The moon landing was faked. Everybody has heard this one. It is arguably the single most popular grand conspiracy ever dreamed up. Let’s take a closer look and see if it holds any water (spoiler: it doesn’t).
From the day in late spring 1961 when President Kennedy announced his goal of landing an American on the Moon within the decade to the day in early summer 1969 when it was accomplished, NASA culled men and women from 20,000 companies and universities to eventually muster a truly astounding 400,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians for the task. This number doesn’t even include the untold number of support staff; janitors, caterers, couriers, secretaries, and about every other menial position imaginable that would be necessary to support what, at the time, was the single largest feat of engineering in the history of the world.
And, of course, one must not forget the thousands of people who watched the enormous Saturn V rocket blast into the heavens from its pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, followed in a few short days by the estimated 600 million people around the world who watched the actual landing on their television sets.
Yet, there are those who, to this day, insist that the moon landing did not occur, that it was shot in a studio. To accomplish such a massive subterfuge, every single person, from top NASA officials down to the guy scrubbing facility toilets, would necessarily have been an invention. They wouldn’t exist for the simple reason that their jobs would not have.
So, let’s say they did exist but merely went through the motions, showing up to work every day for nearly a decade simply to maintain the appearance of working on this massive project. If that were the case, then every last person involved would have been privy to a hoax staggering in size and complexity. In essence, every high level employee of the 20,000 companies and universities who provided the manpower would necessarily have been sworn to secrecy about said hoax, since they were, quite publicly, alleged to have provided their very best and brightest for the project. And, of course, every last one of these would have had to keep the secret from all of their own families, friends, and loved ones, somehow accounting for their absence during the work week for, in some cases, nearly a decade.
And, oh yes, the film crew, the one that allegedly shot the landing itself (some have pegged Stanley Kubrick as the culprit). In addition, three presidential administrations would have been in on the ruse. First Kennedy, followed by Johnson, and, finally, Nixon. In fact, old Tricky Dick himself was alleged to have spoken to the astronauts themselves while they were on the lunar surface. What a sham!
And, of course, there is the little matter of the cost of the project itself. If there is one thing human beings are sticklers about, it is money. For Christ’s sake, the first writing in known history is thought to be a record of financial transactions. And the Apollo program was hardly a nickel and dime affair. In 1973, the total cost was reported to Congress at a staggering $25.4 billion dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that would be the 2019 equivalent of roughly $146 billion. If the whole thing was a hoax, where did that money go? To reallocate, launder, or simply make such an amount disappear, every Congressman, Representative, accountant, assemblyman, and, frankly, every last one of the thousands of people involved in allocating the nation’s budget (under three separate administrations, no less) would necessarily be in on the joke as well.
What strikes me as odd is that many of the same people who would likely agree with the premise that a secret shared by 1,000 people is untenable still persist in believing in large-scale conspiracies such as a faked lunar landing which involves more people than this by several orders of magnitude.
I am not suggesting that no conspiracies exist. Smaller and more manageable ones most certainly do. For instance, those types involving the top brass of intelligence agencies, government spy networks, and the like. At most, a few hundred people might be in the know. But even these eventually become exposed by some whistle-blower, and the hard evidence usually is found sooner or later to back up the allegations. Cases such as this include many of the secret CIA missions of past decades that have since come to light, such as the shady support the U.S. gave to right-wing authoritarian regimes over democratically elected leaders. The 1976 coup by the military dictator Jorge Videla against President Isabel Peron of Argentina is an example of this.
The point is this: people just aren’t good at keeping secrets. We are natural storytellers. As a species, keeping our mouths shut is simply not one of our strong suits. Conspiracy theories are fun to believe. Sometimes, even sexy. But none of that makes them true, or, in most cases, even remotely probable.
Conspiratorial thinking is, in fact, the antithesis of critical thinking. We see conspiratorial nonsense spewed upon the masses by relatively unknown schemers from the lowly YouTuber hack all the way up to those holding the highest positions of public office. All one need do is take a look at the digital diarrhea that is the current U.S. President’s Twitter feed to see this unfortunate truth.
Conspiracy theories are everywhere, especially in this digital age where everyone has an audience via the internet, which can function as a digital megaphone to convert the gullible.
Like the fake moon landing, many of these conspiracies are mind-numbingly stupid, though relatively harmless. For example, recently the world has witnessed what most would have thought impossible; the resurgence of the flat earth movement. Others believe the condensed water vapor left in the wake of jet engines are actually so-called “chemtrails,” some nefarious and mysterious substance meant to psychologically control the masses and/or control the human population.
Some grand conspiracies are political in nature, such as Donald Trump’s ‘deep state,’ or his evidence-free claim that he would have won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal citizens in California.
Others can actually cause harm, such as (again) Donald Trump’s stated belief that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese government, which lead to delays or actual refusals to enact legislation to address the issue. Far right nut jobs like Alex Jones have promoted the conspiracy that a tragedy such as the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre was a false flag operation by the U.S. government, leading to a lawsuit by the grieving parents of the murdered children. A pizza joint in Washington, D.C. was the target of a gunman who bought into some online rumor that it was the secret base of some pedophile sex ring run by high ranking Democrats. Then, of course, there are the “9/11 truthers,” who never seem to go away and continue to dishonor all who perished in the aftermath of this terrorist attack. Others that fit in this more nefarious category of conspiracy theorists are the “anti-vaxxers,” who shamelessly promote the gibberish of the disgraced (and now unlicensed) British doctor Andrew Wakefield who made the false claim that vaccines are linked to autism (and later went on to cash in on his ill-gotten fame with a few popular films to this effect). As a result, in recent months, measles outbreaks in the United States, formerly almost non-existent, have broken out across the nation in areas where parents refuse to vaccinate their own children.
This list of conspiracy theories is hardly a complete one. In fact, it barely scratches the surface. There are many others and more are thought up every day. The one thing that all conspiracy theories seem to have in common, though, is this: there is never a shred of evidence to support them. Yet millions continue to be converted, sold on this or that bullshit based on nothing more than the homemade video of a YouTube fanatic or the mindless tweet from the most powerful man in the world.
And, of course, their own willingness to embrace what they want to be rather than what actually is.