By David Jackson
Before phrases like fake news and alternative facts existed, there were conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories, simply put, are alternative explanations for an event, usually involving dark or sinister forces, in order to cast doubt on the official story. The most popular ones often involve government or anti-government groups and can range from the world-changing (President Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 attacks) to the merely entertaining (Area 51 and flat-Earthers).
In celebration of the June 20, 1969, Apollo 11 mission, when Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on and set foot on the moon, here’s a look at some moon landing conspiracy theories and how those theories have been debunked.
These theories and their variations are detailed on numerous sites, including those of Time, the New York Times and history.com, among others, with responses drawn from NASA sources, videos or photographic evidence.
(Spoiler Alert … it really did happen.)
- A photo of Aldrin saluting the American flag he planted into the moon’s surface shows what appears to be the flag waving, like it was windy. But there is no atmosphere on the moon so the flag could not have been moving.
Answer: Knowing there would be no wind on the moon, the flag was fastened to a pole which had a horizontal rod extending out so the flag could be fully displayed. With no atmosphere on the moon, a flag on a normal pole would have draped around the pole and no one would see the proof that America had conquered the moon. As for the waviness or ripples in the flag, this was because the horizontal rod was bent.
- A close-up photo of Aldrin shows Armstrong reflected in Aldrin’s visor but Armstrong does not appear to be holding any kind of camera. So who took this photo? There was only supposed to be the two of them on this mission.
Answer: Armstrong wasn’t holding a camera but he did take the photo. Or rather, his spacesuit did. NASA installed cameras both on the lunar lander itself and on the front of both Aldrin and Armstrongs’ suits. Officials weren’t sure they would be able to operate regular cameras because of the suits’ bulk.
- The moon landing was actually a movie filmed in a Hollywood studio and directed by Stanley Kubrick. The U.S. was so desperate to beat the Russians and land people on the moon first that they made a movie as proof they landed.
Answer: It’s true that the U.S. and Russia were locked in a tense space race in the 1950s and 1960s. Russia had an early lead launching the first satellite to orbit Earth in 1957 and sending the first human into space (Yuri Gagarin) in 1961. There was a lot of pressure on the U.S. to land on the moon first. But they did it the hard way — not by making a movie about it.
Kubrick’s involvement in this theory appears to stem from (A) his 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which blew audiences away with its realistic images of outer space and (B) a video of Kubrick made shortly before his death in 1999 in which he supposedly admitted filming the fake moon landing. This video, which first surfaced in 2015, was immediately dismissed by Kubrick’s widow, who said Kubrick never met T. Patrick Murray, the person who claimed to interview him in the video. Furthermore, critics allege the subject of the interview neither looks nor sounds like Kubrick.
- The moon actually doesn’t exist at all. It’s a giant hologram in the sky designed to inspire musicians all over the world. Think about it. How many legendary songs have the word “moon” in the title? “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Blue Moon,” “Moon River” — heck, I’ll even throw in “Bark at the Moon” for the hard rock crowd. “Dark Side of the Moon” is the fourth best-selling album of all time. The fake moon has done more to inspire people to create music than the works of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Milli Vanilli combined.
Answer: OK, I made this one up. Especially the part about Milli Vanilli. I couldn’t let everyone else have all the fun.
David Jackson lives in Moscow. You can find him every Saturday at the Moscow Farmers Market, taking his twin boys to the Sisters Cookie Company and then letting them dance out their sugar high with the band Traffyk Jam while his wife peacefully shops for veggies. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.