… we must solve these challenges before we send people through this region of space.” Some said this was a curious statement since we supposedly already sent astronauts through this region of space. Moon hoax theorists saw this statement as a tacit admission that we never went to the moon.

In 1969, the atomic bomb and nuclear reactors had existed for over two decades. While the scientists and doctors of the world were still learning about space travel, they knew a great deal about radiation and its negative effects on the human body. Then as well as now, we know that radiation is far more dangerous over long periods of time. So brief exposures to even high levels of radiation can easily be tolerated by the human body. Prolonged exposure to radiation, over time, is far more damaging to humans. Ultimately, the path that the Apollo astronauts took allowed them to bypass most of the inner Van Allen belt while skimming the edge of the outer belt, spending mere hours passing through these high levels of radiation. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA, individuals working around high levels of radiation should not receive more than 50 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation within a single year. A chest x-ray is equal to 0.1 mSv and a mammogram is equal to 0.4 mSv. The Apollo astronauts received an average of about 0.5 mSv in radiation. Outside of the Van Allen belts, a large solar storm – or an eruption of plasma from the sun – could have seriously harmed the astronauts but luckily, such a storm did not occur. If such an eruption had been detected by observatories on earth prior to an Apollo flight, the launch would have been delayed.

Of course, NASA engineer Kelly Smith never admitted to any moon landing hoax and he certainly never claimed the Van Allen Belts were lethal to astronauts. He simply stated that, in testing a new spacecraft, radiation could be harmful to onboard electronics. Since Orion is being built 50 years after the Apollo spacecraft, it will have far more complex computers and on board electronics.

Kaysing and other moon hoax theorists point to the fact that the crew of the first planned Apollo mission, Apollo 1, were very pessimistic about their odds for a successful mission in 1967. Once again, there is a kernel of truth to this claim. Commander Gus Grissom was so frustrated in testing his spacecraft’s communication system on earth that he said, “how are we going to go to the moon if we can’t talk between two or three buildings?” The world was then shocked by news that all three Apollo 1 astronauts died in a fire during a routine test on earth. Years later, Grissom’s own son claimed it was no ‘accident’ and NASA had deliberately murdered his father! This is certainly a strong accusation for Grissom’s own son to make. Kaysing and others claim that the Grissom and his crew were deliberately murdered for fear that they would blow the whistle on NASA and expose the hoax that they were planning. This entire scenario does indeed sound suspicious… until one looks at all the facts.

The Apollo spacecraft was an incredibly complex, three-person vehicle. In late 1966, upon examination, NASA found numerous design flaws and sent it back to the contractor who manufactured it. Even after the flaws were fixed, astronaut Walter Schirra expressed doubts about the craft. Such design problems were not unique to America’s space program though. The Soviet Union’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft originally had over 200 separate design flaws when first created and killed a Soviet cosmonaut returning from its maiden voyage into outer space! Furthermore, Grissom’s son never endorsed any claims about moon landing hoaxes. Rather, his claim was that NASA had a personal grudge against his father for his performance on a much earlier mission and wanted someone else to be the first man on the moon.

Conspiracy theorists’ are essentially claiming that the U.S. government refused to even attempt sending three astronauts to the moon, for fear that they might be harmed in the Van Allen Belts… but was perfectly content to murder all three astronauts for fear that they wouldn’t go along with the hoax. Doesn’t it seem more plausible that an extremely complex, experimental machine simply suffered a catastrophic malfunction due to the ambitious, perhaps unrealistic timetable NASA was working under? After all, the same thing happened in the Soviet Union’s space program!

But even assuming that NASA rockets and spacecraft worked, hoax theorists aren’t the least bit persuaded by photographs from the moon.

Many of their claims about photographs are highly subjective and have logical explanations. They point to a ‘waving’ flag on the airless moon but the flag is clearly moving because an astronaut is grasping the wobbling flagpole and flag frame while planting it in the soil. They point to the fact that the sky on the moon appears black, without any stars. Kaysing claimed this was clear evidence of a hoax saying, “There are too many astronomy buffs… they would have measured the angularity between the stars and the position of the stars behind, let’s say, the earth.”

Apparently, for hoax theorists like Kaysing, placing stars in moon landing photos was just too great of a risk because ‘astronomy buffs’ would have exposed the hoax! Yet somehow an international community of astronomers and nuclear physicists has been strangely silent about astronauts magically traversing ‘deadly’ radiation belts in space and returning alive several times. The truth is that the sky appears black in moon landing photos for the same reason it appears black when photos are taken on earth at night. A light sensitive camera tends to focus on bright objects in the foreground, not dim points of light in the dark background. If anyone doubts this, they need only to take the camera on their smart phone outside this evening and snap pictures of city streets, neighborhoods, houses, or even the night sky. They will find a black, starless sky in most if not all of their images.

Another reason that photos do not persuade hoax theorists is that they contend even if humans could survive the Van Allen Belts’ radiation, photos could not. Prior to the advent of digital photography, many tourists and amateur photographers experienced the disappointment of seeing their vacation photos destroyed by x-ray machines at airports while traveling. The end result is sometimes called non-image forming exposures or simply fog. Film is destroyed or fogged by the x-rays. Theorists ask how film could possibly survive the radiation of space? How is it that moon landing photos look so perfect, as if they were shot in a well lit studio?

American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts had a lot of practice attempting photography in space during the 1960s and learned a great deal. For years prior to their moon missions, astronauts were given tutorials in photography and encouraged to practice. The Hasselblad cameras they were given were partially automated with electric motors inside; meaning much of the astronaut training was simply on how and where to point their cameras. Both America and the international community have standards for film speed and sensitivity to light. America’s standard was ASA and the international standard is ISO. Tourists and amateur photographers typically use 200 to 400 ISO film. Astronauts typically use much lower speeds in ISO, between 60 and 100 ISO, precisely because it is less likely to fog up when exposed to radiation. A 1995 document from NASA reaffirms this stating, “Since faster films have larger grains, they are also more sensitive to radiation.” The report recommended lower ASA film speeds for space flight. The lunar astronauts had their low ISO film for their cameras placed in specially modified aluminum and steel magazines, painted with white or silver thermal paint while on earth. Despite all of these precautions, radiation damage still caused a slight green tint in many photos!

Even so, moon hoax theorists claim that the background in many photos looks false. They compare it to the matte paintings or rear screen projections used by Hollywood special effects artists to create false backgrounds on movie sets decades ago. However, there might be another reason why the background and horizon of the moon look surreal in lunar photographs. NASA geophysicist Paul Lowman stated that the moon’s horizon is quite different from the earth because the moon is much smaller than the earth. He says, “Because the moon is such a small body, the curvature horizon is only two or three miles away from eye level. That sharp line you see in some pictures is the visible horizon.”

Academy Award winning special effects artist Dennis Muren recreated outer space in the original ‘Star Wars’ films and made the computer generated dinosaurs of ‘Jurassic Park’. Yet he was never persuaded by claims that the moon landing was a hoax. Muren said this in an interview on the subject: “A moon landing simulation might have looked pretty real to 99.9 percent of the people. The thing is though, that it wouldn't have looked the way it did. I've always been acutely aware of what's fake and what's real, and the moon landings were definitely real. Look at ‘2001’, ‘Destination Moon’, ‘Capricorn One’ or any other space movie: everybody was wrong. That wasn't the way the moon looked at all. There was an unusual sheen to the images from the moon, in the way that the light reflected in the camera, that is literally out of this world. Nobody could have faked that.”

But as outlandish as Kaysing’s claims are, another claim has emerged that seems even stranger. Filmmaker Jay Weidner has claimed that director Stanley Kubrick, in collaboration with the American government, was responsible for faking the moon the landing. Neither Kubrick, his family, or his coworkers have ever claimed or alluded to Kubrick being involved in a moon landing hoax. (His daughter says she finds it to be an insult to everything her father stood for.) But Weidner believes that Kubrick left clues about the hoax in his film ‘The Shining’. He correctly points out that one of the characters in the film wears an Apollo 11 sweater but he claims there are other clues throughout the film also. Weidner draws our attention to a key plot point in the film: room 237 in the fictional Overlook Hotel. He states that the average distance between the earth and the moon, as listed in textbooks, is 237,000 miles. He points out that the letters on the room key read “ROOM No 237” and that this is an anagram for the words “MOON ROOM”.

There is a problem with both of Weidner’s claims however. The average distance from the earth to the moon is not 237,000 miles… its 238,900 miles. That is the number listed in astronomy texbooks. Film reviewer Rob Ager, a student of Kubrick’s films, claims that Weidener’s theory is absurd. Ager stated, quite correctly, that the ‘anagram’ Weidner mentions on the hotel room key isn’t even a proper anagram at all. In the word “MOON ROOM”, the letter ‘O’ appears four times, yet it appears only three times on the hotel room key in the film. One cannot make the word “MOON ROOM” for the words “ROOM No 237”.

Of all the claims regarding the Apollo moon landings, Weidner’s claims seem to be the most speculative, having the least basis in fact. Yet there are other facts relating to the moon landings that arouse considerably more suspicion. Mysteriously, it seems that the original telemetry data sent back from the moon on the Apollo 11 mission is all missing. This includes the original, black and white slow-scan television transmission. Moon hoax theorists see this as too suspicious to simply be ignored.

Indeed, even NASA admits to the embarrassing reality that this data (once stored on magnetic tape) may never be recovered and was probably taped over. But what data could possibly be so important as to justify taping over a moon landing? The answer might very well be another moon landing! This is the opinion of Dick Nafzger, who coordinated TV operations at numerous tracking stations for the Apollo 11 broadcast. He said, “In 1970 to 1974, we pulled out 40,000 boxes of tapes… five tapes to a box, that is 200,000 of these tapes, that was to support ongoing Apollo missions, to support Apollo-Soyuz, to support Skylab. They were needed in the network.” NASA’s budget had been declining since the late 1960s, later Apollo moon landings were cancelled, and even as the final Apollo missions visited the moon; resources at NASA (including magnetic tape) were stretched thin. Telemetry data from other Apollo moon landings did indeed survive to this day though, including scientific experiments on the Apollo Lunar Landing Surface Experiments Package or ALSEP. So in reality, only some of the telemetry data is missing – likely taped over with telemetry data from other moon landings!

Moon hoax theorists would have us believe that all of the supposed transmissions from the moon were faked, though it isn’t clear how they think this could be achieved. The signals from the astronauts were coming not merely from outer space but specifically, from the earth’s moon. The telemetry data wasn’t merely some secret signal monitored only by NASA in the United States but by stations all around the world. Specifically, for the Apollo 11 television broadcast, NASA had to collaborate with stations on multiple continents. In Australia, the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station received slow-scan footage as well as the Madrid Manned Flight Tracking Site in Spain.

Other sites, not affiliated with NASA, listened in to radio transmissions also. The Lick Observatory in Costa Rica tracked signals from Apollo 11 along with the Table Mountain Observatory in South Africa. The Jodrell Bank Observatory in England not only tracked Apollo 11 but also an unmanned Soviet space probe that was in orbit around the moon at the same time as Apollo 11. It seems unlikely that observatories around the world were collaborating to add credence to an American hoax. Not only did observatories all around the world listen but individuals with radio equipment did too. Individual HAM radio operators around the world did just that. In 1969, HAM radio operator Larry Baysinger listened to VHF conversations between Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins. A close friend of Baysinger’s actually had to adjust the aim of his antenna to keep it pointed at the moon while Baysinger was listening! As the moon orbited the earth, the radio signal would fade away.

Ultimately though, the most indisputable evidence of the Apollo moon landings is not in radio signals or telemetry. It is in the over 800 pounds of lunar rocks and soil that were returned from the surface of the moon. Kaysing explained this saying simply, “They are not real. NASA has a well-developed ceramics laboratory with high temperature ovens. They were manufactured on earth to look like moon rocks.” If Kaysing was correct, then geologists all around the world have been collectively fooled and the moon rocks are probably the most elaborate and most successful aspect of that hoax. Even the Soviet Academy of Sciences examined moon rocks after Apollo astronauts brought them back to earth. Soviet geologists did not express even the slightest skepticism that the rocks had come from the moon! Today, these rocks are stored at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas but each year, 400 lunar rock samples are sent by mail to dozens of different scientists worldwide. It seems rather extreme to think that all of those scientists have been fooled by earth rocks baked in an oven, as Kaysing claims… and that with each passing year, NASA mails more fraudulent moon rocks to different individuals around the world who claim to verify their authenticity.

Moon hoax theorists point to a 2009 story from Holland where a moon rock in a museum was found to be merely a piece of petrified wood from earth. But does finding one fake moon rock prove that all 800 pounds of moon rocks are fake? The reality is that moon rocks are extremely valuable, worth millions of dollars in some cases. In 1998, federal law enforcement officers in the United States undertook a sting operation to go after individuals selling fraudulent moon rocks. Yet even as con artists sell fake lunar material, some have attempted to sell (real) stolen moon rocks on the black market. The 1998 sting operation discovered a moon rock that President Nixon had given to Honduras that had been missing for years. With any rare and valuable commodity, the possibility of theft always exists. Is it really so hard to believe that a moon rock in Holland could have been stolen and replaced with a piece of petrified wood? There are currently 180 moon rocks that were gifted to foreign nations after the Apollo missions have likely been stolen. Despite all this, the Johnson Space Center still has an ample supply that they regularly send out to scientists each year.

According to the geologists who have examined them, real moon rocks have very distinct characteristics and are quite different from earth rocks. Outer space is filled with cosmic rays: charged particles from outside the solar system whizzing around at nearly the speed of light. The moon has no atmosphere and no magnetic field to protect it from these rays, so they constantly bombard moon rocks. Over time, these cosmic rays actually cause nuclear reactions to occur, changing the isotopes inside these rocks. Many minerals on earth, like micas for instance, contain water inside their crystal structure. The moon rocks contain no water inside them. This makes perfect sense, since the moon has almost no water, no oceans, and no atmosphere. Some of the most common minerals on earth have never been found in moon rocks. Three totally new minerals were also discovered on the moon that had never been found on earth at any time prior! Would moon hoax theorists really claim that NASA was not only baking rocks in ceramics ovens but inventing brand new minerals?

Physicist J.R. Keller states that when minerals are heated and begin to melt on Earth, more dense material in the minerals sinks, pulled down by Earth’s gravity. This is called convection. Convection patterns are preserved when the material cools and hardens later on. Keller states, quite correctly, that moon rocks have very peculiar convection patterns. Such patterns in the rock clearly demonstrate that the convection occurred in very low gravity. Randy Korotev from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University gave his opinion on moon hoaxes in a recent interview. He said, “I've studied lunar rocks and soils for 45 years and I couldn't make even a poor imitation of a lunar breccia, lunar soil, or a mare basalt in the lab… Lunar igneous rocks have crystallization ages, determined by techniques involving radioisotopes, that are older than any known Earth rocks. Anyone who figures out how to fake that is worthy of a Nobel Prize.”

In light of all this evidence, some moon hoax theorists claim that lunar rocks are actual, genuine rocks from the earth’s moon. They simply believe that human beings didn’t personally travel to the earth’s moon to collect them. They point to lunar meteorites that have been discovered in Antarctica and elsewhere on earth. They even state, quite correctly, that rocket scientist Werher Von Braun traveled to Antarctica in the 1960s, just before human beings supposedly landed on the moon. It is indeed true that multiple lunar meteorites have been found in Antarctica over the years! Von Braun claimed to be visiting Antarctica to see how scientists and engineers live and work in harsh and remote environments. Hoax theorists assert that Von Braun was there to gather lunar meteorites for a faked moon landing. Though it is unclear why anyone would send a rocket engineer rather than a geologist to search for rare rocks.

There are several problems with this theory about lunar meteorites. The first known lunar meteorite was discovered in 1979, well over a decade after Von Braun visited Antarctica. While others have been found since, lunar meteorites are extremely rare when compared to ordinary meteorites. If one were to gather up all of the lunar meteorites that have been discovered around the world since 1979, they would weigh less than 500 pounds. (Far less than the 800 pounds of material gathered by Apollo astronauts.) Not only that but lunar meteorites couldn’t be passed off as moon rocks gathered by astronauts. The outside of all lunar meteorites have been burned and melted when the meteorites slammed into Earth’s atmosphere. Also, scientists find that their exposure to cosmic rays is quite different as well. If a meteorite from the moon hit the earth millions of years ago, it would cease to be exposed to additional cosmic rays and it would be very different from a moon rock brought back to earth in 1969.

Finally, some moon hoax theorists might concede it is possible lunar rocks and soil were indeed returned to earth from the moon… but that doesn’t necessarily prove that human beings landed on the moon. Perhaps the rocks and soil were collected by robotic probes? After all, the United States and the Soviet Union sent several unmanned probes to the moon in the 1960s.

The reality though is that whether a nation is landing a robot on the moon or a human being, the task is challenging and complex, especially with 1960s technology. The Soviet Union tried and failed to return lunar rocks and soil to Earth multiple times before they had any success at all. In fact, the Soviet Luna 15 probe was in orbit around the moon in 1969 at the same time that the Apollo 11 astronauts were landing on the moon. The goal of Luna 15 was to return a small soil sample to earth but it crashed in the lunar mountains while attempting to land. Finally, in 1970, the Soviet Luna 16 probe returned less than one pound of lunar soil to earth. Suffice it to say that the Soviet Union did not have enough lunar material to mail 400 lunar samples annually to dozens of scientists worldwide, as NASA does.

If Soviet scientists wanted to gather larger samples like the Americans, they would have needed larger spacecraft and larger rockets to loft those craft into outer space. (They would also have to make sure these spacecraft could return themselves to earth.) America had a fully functional Saturn V rocket at a time while the Soviet Union did not have a reliable rocket of similar size. Though they did attempt to build such a rocket with their N-1, the project was later abandoned after America won the space race. America had a lunar lander, built by an aerospace corporation called Northrop Grumman. The vehicle could hold two people and had been tested multiple times in outer space before landing on the moon. With all of the money NASA was spending on space vehicles to transport humans to the moon, it does indeed seem strange to imagine them secretly building large robotic probes to do the same job. Considering the failures of Soviet robotic probes, there is credible thought to suggest that in some ways, it was actually easier to have human beings land spacecraft and gather rocks than to rely on a primitive robot!

Looking at all the evidence, it seems like quite a reach to suggest that no astronaut has ever landed on the moon. Yet skepticism about this historical event still remains half a century later. Believers in moon landing hoaxes see an elaborate web of lies. They say that the Apollo missions were Cold War era propaganda, false narratives designed to demonstrate the superiority of American ingenuity, technology, and engineering. Such individuals believe that the stories of the Apollo missions are pure fiction.

Ironically though, the official story of these missions is actually far more chaotic and far less flattering to the United States of America than many may realize. Professor Laurence J. Peter once famously said, “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.” For conspiracy theorists, moon landings are the elaborate constructs of very smart people who are putting us all on. These geniuses have created fake engineering, fake nuclear physics, fake radio signals from the moon, and fake geology. But the true story of the Apollo missions might be better described as a group of imbeciles who really meant it.

To be clear, neither American political leadership or aerospace engineers were imbeciles in the 1960s. But the individuals who sought to send men to the moon were indeed taking dangerous and perhaps even foolish risks in pursuits they often didn’t full understand. President Kennedy was not an imbecile by any means. Yet his own science advisor claimed that space policy was the area that President Kennedy understood the least. In a 1962 meeting, President Kennedy told NASA administrators, “I’m not that interested in space.” President Kennedy merely used space as a political tool in Cold War politics. This was particularly true after America had been embarrassed by the Soviet Union’s launch of the first satellite and the first human being into space. So it seems likely that President Kennedy didn’t fully understand what a mission to the moon would entail… at least not initially. At that time, among other concerns, there was credible thought to suggest a lunar lander would actually sink into fine grained dust on the lunar surface when it landed!

NASA administrator James Webb had been consulted about the push to land a human being on the moon by the end of the decade. Ultimately, the moon was selected as a target because neither the Soviet Union nor the United States had any rockets or spacecraft that could make the journey and it would take years for either nation to develop them. It was a way to level the playing field in the space race. A 1961 memo from the Kennedy Administration stated that “with a strong effort” the United States could accomplish a moon landing between 1966 and 1967. So, in reality, it took longer to develop the technology to land men on the moon than previously projected!

So how, specifically, did these missions happen? Let us consider the official account of how the events transpired: the ‘official story’ that conspiracy theorists reject. America pulled ahead in the space race with Project Gemini, setting endurance records for time spent in outer space and accomplishing the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit. Perhaps most moon hoax conspiracy theorists accept these facts because Project Gemini never claimed to have gone to the moon. But these accomplishments were necessary to demonstrate that it was even theoretically feasible to go to the moon.

Despite the accomplishments of Project Gemini, Project Apollo was chaotic. The Apollo 1 crew died of smoke inhalation during a routine test on earth. Of course, conspiracy theorists would say they were murdered to prevent them from blowing the whistle on the hoax. But wouldn’t it be easier to murder astronauts in a more mundane way like, for instance, a car crash? One must wonder just why a nation dedicated to perpetrating an elaborate hoax to demonstrate technological superiority would ever claim (falsely) that their own spacecraft was so flawed and so dangerous that it accidentally killed astronauts on earth before they ever traveled into space!

Or perhaps the Apollo 1 fire wasn’t part of a lie, a deliberate murder, or a hoax? Perhaps the American government simply found itself in the unexpected and embarrassing predicament of having to admit that their experimental space vehicle was deeply and fatally flawed… and that over a year would have to be spent redesigning it. Remember, the Soviets found themselves in a similar predicament around the same time.

What about the other hardware used in the Apollo program? Surely if it was all part of a hoax, the United States government would want to announce to the world that everything else worked perfectly, even if they had to redesign their flawed space capsule. The Saturn V rocket, the largest rocket ever built, was far from perfect. In the second unmanned test flight of the Saturn V, two fuel lines ruptured in the rocket and the second stage shut down early… the third stage was also damaged in flight. The resonance and the vibration at the top of the rocket during the test were so intense, it would not have been safe for a crew of astronauts to be on board. Even so, for such a complex rocket with so many stages, the tests impressed NASA. Von Braun went to work fixing those problems.

For the first time ever on Apollo 8 in 1968, astronauts were placed in a capsule atop the Saturn V for a trip to orbit the moon. They did just that. When we look back at the Apollo 8 mission, it seems like a resounding success but it was really a narrow victory in the space race. Apollo Manager George Lowe came up with the idea precisely because there had been several delays with Northrop Grumman building the lunar lander. America might not have had the ability to land on the moon yet but they could still do something drastic to demonstrate that their space program was progressing towards that goal. The American government believed the Soviet Union might soon send a human being to orbit the moon first. After all, they had already sent a Zond spacecraft full of animals through the Van Allen Belts and around the moon. The animals survived the journey back to earth, confirming their life support systems on board worked. Numerous interviews with astronauts and NASA personnel, including Apollo 8 astronauts, said that their chances of a completely successful mission were just 50/50. Saturn Project Manager Sonny Morea said that in the days before the launch, he was very nervous.

But the gamble paid off. The Saturn V rocket, which had already demonstrated its ability to reach space in unmanned test flights, sent astronauts to the moon. Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders said that the cockpit of the spacecraft shook so violently during the launch that he believed something was wrong with the rocket. When the Saturn V’s first stage ran out of fuel, the second stage ignited. After leaving Earth orbit, commander Frank Boreman, a veteran astronaut, became physically ill during the flight with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Yet he survived his trip around the moon along with the other two astronauts who were with him.

Apollo 9 would go on to test the lunar lander in Earth orbit, proving that the craft could at least function in outer space. The lunar lander undocked from the three-person Apollo capsule and pulled away to a distance of over 100 miles before docking again. Apollo 10 sought to test the lunar lander in orbit around the moon. They successfully undocked the lander and flew it within 47,000 feet of the moon’s surface. The astronauts found that their landing radar had been programmed improperly. This glitch needed to be fixed before any astronauts could land on the moon.

Disaster struck when Apollo 10 astronauts tested the ascent engine of the lunar lander above the moon. The craft began tumbling violently end over end because a guidance switch had accidentally been turned in the wrong direction. Much to NASA’s embarrassment, live network broadcasts heard the two astronauts in the lunar lander shouting profanity as they frantically tried to rectify the situation. Astronaut Tom Stafford managed to stabilize the lunar lander but it was agreed that if the craft had been spinning for just a few seconds longer, they would have crashed on the moon because the vehicle’s spin would not have been recoverable.

As we all know, the space race concluded with the mission of Apollo 11. But the crew landed on the moon and returned safely to earth by only the narrowest of margins. At this point, politicians in America must have been well aware of the risks the astronauts were taking. President Nixon’s speech writer, William Safire, was instructed to write a speech for the president to read in the event that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin died or were stranded on the moon.

As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended towards the surface of the moon, their onboard computer began sending out alarms. With the data from the landing radar and other systems, the computer was overloaded and shut down. As Armstrong took manual control of the craft, looking out the window, he saw a field of massive boulders along with a crater the size of a football field. This presented a daunting problem because they needed a flat, clear area to land their craft. Flying four miles past their intended landing site, they were facing the prospect of crashing on the moon. The Flight Guidance officer said they were flying at an altitude ominously referred to as the “dead man’s curve”, meaning they wouldn’t have enough time to abort their mission before crashing into the surface. With less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining, Armstrong landed his craft and shut off the descent engine. However, the problems didn’t end there.

After the landing, NASA seriously debated whether it would be safe for the astronauts to leave their spacecraft and venture onto the surface of the moon. There was a pressure buildup in one of the fuel lines of the descent engine. Temperatures in shadow on the moon drop to around negative 200 degrees Fahrenheit. In this extreme cold, a chunk of ice was blocking one of the fuel lines. It could have caused a catastrophic explosion. Eventually the problem was resolved and the two astronauts were permitted to walk on the moon. But they encountered another problem when they returned to the lunar lander. The circuit breaker that was needed to arm the main engine had been damaged. It was a crucial piece of equipment that was needed for the astronauts to takeoff from the surface of the moon. In the end, a felt tip pen was stuck into the mechanism and used to activate the switch.

Moon hoax theorists believe this official story is totally false – an entirely fictional narrative constructed by the United States government in order to demonstrate America’s technological superiority during the Cold War. If this was all merely fiction, then it doesn’t seem to be a good narrative to demonstrate technological superiority. How does a spacecraft catching on fire, killing three astronauts demonstrate technological superiority? How does a nervous project manager expressing serious doubts demonstrate technological superiority? How does a lunar lander spinning out of control above the moon while astronauts shout profanity demonstrate technological superiority? How does an onboard guidance computer getting overloaded, malfunctioning, and sending out alarms demonstrate technological superiority? How does a broken circuit breaker, crucial for astronauts to takeoff from the surface of the moon, demonstrate technological superiority? If you believe we never went to the moon, then none of these stories can be true.

But why not write a false narrative where all the spacecraft work flawlessly and there are no dangerous close calls? This is what the Soviet Union did with many of their own missions in space. As impressive as it was that American men landed on the moon; the details of how this transpired reveal that it was chaotic and extremely dangerous… and that American spacecraft, while impressive, were far from perfect. Perhaps moon hoax theorists should consider the possibility that these stories are actually all true.

It is altogether proper and patriotic for citizens to question their government. History shows us that governments have lied to their citizens many times. Skepticism is healthy but skepticism alone cannot always be used to deduce the truth. Blind skepticism, much like blind belief, only serves to conceal truth. All human beings have an obligation to make judgments about the world around us based on all the evidence. In many cases, it is possible to differentiate fact from fiction, to discern the difference between propaganda and history. Ironically, Kaysing stated that one doesn't need to be an engineer to determine whether or not men have landed on the moon... on this point, he was quite right. If one considers all the evidence, the most likely reality is that American astronauts did indeed land on the moon. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. We live in an age where truth is often obscured or distorted. This happens in politics, in media, and on the internet. But truth still exists and if we dig deep enough, we can often find it. Albert Einstein once wrote, “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility…The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.” Maybe the strangest concession to make today is that the world, the cosmos, and the human exploration of space are indeed comprehensible?

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