Moon Landing Hoax Theories Are Still Going Strong On Apollo 11 Anniversary

50 years ago today, Neil Armstrong stood on the surface of the Moon (really).

Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag on the surface of the moon
Neil A. Armstrong / Wikimedia Commons (GPL Cropped, resized.)

50 years ago today, Neil Armstrong stood on the surface of the Moon (really).

Today is the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the surface of the moon; that, or it’s the 50th anniversary of a government hoax to convince the world that the U.S. put a man on the moon, when instead they faked photos and video on a sound stage somewhere.

For four decades, a conspiracy theory has claimed that the U.S. government — in a desperate attempt to convince the American people, and the Soviets, that the U.S. was winning the Space Race — faked the Apollo 11 moon landing (and subsequent moon landings), as Yahoo News reports,

One variation of the theory even holds that director Stanley Kubrick (The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey) was in charge of the filming, and that it was done on the secretive Nevada Air Force installation known as Area 51 (which is also where alien spacecraft are supposedly kept).

“Evidence” For The Theory

The conspiracy theory first gained significant traction in the 1970’s when former engineer Bill Kaysing self-published a book, We Never Went to the Moon.

Much of the supposed “evidence” that the moon landing was a hoax is easily debunked by basic knowledge of science, photography or astronomy. Or when all else fails, watch the episode of Mythbusters where Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman expertly quashed some of the key elements of the theory.

For example, in some photographs, no stars are visible in the background. In others, the shadows on the surface of the moon don’t line up the way casual observers believe they should. Or the flag that Armstrong and Aldrin planted on the moon is horizontal, as if blown by the wind, when such a thing isn’t possible because there’s no atmosphere on the moon (never mind that you can hold a flag up horizontally by using a rod).

Distrust In Government And The Advent Of The Internet

Helping the rumors along was a distrust in the government that gained traction in the 1970s. In 1968, a year before Apollo 11, trust in the government was 62 percent; by 1980 it had reached 27 percent.

Then, in the 1990s, a new technology emerged: the internet. Now, everyone can anonymously say anything, without having to go through the expense of self-publishing books, or to the extremes necessary to get yourself on the news. And in all that time, trust in the government has continually dropped, down to 17 percent in March 2019.

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Why Do People Believe Conspiracy Theories?

In a larger sense, though, the moon landing conspiracy theory is emblematic of a bigger issue — that of people believing conspiracy theories, particularly in light of mountains of evidence contradicting their belief.

Psychologist Christopher French posited a number of reasons people believe conspiracy theories, ranging from a simple inability to accept truth (“confirmation bias”) to a simple tendency towards being conspiracy-minded, a 2015 Scientific American reported.

Despite the reasons for the persistent rumor, however, one thing is clear: We really did land on the moon.