Thursday, July 23, 2009

Culture Shock 07.23.09: 40 years later, moon hoax theories persist

This week, America marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. But even after four decades, some people still don't believe.

Earlier this year, I met an earnest young man who was absolutely convinced we never went to the moon. He said the U.S. government faked Apollo 11 and the five subsequent lunar landings for propaganda purposes.

I didn't ask, but I can only assume he believes the Apollo 13 mission was faked, at great expense, just so Tom Hanks could one day turn "Houston, we have a problem" into a catchphrase.

You may think you've seen NASA archival footage of the Apollo astronauts traipsing around the lunar surface and hitting the occasional golf ball, but it all really took place on a super-secret soundstage. Yep, it was all just an elaborate hoax designed to fool the Soviets and the American people, too.

That's how the theory goes, anyway. And the fellow I met this past spring is not alone in buying into it. The moon hoax movement dates to the end of the Apollo program.

In 1974, Bill Kaysing, a former technical writer for Rocketdyne, self-published "We Never Went to the Moon: America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle." The book makes his case for why going to the moon was impossible. For example, Kaysing claims, no space capsule could safely pass through the Van Allen radiation belt that surrounds the Earth.

Astronomer Phil Plait, who spent 10 years working on the Hubble Space Telescope and currently blogs for, debunks the major moon hoax claims at his Web site, Bad Astronomy.

Conspiracy theorists haven't improved much on Kaysing in the past 35 years. The wacky moon hoax theories you hear on late-night talk radio pretty much all originate with his book. Four years before he died, Kaysing resurfaced on the ludicrous 2001 Fox special "Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?" True to form, he made the same old, shopworn arguments that scientists have refuted time after time.

Don't get me wrong. I'm the last person who would say you should trust the government. And I'm sure the more than $33 billion spent on the Apollo program could, in theory, have secretly funded a lot of nefarious black ops programs. But the evidence of our having gone to the moon is overwhelming.

Just this past week, NASA released photos, taken from a satellite in lunar orbit, that plainly show the Apollo landing sites, abandoned instruments and even the footpaths the astronauts left behind. Everything was exactly where it was supposed to be.

If it is a conspiracy, it's one too sophisticated for our federal government to have pulled off. I don't give the folks in Washington that much credit.

The late Robert Anton Wilson used to draw a distinction between conspiracy theories, which could be true, and paranoid conspiracy theories that claim there is one giant

Conspiracy behind everything. He ought to know. Wilson co-authored "The Illuminatus! Trilogy," a sprawling science-fiction epic that satirizes just about every conspiracy theory imaginable.

The moon hoax conspiracy definitely falls into the paranoid category simply because of its mind-boggling scale. And to add to the paranoia, just about everyone I've encountered who believes the moon landing was faked also believes a lot of other conspiracy theories, too.

This is where it gets really crazy, because not all of these conspiracy theories are compatible. If you don't believe in the moon landings, how can you believe an alien spacecraft crashed in 1947 near Roswell, N.M., and we've been reverse engineering its advanced technology ever since?

You would think we could have used some of that alien tech to mount a real moon mission.

Hmmm. Maybe we did.

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