Kieran L. asks: Who started the conspiracy theory about the moon landing being fake?
Since the early 1970s conspiracy theorists have created ever more elaborate stories about how NASA faked the moon landings, much to the annoyance of the literal hundreds of thousands of people who worked in some capacity to make these missions a reality, and even more so to the men who were brave enough to sit in front of a massive controlled explosion, take a little jaunt through the soul crushing void of space in an extremely complex ship built by the lowest bidder, then get into another spacecraft whose ascent engine had never been test fired before they lit the candle, and all with the goal of exiting said ship with only a special suit between them and oblivion. And don’t even get the astronauts started on the paltry government salary they earned in doing all that and the hilarious lengths they had to go to to provide some semblance of a life insurance policy for their families should the worst happen during the missions. So who first got the idea that the moon landings were faked?
While it’s highly likely there were at least a few individuals here and there who doubted man could accomplish such a thing a little over a half century after the end of period in which humans were still hitching up covered wagons, the first to really get the moon landing hoax story going popularly was a writer named Bill Kaysing. How did he do it? Kaysing self-published a book in 1976 called We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle.
Released a few years after the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, Kaysing’s book popularly introduced some of the most well known talking points of moon landing deniers, such as that the astronauts should have been killed when they passed through the Van Allen radiation belts, noting the lack of stars in photographs, the missing blast crater below the lunar modules, etc. Beyond these, he also had some more, let’s say, “unusual” and occasionally offensive assertions which even the most ardent moon landing denier would probably rather distance themselves from.
Not exactly a best-seller, Kaysing’s book nonetheless laid the ground work for some of what would come after, with the idea further gaining steam in part thanks to the 1978 film Capricorn 1, which shows NASA faking a Mars landing and then going to any lengths to keep it a secret. As for the film, director Peter Hyams states he first got the idea for such a movie when musing over the Apollo 11 mission and thinking, “There was one event of really enormous importance that had almost no witnesses. And the only verification we have . . . came from a TV camera.”
Not an accurate statement in the slightest on the latter point, it nonetheless got the wheels turning and he ultimately developed a script based on this notion.
As to how Kaysing before him came to the conclusion that NASA faked the moon landings, the story, at least as Kaysing tells it, is that in the late 1950s he managed to view the results of a highly secretive internal study conducted by NASA on the feasibility of man successfully landing on the moon that concluded, in his own words: “That the chance of success was something like .0017 percent. In other words, it was hopeless.”
Kaysing doesn’t explain how NASA came up with such a precise figure given all the unknown variables at the time, nor why he put the qualifier “something like” followed by such an extremely exact number. He also did not name the report itself. And, in fact, as far as we can tell, NASA never conducted such an all encompassing study on the feasibility of a successful moon landing in the 1950s. Whether they did or not, we did find in our research looking for that report that NASA conducted a feasibility study on the proposed designs for several manned rockets immediately prior to Apollo program to decide which contractor to use. This, of course, has nothing to do with Kaysing, but we figured we’d mention it as we like to deal in facts and reading Kaysing’s various works has us feeling like we need to be cleansed a little by saying things that are actually true about NASA in this period.
Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong in NASA’s training mockup of the Moon and lander module.
In any event, Kaysing would later assert that he determined from this report that there’s no way NASA could have improved these 0.0017% odds in the time between the results of this supposed study and the moon landings about a decade later.
Now, if Kaysing was just some random guy shouting in the wind, it’s unlikely anyone would have listened to him. Every conspiracy theory origin story needs at least some shred of credibility from the person starting it to get the fire going. For Kaysing’s assertions about the moon landings, this comes in the form of the fact that for a brief period he worked for Rocketdyne, a company that made rockets for the Apollo program. Not an engineer or having any similar technical expertise whatsoever, Kaysing’s background was primarily in writing, earning an English degree from the University of Redlands, after which he naturally got a job making furniture.
As for the writing gig he landed with Rocketdyne, his job was initially as a technical writer starting in 1956 and he eventually worked his way up to head of technical publications. He finally quit in 1963, deciding he’d had enough of working for the man.
After quitting, to quote him, “the rat race”, in 1963 Kaysing traveled the country in a trailer with his family, earning his living writing books on a variety of topics from motorcycles to farming.
This brings us to 1969 when he, like most everyone else in the world with access to a TV watched the moon landing. While watching, Kaysing recalled the supposed NASA study he’d seen all those years ago, as well as that engineers he’d worked with at the time in the late 1950s claimed that while the technology existed to get the astronauts to the moon, getting them back was not yet possible. He later stated he further thought,
As late as 1967 three astronauts died in a horrendous fire on the launch pad. But as of ’69, we could suddenly perform manned flight upon manned flight? With complete success? It’s just against all statistical odds.
Despite often describing himself as “the fastest pen in the west”, it would take Kaysing several years to write the book that introduced one of the most enduring conspiracy theories to the world.
As for why NASA would bother with the charade, he claimed NASA worked in tandem with the Defence Intelligence Agency to fake the moon landings to one up those pesky Russians. While certainly good for the country if they could get away with it, the benefit to NASA itself was, of course, funding. Said Kaysing, “They — both NASA and Rocketdyne — wanted the money to keep pouring in.” As to how he knew this, he goes on “I’ve worked in aerospace long enough to know that’s their goal.”
Model of Soviet Lunokhod automatic moon rover.
So how did NASA do it? He claimed that the footage of the moon landing was actually filmed on a soundstage. When later asked where this soundstage was located, Kaysing confidently stated that it was located in Area 51. As he doesn’t seem to have ever given clear evidence as to how he knew this, we can only assume because it’s not a proper space related conspiracy theory if Area 51 isn’t mentioned.
Kaysing also claimed that the F-1 engines used were too unreliable so NASA instead put several B-1 rockets inside each of the F-1 engines. Of course, in truth these wouldn’t have been powerful enough to get the Saturn V into orbit even if its tanks were mostly empty. (And given the frost and ice clearly visible covering certain relevant parts of the Saturn V here, it’s apparent the tanks could not have been mostly empty). There’s also the little problem that the clusters of B-1s he described couldn’t have fit in the F-1 engine bells and you can see footage of the F-1 engines working as advertised, with no clusters of engines anywhere in sight. Nevertheless, despite these problems with his story, he did purport that the Saturn V was launched to space as shown (though at other times has claimed that in fact as soon as the rocket was out of sight it was simply ditched in the ocean and never made it to space). Stick with us here people, he changed his story a lot over the years.
Whatever the case, in all initial cases, he claims the astronauts were not aboard.
(And if you’re now wondering how the U.S. fooled the Soviets and other nations tracking the rockets during these missions, he claims a way to fake signals was devised, allowing for tracking stations on Earth to think the craft was headed for the moon and, critically, successfully fooling the Soviets who were indeed closely tracking the missions to the moon and back.)
So what did Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins do during the mission if they weren’t zipping around in space? In the first edition of his book, Kaysing claims that they flew to Las Vegas where they mostly hung out at strip clubs when they weren’t in their rooms on the 24th floor of the Sands Hotel.
We can’t make this stuff up, but apparently Kaysing can.
Kaysing goes on that at one point one of the trio got into a fistfight with someone in broad daylight over a stripper. Sadly Kaysing doesn’t reveal which of the men did this, nor how he knew about it, so we’re forced to assume it was Buzz Aldrin who is the only member of the three we definitely know actually has gotten in a fist fight.
The Apollo 11 lunar landing mission crew, pictured from left to right, Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot.
In this case, in 2002, a 72 year old Buzz Aldrin punched Bart Sibrel who is a “we never landed on the moon” conspiracy theorist, “documentary” maker, and cab driver. Sibrel invited Aldrin to a hotel with Sibrel telling him he was making a children’s TV show on space. Once Aldrin arrived at the hotel, Sibrel pulled out a Bible and tried to get Aldrin to put his hand on it and swear that he had walked on the moon. Needless to say, Aldrin was pretty irritated at this point. Things got worse when Sibrel called Aldrin a “liar” and a “coward”, at which point Aldrin punched him.
As for his defense, Sibrel states, “When someone has gotten away with a crime, in my opinion, they deserve to be ambushed. I’m a journalist trying to get at the truth.” Unwilling to sway on what that truth is, however, Sibrel states, “I do know the moon landings were faked. I’d bet my life on it.” Not all is lost, however, because he states, “I know personally that Trump knows the moon landings are fake and he’s biding his time to reveal it at the end of this term, or at the end of his second term if he’s re-elected.” So, rest easy everyone, the truth will come out soon enough apparently.
In any event, going back to Kaysing’s book, he states that shortly before the astronauts were supposed to begin broadcasting from the moon, all three men arrived on a soundstage deep within the confines of Area 51 and ate cheese sandwiches. He also states that along with cheese sandwiches, NASA provided the men with buxom showgirls while at Area 51. Presumably this was the only way to pry the astronauts away from the strip clubs.
After eating the no doubt delicious sandwiches, Aldrin and Armstrong put on some space suits and pretended to walk across a fake moon set while reading out some, to quote Kaysing, “well-rehearsed lines” in a performance he called “not great” but “good enough”.
A description we personally feel is a little unfair considering it has apparently fooled seemingly every scientist on Earth then to now, including ones working for the nation directly competing with the US to land on the moon who would have relished any opportunity to even allege the whole thing was faked in a credible way, let alone prove it and embarrass the U.S. utterly in front of the whole world. But, unfortunately, as you might imagine, the Soviets at the time were monitoring the whole thing quite closely with their newfangled technology and so never got the opportunity to disprove the landings.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity on the lunar surface. (NASA)
Amazingly Kaysing also claimed in his book that the fake moon landing footage was filmed live and that there was only “a seven second delay” between Armstrong and Aldrin’s performance and the broadcast the world was watching. Thus, had even a fly buzzed across the set, NASA would have only seconds to notice and cut the feed, lest such a mistake or inconsistency be noticed in the footage people would be watching for the rest of human history.
As for the splash down and recovery, he claims the astronauts were eventually put on a military cargo plane (a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy) and simply dropped from it in the capsule. As for how he knew this, he did provide a source for once, claiming that an airline pilot he talked to had seen the Apollo 15 module drop from a cargo plane. Who this pilot was, what airline he worked for, if he offered any evidence to support his claim, such as a flight log showing him piloting a plane in the area during the time of the splash down of Apollo 15, or even when he talked to said pilot, however, he fails to mention.
As for the moon rocks brought back, these were apparently meteorites found in Antarctica as well as some that were cleverly made in a NASA geology lab.
As to how NASA was able to keep the lid on things, despite nearly a half a million people working on the Apollo Program in some capacity, not just for NASA but countless independent organizations, he claims NASA simply only let those who needed to know the whole thing was a hoax know.
So following this reasoning that means all these scientists, engineers, etc. working on all the components and various facets of the mission were genuinely trying to make the moon landing happen, including knowing the requirements to make it happen and testing everything they made until it met those requirements… Meaning what was built and planned should have been capable of doing what the mission required…
That said, Kaysing admits a handful of people here and there would have had to know the whole thing was a sham, and thus NASA simply paid off those who could be paid off, promoted those who preferred that reward, threatened those who still wouldn’t go along, and murdered those who still resisted, which we’ll get into shortly.
The ridiculousness of many of these claims and how easily they crumple under the slightest bit of scrutiny is likely why in the 2002 re-release of his book Kaysing changed his story in various ways, including claiming that the engines on the Saturn V actually did work and that Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong did go to space after all, instead of going to hang out with strippers in Vegas. He then states that all three men orbited the planet while pre-recorded, not live, footage was shown on Earth.
The swing arms move away and a plume of flame signals the liftoff of the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle.
Despite, to put it mildly, straining credibility on pretty much everything he said from start to finish and him providing absurdly specific details, generally without bothering to provide any evidence whatsoever backing up these claims and changing those specific details frequently over time, Kaysing’s book and subsequent work nonetheless helped spawn the still thriving moon landing hoax conspiracy theory.
As for Kaysing, he didn’t stop there. He continued to sporadically come up with new allegations against NASA, including that the agency murdered the astronauts and teacher aboard the Challenger explosion. Why would they do this when the whole Christa McAuliffe thing was supposed to be a publicity stunt to get the public more interested in space travel, science, and what NASA was doing? According to Kaysing, “Christa McAuliffe, the only civilian and only woman aboard, refused to go along with the lie that you couldn’t see stars in space. So they blew her up, along with six other people, to keep that lie under wraps…”
Speaking of things that Kaysing said that are ridiculously easy to debunk with even a modicum of effort, we feel obligated to point out that Christa McAuliffe was not the only woman on board. NASA astronaut Judith Resnik was also killed in that tragedy.
Not stopping there, Kaysing also claimed the deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts were intentional as one or more of the astronauts aboard was about to blow the whistle on the upcoming hoax plan. We feel obligated to point out here that, as previously mentioned, he also used this fire as evidence of NASA lacking expertise to get a man to the moon… Meaning according to Kaysing this fire was somehow both intentional to murder a few astronauts and also accidental owing to NASA’s incompetence.
Moving swiftly on, NASA officials also apparently had others killed, including safety inspector at North American Aviation Thomas Baron who wrote a report on NASA safety protocol violations after that tragic Apollo 1 fire.
It’s at this point, we should probably note that in the 1990s Kaysing decided to sue Jim Lovell. You see, in 1996 Lovell publicly stated “The guy is wacky. His position makes me feel angry. We spent a lot of time getting ready to go to the moon. We spent a lot of money, we took great risks, and it’s something everybody in this country should be proud of.”
Lovell also wrote to Kaysing asking him to “Tear up your manuscript and pursue a project that has some meaning. Leave a legacy you can be proud of, not some trash whose readers will doubt your sanity.”
Unwilling to stand for his good name being publicly besmirched, Kaysing naturally sued Lovell for defamation, though the case was eventually dismissed and nothing ever came of it.
Kaysing continued to assert that the moon landings were a hoax right up until his death in 2005, in between writing books on cookery, motorcycle safety, farming, taxes, survival, how to subsist on very little money, and travel guides, as well as making occasional appearances on such shows as Oprah expounding on his conspiracy theory work.
A 1963 conceptual model of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module.
On the side he also promoted micro-housing as a solution for homeless people and ran a cat sanctuary called “FLOCK”, standing for “For the Love of Cats and Kittens”. So, yes, Kaysing was a man whose passions included micro housing, cats, survival, travel, living off almost nothing, and rapidly coming up with conspiracy theories. If only he’d been born later or the interwebs invented sooner, this man could have been an internet superstar.
Whatever the case, Kaysing’s death understandably garnered a mixed reaction from the scientific community, with few finding the ability to muster much sympathy for a man who accused NASA of murdering people.
Gone but not forgotten, Kaysing’s ideas have actually gained in popularity in recent years, particularly among younger generations according to various polls, such as one done by space consultant Mary Dittmar in 2005 showing that 25% of people 18-25 doubted man had ever walked on the moon.
This is all despite the fact that it’s never been easier to definitively debunk Kaysing’s various assertions. Not just via reading the countless explanations by scientists definitively addressing point by point every idea ever put forth by moon landing conspiracy theorists, there’s also the fact that there are literally pictures taken in the last decade showing clear evidence of some of the equipment sitting on the moon, including for the Apollo 11, 14, 15, 16, and 17 landing sites. Even in some cases showing the tracks left by the astronauts and the shadows from the flags planted themselves.
Naturally, moon landing deniers simply claim these photos too were faked, although why China, India, and Japan should cater to NASA on this one when they independently took pictures of their own verifying the moon landings is anybody’s guess.
We’ll have much, much more on all this in an upcoming article on How Do We Know Man Really Walked on the Moon?
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.