By: Sophia DaCosta
Man stepped foot on the moon on June 20, 1969. Although more than 50 years have passed, many who were alive to watch the moon landing can remember American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepping foot on the moon in great detail. Despite their vivid memories of the momentous occasion, people have always questioned the credibility of the moon landing footage. By the time the mid-1970s had rolled around, the idea that the event was a hoax had begun to spread.
One of the prominent voices behind this conspiracy theory was author Bill Kaysing who wrote We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle in 1976. He claimed that the moon landing had been staged and filmed by the U.S. Government as a way “to distract attention from the unfolding disaster of Vietnam, and to prove once and for all America’s superiority over the Soviet Union.” Kaysing and many others argued that there are certain flaws in the footage that didn’t make sense. To them, the American flag seemingly moving in the wind, the lack of visible stars in the sky, and other apparent anomalies were all proof that the moon landing was shot on a studio lot.
The Telegraph uploaded a video in July of 2019 that debunked many of these theories. They explained that the flag appears to be moving in the wind because the metal bar within the flag and the pole itself are still vibrating from the astronauts adjusting the flag to stick it into the ground. Similarly, the stars were not bright enough to be seen in the photographs because it was a lunar morning and the sun was beaming down on the moon at that time. Their list went on. Countless others have spent proved why these claims are completely false, including Buzz Aldrin himself. In a video posted on July 16, 2019, Aldrin thanked the “400,000 Americans who helped us get to the moon and back” and urged people to never forget their amazing accomplishment.
Despite decades of debunking, these conspiracy theories persist because of an overall distrust of the U.S. government. Early conspiracies about the moon landing, like Kaysing’s, gained popularity in the middle of the 1970s. This was a tumultuous time period in which America was still in the midst of the Cold War and the government had finally pulled troops out of Vietnam. As journalist Becky Little explained in an article titled The Wildest Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories, Debunked, the idea that the moon landings were staged, “came at a time when the Pentagon Papers and Watergate had eroded Americans’ trust in their government.” Many conspiracy theories developed during this time period because citizens were questioning the government.
NASA is a U.S. government agency. Both the scientists and astronauts involved in the execution of the moon landing are technically government employees. As a result, all of the proof of the moon landings existence comes from government sources. Conspiracy theorists believed that if Washington authorities lied about Vietnam, they could have also lied about the moon landing.
Interestingly, the moon landing conspiracy has remained popular. There are countless YouTube videos claiming that the moon landing was fake and hashtags like #fakemoonlanding have spread on Twitter for years. Furthermore, the belief that the moon landing was a hoax has resulted in diverging conspiracies. The moon landing conspiracy is a way for people like the Flat Earthers to validate their other beliefs. They believe that man never went to the moon because the Earth is flat and the moon doesn’t orbit it.
An explanation for the longevity of this conspiracy is a continual distrust of the government. Since the 1970s, Americans’ trust in their government has never truly recovered. The Pew Research Center collected data concerning Americans’ trust in government from 1958 to 2015. Despite some rebounding in the 1980s and early 2000s, the report concluded that “the public’s trust in the federal government continues to be at historically low levels.” According to their data, only 19 percent of the country trusts the government most of the time. This paranoia has allowed conspiracies like the moon landing hoax to last.
The government’s motives for landing on the moon in the first place has also added to the moon landing conspiracy’s longevity. Both historians and conspiracy theorists recognize that the United States benefited from people knowing that they had landed on the moon. By completing their mission, the crew of Apollo 11 was not only making an outrageous scientific achievement. They were also making a statement of American scientific superiority over the Soviet Union. In the eyes of Americans, they had officially won the Space Race. During the Cold War, any achievement the U.S. made over the USSR generated patriotism and boosted morale.
Where historians see Americans rising to the occasion to make the impossible possible, individuals like Bill Kaysing argue that the government must have cheated to reach such an unattainable goal. They would believe that historians are naïve to believe that the moon landing was done honestly. This defines conspiracy theorist’s cynical view of human nature. The fact that the United States benefited from landing on the moon does not automatically mean that Washington staged the event. It is still a historical fact that the moon landing was a momentous achievement by many talented individuals.