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Columbia Missourian

MU professor debunks hoax theory of moon landing

By Cheston McGuire
July 19, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
In this July 20, 1969 file photo, Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., lunar module pilot, descends steps of Lunar Module ladder as he prepares to walk on the moon. He had just egressed the Lunar Module.

COLUMBIA — On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and uttered his famous words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Or did he?

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Since that day there have been books, movies, TV specials and Web sites dedicated to exposing "the truth" about the lunar landing — that it never happened.

MU history professor Jeff Pasley, who teaches "Conspiracy Theories and Conspiracies in U.S. History and Culture," calls the moon landing hoax theory "the most ridiculous and insignificant of all the popular conspiracy theories that don't involve the supernatural."

Pasley said the moon landing hoax theory is the third most popular conspiracy theory behind the John F. Kennedy assassination and 9/11. The moon hoax is so popular because "it doesn't really matter, so it's OK to believe it," he said. People believe the hoax because they can protest the government without any real political convictions.

"Belief in the moon landing isn't a cause," Pasley said. "It's a belief."

While many people might be interested in the theory, Pasley questioned how many people actually believe it.

One Web site that does believe the theory is The Apollo Hoax, which states in its opening words that the site "was written to prove, once and for all, that we are not being told the truth about the NASA film footage of the Apollo missions." The site is filled with pictures, videos and diagrams poking holes in the moon landing. 

One of the most common arguments against the reality of the lunar landing is that the U.S. flag planted there was waving even though there's no wind on the moon. An August 2008 episode of the TV show MythBusters recreated the scenario by planting a flag in the ground within a vacuum. The momentum alone caused the flag to wave, no air required.

Another supposed piece of evidence that the moon landing couldn't have happened is that astronauts couldn't have survived the radiation of space. That kind of argument is what Pasley calls "negative subjunctive reasoning." When people believe one facet of an event is impossible — like someone surviving the radiation of space — it allows them to believe an entire event is a conspiracy, Pasley said.

"Given what we know about NASA, it doesn't seem they could have faked (the moon landing)," Pasley said.

Given all of the other well-publicized NASA failures, including exploding shuttles and failed launches, Pasley asked why the moon landing would be any different.