Did we really go to the moon?

Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead. Benjamin Franklin

To some, the thrill of space can‘t hold a candle to the thrill of conspiracy. Howard McCurdy


In his book The Pig that wants to be Eaten philosopher Julian Baggini proposes a curious thought experiment in which a man claims that the moon is made of cheese, mozzarella to be precise:

By saying that, I may have signed my own death warrant. You see they don’t want us to know. They’ll claim I’m mad. But as Kurosawa said, “In a mad world only the mad are sane.” “But men have walked on the moon,” you say. Wrong. It was all a fake, filmed in a studio by NASA. Haven’t you seen the movie Capricorn One? If it weren’t for lawyers, that would have been billed as a documentary. …Think about it: how else would Elvis be able to stay alive up there if he didn’t have an endless supply of cheese?

Baggini does have his tongue firmly in his cheek, but his faux conspiracy theory does raise some interesting epistemological questions. Epistemology is the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity. How do we know what we know? The moon landing conspiracy theories provide fertile ground for such investigations. As Baggini points out, the facts never provide enough evidence to prove one theory and one theory only. There will always be a gap – the possibility that an alternative theory is true. That is why in a trial the prosecution has to prove guilty beyond reasonable doubt; you can never have proof beyond all doubt. We live in a highly complex world. We are bombarded with political spin, baffled by scientific knowledge that is incomprehensible to most of us, accustomed to Photoshop’s manipulation of reality and subject to the cynical misuse of statistics in the media. We just don’t know who we can trust. How can we ever know what is for real?

So, did we really go the moon? I’m sure you will have heard many of the scientific arguments, some of which were alluded to in the Mitchell and Webb sketch. Here are two of the more celebrated claims with the official denials:

  1. The film footage shows the American flag “waving” in the allegedly airless environment of the moon. The flag waved because the astronauts touched it, creating ripples in the fabric. Once it was jammed in the hole, the flag mysteriously stopped waving.
  1. There are no stars in the moon sky, yet when you look up at night from earth you see lots of stars. The astronauts were not there to take pictures of the sky. If you want to shoot stars in the night sky you will need to aim your camera and leave the shutter open for at least several seconds. However, it is very bright on the moon and the astronauts were wearing white space suits. Setting a camera with the proper exposure for a glaring spacesuit would naturally have rendered background stars too faint to see

There are other claims about shadows blast craters, lunar dust and astronauts being fried by the Allen radiation belts surrounding the Earth. I don’t pretend to understand all the science behind these claims and counterclaims. But there are other common sense reasons why I find the moon hoax theory preposterous.

In order for their claims to be true, it means that each of the 400,000 or so astronauts engineers, scientists, studio technicians and project managers who worked on the Apollo missions were either dupes or knowing participants in the hoax. NASA, which according to the conspiracy buffs made some incredibly rudimentary mistakes, has somehow been capable of keeping this secret for more than four decades. It displays a rather naïve faith in the competence of government. The president at the time, a certain Richard Nixon, presided over an administration that couldn’t even keep the tawdry fiasco that was Watergate under wraps.

And what about role of the Soviet Union in this alleged hoax. Would they too have been taken in by American chicanery? And if they did know, it beggars belief that, at the height of the Cold War, they would have meekly allowed the United States to score this massive propaganda victory. And with cold war consigned to history, surely someone would have finally blown the whistle.

In a previous post I did about conspiracy theories I referred to Ockham’s razor; all other things being equal, the simplest solution, the one that makes the fewest assumptions, should be selected. We need to decide which scenario is likelier:

1) NASA actually built flight-worthy spacecraft capable of landing men on the moon, which they then landed the men there or

2) 400,000 people, whether knowingly or not, participated in the greatest hoax in history, and yet all those who knew about the deception have chosen to keep the secret?

Ockham’s razor would suggest that the first explanation is much more likely to be true because it is far simpler and fits the observed facts without the need for extravagant flights of fancy. Extraordinary claims do indeed require extraordinary evidence. And I feel that those who believe in the conspiracy have clearly failed to provide this. I think Neil Armstrong was right – it would have been harder to fake it than to do it.

One Response to Did we really go to the moon?

  1. Alberto says:

    Convincing argument.

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