Why Do So Many People Think The Moon Landing Was Fake?

Culture | April 19, 2019

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission in a photo taken by Neil Armstrong. Source: NASA.gov

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo 11 Lunar Module on the surface of the Moon -- right? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Maybe 7/20/69 was the day that science brought the world closer to understanding the immense depths of the solar system, or maybe it’s the day that a vast conspiracy began. Disregarding the time and money spent on sending astronauts to space, and the physical pressures that they’ve endured, there’s a growing number of people who believe that the moon landing never happened.

Moon-truthers come from all walks of life. Some are educated, some aren’t, there are doctors, lawyers, and even teachers who believe that the moon landing was fake. They believe that some or all elements of the Apollo program and the associated Moon landings were hoaxes staged by NASA, possibly with the aid of other organizations. The more you look into the conspiracies surrounding the moon landing the more they grow and entangle within one another. We’ll try to figure out where the conspiracy originated, and some of the most popular theories surrounding the moon landing.

The Conspiracy Germinated At A Time Of Mass Distrust Of The Government

Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package. Source: NASA.gov

By the 1970s Americans were fed up with Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the near constant quagmires in which the US government found itself entrenched. Politicians were being outed as frauds and crooks, and a healthy subset of the country began wondering if man had even been to the moon. That distrust of the government was elevated with the release of Capricorn One in 1978. This film tells the story of a fake mission to Mars where the astronauts worry that they’re doing a disservice to the American people and the likelihood that they’ll be hunted down and killed by the government.

Folklorist Linda Dégh believes that this film bolstered conspiracy theorists while showing just how irresponsible film and television can be. She said:

The mass media catapult these half-truths into a kind of twilight zone where people can make their guesses sound as truths. Mass media have a terrible impact on people who lack guidance.

America Wanted To Be The First Country On The Moon

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. Source: NASA.gov

We were always going to go to the moon. Humans have an innate desire to fling ourselves into the unknown in the name of discovery, but in the early ‘60s American exceptionalism had stalled. Where were we to go now that every land mass had been discovered? To the moon of course. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy said "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth" was our new goal. We were reaching for the stars.

Bill Kaysing, the former head of technical publications for the Rocketdyne Research Department, believes that America’s motivation for pushing the moon landing story has to do with being the first to the moon even if it was only for propaganda. He asserts that Kennedy and the space program wanted to give Americans something to be proud of, and that the landing was faked in order to make the Russians -- our Cold War enemies -- feel inferior. The so-called space race was on.

Some Theorists Believe NASA Faked The Landing Because They Wanted Funding

Source: (pinterest)

If there were a singular rallying cry among conspiracy theorists it would be “follow the money.” A major belief among those who believe that the moon landing was faked, be they Flat Earthers or Globeheads, is that the entire thing was a way for NASA to garner a huge budget without having to deliver on any of their promises. After all, it’s not like you can just go to the moon to see if there are a bunch of space dusted American flags lying around.

By 1973, the Apollo missions had racked up a $25.4 billion bill, which is about $140 billion in 2019. Conspiracy theorists believe that NASA, in order to maintain its budget and avoid humiliation, used its funding to fake the moon landings, pay off anyone who knew the truth, and probably throw a pretty good celebratory party. 

How Did The Government Fake The Moon Landing? 

2001: A Space Odyssey. Source: (MGM)

The moon landing was a monumental undertaking involving thousands of man-hours, billions of dollars and a ton of people – so how was it faked? There are a few things any explanation would need to account for. For instance, the takeoff of the rocket couldn't be faked -- civilians in Florida witnessed it with their own eyes. If the Moon landing was a hoax, how do you explain the rocket we all saw take off?

One theory says that the rockets for each Apollo mission took off as scheduled, and broadcast transmissions from their cockpits as they ascended into the stratosphere, but once they were out of sight the astronauts flew to the South Polar Sea, where they were picked up by a military vehicle and then dropped off for “recovery.” This story -- which has plenty of problems -- explains the launch and return to earth.

So if that's how NASA faked the beginning and end of the mission, what about the middle? What was broadcast on TV for all the world to watch?

Moon truthers say that the broadcast was all movie magic and special effects, filmed on a soundstage. This idea neatly dovetails with a real thing they can point to: the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had been released just a year earlier. That movie blew audiences away with what seemed to be a flawlessly realistic depiction of outer space. Prior to 2001, science fiction movies were clearly fiction; you could just tell. As the conspiracy-theory logic goes, if movie-makers could create something as convincing as that, they could certainly create convincing footage beforehand and broadcast it to TV screens.

Some theorists go even further, proposing that 2001's director, Stanley Kubrick, was actually hired to direct the first moon landing. As fun as this sounds, it’s not likely. Not only because it would be impossible for an entire film crew to keep their traps shut about a project as bonkers as a fake moon landing, but Kubrick was notoriously hard to deal with. If he wouldn’t follow orders from his producers, why would he listen to the American government?

Clues Hidden In Plain Sight

From the movie Capricorn One. Source: (Warner Bros.)

Film and television about fake space missions and government cover ups are all over the place. When The X-Files premiered in the early ‘90s it was all about the fact that we no longer trusted the people in charge of the country, and films like Capricorn One seem to look at the biggest part of this moon conspiracy straight on. Theorists believe the government uses the media to tease out information to people in order to let them know what’s really going on. No one knows why “they” would want to do this, maybe it’s just fun.

Peter Hyams, The director of Capricorn One refutes this claim, saying:

I said, wouldn't it be interesting if you took a major event where the only source that people have is a television screen, and you showed how easy it would be to manipulate everybody. I was aware that there were people who believed that we never walked on the moon, but I never read their books or consulted with them. And frankly, I think they are being totally ludicrous.

Tags: 2001: A Space Odyssey | Apollo 11 | Buzz Aldrin | Conspiracies | NASA | Neil Armstrong | Rare Facts And Stories About History | Stanley Kubrick | The Moon | The Space Race

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.