Who was the first person to walk on the moon?

Swear on the Bible that you were there! 50 years to the moon landing – and the “lunar conspiracy”

On the fiftieth anniversary of the first man’s landing on the Moon, we look at the “lunar conspiracy”: where it came from, who and how fights it and why it still exists.


50 years ago, on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 lunar module carrying two astronauts landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon. Several hours later, on the night of July 20-21, commander Neil Armstrong emerged from the module and took his first steps on the Moon, uttering his famous line.

“It’s one small step for an individual, but a giant leap for all of humanity.”

The first steps of Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface were followed live by about 530 million people around the world. Over the next three years, 5 more American spacecrafts visited there. All in all, 12 people walked on the Moon, leaving a lot of debris and traces of their stay, thousands of photos and videos, impressive results of scientific research and about 400 kilograms of lunar soil.

An entire generation of Americans worked to put a man on the Moon. At its peak, the Apollo program employed up to 400,000 people and ate up about 4% of the US federal budget, quite comparable to current defense spending.

But despite all this, in 2019, 50 years after the first man landed on the moon, the world is still full of weirdos who believe that everything that happened is a total government conspiracy and the biggest hoax in human history.

Bill Kasing, the originator of the moon conspiracy.

The first skeptics

The first “apostle of the Moon conspiracy” is considered to be Bill Kasing, an American writer who in 1976 released 7 years after the Apollo 11 mission, the book “We Never Were on the Moon: The American $30 Billion Fraud”. Some credibility to his claims was lent by the biographical reference that the author of this opus was “an engineer in NASA’s lunar program”. However, the reality was much more prosaic – Kasing was indeed noticed in the space industry as a librarian at Rocketdyne, which built rocket engines for the Apollo, but was dismissed in 1963 before the office started actively working for NASA.

In his book, Kasing cites several “inconsistencies” that refute the landing. In his opinion, NASA’s level of technical development in the late 1960s did not allow for such a complex operation and the probability of its successful outcome was literally tending towards zero. In addition, Kasing noted the absence of a crater on the lunar surface from the lunar module’s jet engines, noted a “waving flag” in photographs taken in a vacuum, and also pointed to several inconsistencies indicative of photomontage, such as the absence of stars in the photographs and various optical anomalies.

It was these arguments that became the basis of the classic set of “moonlighting skeptics” in the future.

Kasing’s book provoked a strong reaction in the American society – an unexpectedly large number of Americans agreed with the author’s views, while the rest considered him to be a real national traitor. NASA has issued a newsletter refuting Keesing’s arguments and astronaut James Lovell (who has twice flown to the Moon but has never landed on it) called the author “crazy”. Keesing sued to protect his honor and dignity, but lost with a bang.

In 1978, Peter Hyas’ feature film Capricorn One, about a government conspiracy to tamper with the Mars landing, was released – the analogy was clear to all.

In 1980, the Flat Earth Society accused NASA of falsifying the moon landings, claiming they were orchestrated by director Stanley Kubrick in Hollywood and sponsored by Walt Disney with a script by Arthur C. Clarke.

Conspiracy theories gained enormous popularity in the United States after the Watergate scandal that sent President Richard Nixon into retirement. Nixon was involved in serious wrongdoing and deceived law enforcement agencies and his own people. If he is such a liar, why not falsify the moon landing during his administration?

The media in the pursuit of audience attention inflated the “hot” topics and ran the process in a circle, recruiting more and more supporters of conspiracy theories. Many different publicists turned to this topic and published their “revelations” one after another.

U.S. President Richard Nixon speaks to astronauts on the moon by telephone. July 21, 1969

The rapid development of television broadcasting has brought the “lunar conspiracy” even to those who are lazy or can’t read at all. Conspiracy films with the claim to be documentaries began to be released in a race, providing TV channels with millions of viewers and impressive revenues from advertising.

By the 1990s, at least two more “powerful arguments had emerged that revived the confrontation between conspiracy theorists and their opponents.

David Percy – a member of the Royal Photographic Society of Britain has conducted a detailed “analysis” of pictures posted on the NASA website, and paying attention to the multidirectionality of shadows came to the conclusion that there is an additional light source, which simply could not be on the moon.

The second compelling argument came to life after calculations by engineer Rene Ralph “proved” that astronauts had to wear suits covered with an 80-centimeter layer of lead to escape the solar radiation raging on the lunar surface.

In 2003, “fuel the fire” poured the widow of director Stanley Kubrick, whether jokingly or seriously stated that her husband really was filming the landing on the moon in Hollywood.

Neil Armstrong training to take lunar soil samples in Houston, April 18, 1969

A new surge in the popularity of the “lunar conspiracy” came in the early 1990s, with the development of the Internet. Websites exposing the government and NASA grew like mushrooms, forums were abuzz with discussions, gigabytes of texts set forth the next arguments in favor of falsification. With the development of social networks the spread of the “lunar conspiracy” theory approached to the first space speed – videos, tweets and memes collected tens of thousands of likes and hundreds of comments rivaling in popularity with pornographic films.

Sooner or later, people in other countries joined conspiracy theories. The “lunar conspiracy” was especially in demand in Japan and China. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia joined the general hysteria. According to the VCIOM poll conducted last year (the new one will be published for this anniversary date) more than a half of Russians (57%) are sure that there was no lunar landing.

No one is confused by the fact that the “official” space authorities of the USSR and Russia, citing their own intelligence and telemetry intercepts, without any doubt admit the victory of the USA in the lunar race. Such cosmonauts as Alexey Leonov, Georgy Grechko and Konstantin Feoktistov repeatedly said that the landing of the Americans on the Moon is confirmed by all objective data and only absolutely ignorant people “can not believe in it”.

Yury Mukhin, the main Russian apologist of the “lunar conspiracy”

Nevertheless, lunar conspiracy science has become a fertile field for many Russian authors, who regularly produce new “evidence” and “revelations”. The most famous among them are Yuri Mukhin, accusing CPSU in collusion with NASA (among others, he is a convinced Stalinist, author of “Genetics Slut”), physicist Alexander Popov, who claims that all American space flights before Columbus in 1981 were a hoax, and telephotographer Yuri Elkhov, who “analyzed” movies from the Moon and “proved” that they were fabricated. In the field of lunar conspiracy, prominent TV presenters (e.g., Alexander Gordon or Alexei Pushkov), science fiction writers, scientists, politicians and other public figures were noted. Moon conspiracy spares no one.

All major propagandists of the Moon conspiracy usually have one thing in common: they are totally incompetent in the field they talk about – physics, astronomy, rocket engineering and space research. Many of them seek to profit from “uncovering” – to sell you their books, movies and “we haven’t been to the moon” t-shirts. Besides, often, if one digs into the minds of “lunar conspiracy” adherents, he/she will find a place for delusions on the level of the flat earth theory.

Arguments for and against

Here we get to the most interesting part of the “moon conspiracy” discussion. But we have to disappoint you. We are not going to make a detailed analysis of arguments “for” and “against” – firstly, it is extremely boring, secondly, it would require a hundred of articles like this one, and thirdly, as practice shows, it is simply impossible to change stubborn conspiracy theories, hence it is not worth wasting your time on it.

But you should get the general idea. The main arguments of conspiracy theorists fall into three main groups:

Claims about the technical impossibility of a landing: the main claims here lie in the reality of the Saturn V rocket launcher that launched the Apollo missions to the Moon. It is implausibly powerful, reliable and could not have been built in the mid-1960s. The same goes for electronic automatics, life support systems, and so on. These arguments are similar to well-known stories about Egyptian pyramids and icons from Easter Island, which could not have been made by human hands.

Misinterpretation of the real facts: this includes all the claims about the photos, waving flags, astronauts lit from unexpected sides, absence of craters from rocket engines, the force of lunar gravity, some letters on the moon rocks and a thousand more big and small “inconsistencies” obviously indicating falsification.

Open fantasies: when already chewed up arguments a thousand times seem insufficient, especially creative conspiracy theorists begin to invent their own. Here the space for fantasy is not limited by anything: an 80-centimeter layer of lead on suits to protect against radiation, secret murders of astronauts who want to tell the truth, Nazi bases on the back side of the Moon and so on. No matter how incredibly silly the new argument may sound, it still finds its admirers.

All the arguments “against” rest on three fat whales:

Lazy. Few conspiracy theorists are even aware that there were six landings. They focus on Armstrong’s first flight and chew over the same facts about Apollo 11 over and over again. Many are just too lazy to read the official information, look at the actual photos and videos posted on the NASA website, and base their attack on some speculation and sketchy facts, sometimes taken simply from the ceiling.

Incompetence. Experts in the field of photography and cinematography have very little idea how shadows really fall on an uneven surface, what is the photosensitivity of the film that makes it impossible to see stars in photos from the Moon, rocket engineers hear about the damped vibrations of the flag, present even in a vacuum, physicists cannot correctly calculate the gravitational force and the height of astronauts jumps. Critics of the landing make science-like arguments that only people just as ignorant can believe. When real professionals get involved, no stone is left unturned in the conspirators’ arguments.

Lies. In order to achieve their own material benefit, increase self-esteem or comfort their sense of dignity, many conspiracy theorists trivially lie, making up things that never happened in reality. Best of all, if this lie cannot be verified – witnesses are dead, film footage is lost, officials are silent – then the lie will work, even if it looks completely implausible.

The hard-working “defenders” of the “Apollo” have literally laid out the answers to the arguments of the “conspirators”, refuting their arguments one after another using physics, mathematics, astronomy and trivial logic. Over the past 50 years, conspiracy theorists have failed to come up with a single sufficiently convincing and irrefutable accusation, and the debate on this issue has been going in circles for years, turning into endless trolling.

If you still want to really delve into the subject, a very detailed multi-page “debriefing” can be found here: in English and Russian.

A worthy rebuff

Lunar conspiracists are confronted by all sorts of people – they spend hours on popular conspiracy forums, write huge proof texts on their blogs, make videos for Youtube and fiercely interject in face-to-face conversations. It’s voluntary, hard, unpaid and largely meaningless work. But it is nevertheless necessary – perhaps some conspiracy-theory neophytes are reconsidering their views once they meet a persuasive rebuke from the rationalists.

The saddest thing is that at times the defenders of truth make the struggle against the conspiracy a meaning of their life and begin to resemble their opponents in many ways – the same fanatical eyes, nervous gestures, specific turns of speech – they seek their opponents everywhere and with undying enthusiasm begin to bang their heads against a solid wall.

Perhaps the most striking attempt to disprove the “lunar conspiracy” was made in the famous TV program “Mythbusters” in 2008, testing in practice several of the most popular conspiracy arguments. Needless to say, all these myths got a juicy “busted” marking?

In addition to “volunteer” attempts to save humanity from sinking into the thicket of error, NASA has also taken its own quite official steps.

In 1977, just after the end of the Apollo program, NASA issued a newsletter that was a sort of response to the aforementioned Keesing’s book. The newsletter called the theory that the landing had been tampered with ridiculous and provided several facts to refute the conspiracy. In particular, photos taken on the moon were published there and the analysis of lunar soil was given, proving that it could not be formed in terrestrial conditions. In addition, NASA specialists refuted in detail Kasing’s main argument about the absence of a crater on the lunar surface, left by the landing of the Apollo lunar module.

The paper highlighted that all operations and phases of the Apollo program were closely monitored by a huge number of specialists and were under the scrutiny of the media.

NASA employees watch the launch of Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center Mission Control Center on July 16, 1969

After a long hiatus, in February 2001 on the eve of the odious program on the FOX television channel (“Conspiracy Theory: Did We Really Land on the Moon?”), NASA re-released its newsletter, refreshing its arguments point by point. It didn’t help much – the FOX film beat all the viewer ratings and spurred a new wave of conspiracy theories.

In 2002, NASA awarded a $15,000 grant to James Oberg, a renowned scientist and historian of space research, to write a step-by-step refutation of the “lunar conspiracy” theory. However, after numerous complaints from the progressive public that such a book would legitimize the very idea of conspiracy theories, the grant was withdrawn. Supporters of the “lunar conspiracy” simply used any mentioning of their fantasies for self-propaganda and wise leaders of NASA decided not to give them an extra reason to remind about themselves.

Oberg never wrote his book, noting that the belief in a “lunar conspiracy” is not the fault of the “conspirators,” but a fault of NASA management, which is not actively publishing credible information to the public.

Since then, NASA’s Public Affairs Department has made this work one of its main tasks – an entire section dedicated to the Apollo program was created on NASA’s official website, where information is regularly updated, new photo and video evidence of moon landings, various documents and scientific research are posted.

Apollo 11 crew: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin Aldrin

But the toughest rebuff to conspiracy theorists came from the lunar astronauts themselves. In the early 2000s, American documentary filmmaker and supporter of the “lunar conspiracy” Bart Seabrel launched a real manhunt for astronauts involved in the lunar program. Under various pretexts, he would sneak into their homes, catch them at public events and ask everyone to swear on the Bible that they really were on the moon. According to Cibrell’s own statements, all six (of the twelve) he managed to “catch” refused to swear, indicating that they were all lying (Ed Mitchell of Apollo 14, however, claims to have taken such an oath and then kicked Cibrell out of his house). Neil Armstrong was even offered $5,000 by Cibrell to go to any charity he specified, but he still politely declined.


Bart Sibrel versus Neil Armstrong

But the most epic rebuff came from Baz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. On September 9, 2002, Aldrin arrived at a Los Angeles hotel for a meeting with Japanese television crews, but instead of friendly Japanese there he found an aggressive Bart Cibrel jumping in front of him with a Bible in his hands. When Aldrin tried to hide from the pesky conspiracy therapist in the hotel lobby, Cibrel called him a “coward, liar and thief.” The response in the form of a sharp hook to the jaw was immediate.


Bart Seabrel versus Baz Aldrin.

Not a bad answer from a Korean War veteran (Aldrin shot down two North Korean MiGs in 1953) to a conspiracy theorist. Despite almost double (72 vs. 37) difference in age and weight, Sibrel almost didn’t fall down after the strike, having made sure of the astronaut’s excellent physical fitness – they didn’t send just anyone to the moon.

The court that considered Sibrel’s claim of battery upheld it, stating that the complainant had not provided visible signs of injuries or a medical expert’s report.

Why does the “moon conspiracy” exist after all?

Popularity and vitality of conspiracy theories in general is amazing. Almost each historical event is connected at least with one conspiracy theory and despite all refutations they safely live literally for centuries. The explanation of popularity of conspiracy lies somewhere in depth of human psyche, but in the most general lines it can be explained approximately so:

People are stupid. As sad as it is, this is true (of course, it does not apply to you directly!). Most people are gullible and not critical enough to accept even the most ridiculous ideas. Oddly enough, neither a university education, nor a sincere love of knowledge, nor being well read can protect you from falling for the most outrageous conspiracy theories. Even among respectable professors, most different experts and simply adequate at first sight people there are a lot of “flatlanders”, seekers of Atlantis and aliens’ imprints on Egyptian pyramids.

People like to appear smart. Conspiracy theories are actually much more complex than simple unsophisticated reality. In order to disprove the obvious facts, one has to create a sophisticated system of arguments and logical constructions – this clearly demonstrates the high intelligence of conspiracy theorists. Having found some mistake in falsified proofs, a person begins to consider himself more clever than the surrounding people, who do not see something special in the obvious things. This is capable of greatly increasing self-esteem.

People want to belong to an elite. People like to feel more important than others, belonging to the “secret knowledge” makes them special and helps them realize their difference from everyone else. “Millions of people believe in silly NASA fairy tales, and only we, the chosen ones, know the truth,” as if a typical conspiracy supporter tells us and winks conspiratorially, inviting us to join the club of the initiated.

People like to have fun. Real life is mostly a boring thing. We constantly strive to embellish it – we compose myths, make feature films and write fiction books, or lie about the amount of alcohol we drink, the size of the fish we catch or the closeness of dating the opposite sex. Much more fascinating to think that the mysterious outbreaks in the night sky – it UFO signals, rather than banal landing lights airliner. As amazing a fact as the human moon landings are, some people find it more interesting to think that they are an elaborate conspiracy.

People do not trust the government. The average citizen does not like politicians at all, and trust in their own authorities, who are constantly inventing new taxes, hiding the true state of affairs in the country and living in their own separate world, is a rare case. While it is true that there are plenty of reasons to distrust the authorities, a healthy criticism of their work needs to be clearly distinguished from belief in a secret committee of “anti-Judeo reptilians” who rule the world in their own self-interest. “Area 51”, secret medical experiments instead of childhood inoculations, total surveillance in the “Big Brother” style, the Kennedy assassination – these are very well-known government conspiracy theories, especially popular among Americans. They all have some real basis in fact, but taking them to the point of absurdity is not a sign of an inquisitive mind, but rather a mental aberration.

People are jealous. Finally, the prevalence of the “moonlight conspiracy” among non-Americans can sometimes be explained by trivial envy – they have achieved something that still remains inaccessible to everyone else. Instead of reaching for the stars themselves, it is much easier to smear and trash the victories of others.

One can argue endlessly with “skeptics” and cite hundreds of arguments in favour of the reality of the lunar landing, review new images of the Moon surface from the Japanese “Kaguya”, Chinese “Chang’e-2” or Indian “Chandrayan-1” reflecting the presence of traces of human presence, record responses from the corner laser reflectors installed by astronauts on the Moon, analyse the Moon soil for thousand times – but it cannot change the mind of anyone. And, in the end, it’s just boring.

The only way to be a hundred percent sure of the American landing is to fly to the moon one more time and see it for yourself. That would be fun. Hopefully, this will soon be possible. And Rogozin promised to send a Russian cosmonaut to Earth’s satellite by 2030 – ours is not going to lie…


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