Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s passing on Saturday at the age of 82 brought about countless heartfelt eulogies of the famous astronaut - as well remembrances of the golden age of the American space program that led to Armstrong being the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong changed the course of history when he stepped off the foot of the lunar lander and onto lunar soil on July 20, 1969, but he also set in motion a small but vocal group of people who don’t believe that humans went to the moon at all – that the entire Apollo program that put twelve men on the surface of our nearest celestial neighbor between 1969 and 1972 was an elaborate hoax designed to bolster American influence during a particularly turbulent period in history.
By 1999, six percent of Americans questioned in a Gallup poll believed that the moon landings never happened. A year later a similar poll in Russia revealed that 28 percent of Russians also had doubts that a man had walked on the Moon. Even after NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2012 sent back pictures of several artifacts left behind on the lunar surface, including what scientists believe are the American flags left by Apollo astronauts, some people persistently believe that we never went to the moon.
Neil Armstrong was a notoriously private man, but his co-pilot, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was never shy about his trip to the moon. After a 2002 verbal assault during which a leading lunar landing conspiracy theorist called Aldrin a “liar” and a “coward,” Aldrin famously punched the man in the face.
What kind of evidence would it take to convince people what happened on the Moon in July, 1969? How do doubts about hoaxes and conspiracies perpetuate in our society?
James E. Oberg, retired rocket scientist and news media consultant