Science

Belief in Moon Landing Hoax Conspiracy Could Spread as Memory of Apollo Recedes

No man has set foot on the lunar surface since December 1972 after the departure of the Apollo 17 crew. But that could soon change. As NASA starts preparations for returning to the moon, more and more people seem to deny that humans ever went there in the first place.

Currently, a small percentage of Americans do believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked.  Roger Launius, who worked as NASA’s chief historian from 1990 to 2002, shared that polls consistently pin this percentage at around 5%. But this may expand significantly in the coming years.

Launius, who also served as a senior official at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., before retiring in 2017, said during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations working group this month, “The thing that concerns me more and more about this is, as time passes and the Apollo landings are farther into the past and fewer people remember them, it might be easier to embrace these kinds of ideas. The moon-hoax conspiracy really got legs when the internet came online. Like-minded people who had previously printed out pamphlets and flyers in relative isolation were suddenly able to connect with each other quickly and get their ideas out into the world — abilities that further mushroomed with the advent of social media in the past decade or so. The hoax claim should not spread on merit; the evidence cited by the deniers is, “in every single case, ridiculous“.

Astronomer Phil Plait claims in a classic 2001 conspiracy theory article, “No stars are visible in photos taken by Apollo astronauts on the lunar surface because the explorers set their cameras to have fast exposure times, and stars were simply too faint to be picked up”.

Launius also highlighted that the Apollo landings occurred during the Cold war and was largely motivated by the intent to ace the space race with rival the Soviet Union. And Soviet officials didn’t make or entertain any hoax claims.

Launius claimed, “They had both the capability and the desire to disprove this if it was true — you know if we hadn’t landed on the moon but were faking it. And they never said a word. That’s a pretty strong element to me”, as he discussed the moon-hoax conspiracy and related topics in the upcoming Smithsonian book ‘Apollo’s Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings’, which will be published next month.

But why does the moon-hoax conspiracy continue to exist? Launius offered several  possible reasons:

  • Some people are just naive and ill informed. This is particularly true for young people who inclined to consider NASA’s website and a conspiracy theorist’s YouTube channel as equally authoritative
  • Some people are liable to be cantankerous or contrary
  • Some people like the feeling of knowing something that other people don’t
  • Some people are peddling the conspiracy theory for personal gain, cashing in on the love of intrigue and a good story inherent in American culture

Americans love conspiracy theories,” Launius concludes, citing the many outlandish stories about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy who in the early 1960s officially set NASA’s human spaceflight program on course for the moon.

Educators need to address the hoax issue seriously and take initiative to answer questions, especially those posed by the younger generation, about the Apollo landings, he advised.

As instructed by President Donald Trump, NASA is working diligently to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. The space agency’s present plan calls for the construction of a small, moon-orbiting space station called the Gateway, which will serve as a jumping-off point for robotic and crewed sorties to the lunar surface. Subsequently, NASA aims to build a sustainable, long-term outpost on the lunar surface.

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