4.6 Origins and history of Moon hoax theories

Hoax claims regarding the Moon landings are not a recent phenomenon. In his book A Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaikin notes that they circulated even before the landings occurred, questioning Apollo 8’s flight around the Moon in December 1968.*

* A Moon Landing? What Moon Landing? by John Noble Wilford, New York Times, 18 December 1969, p. 30.

There are anecdotal reports of doubters in the newspapers of the time, but it’s difficult to find any hard figures. One year after the first Moon landing, an informal US poll by Knight Newspapers reported that over 30% of the 1,721 respondents were suspicious of NASA’s claims.*

* The Wrong Stuff, in Wired 2.09, September 1994; Newsweek, 20 July 1970; Many Doubt Man’s Landing on Moon, Atlanta Constitution, 15 June 1970.

The figure rose to 54% among African Americans, although space historian Roger D. Launius notes that this “perhaps said more about the disconnectedness of minority communities from the Apollo effort and the nation’s overarching racism than anything else.”

* Roger D. Launius, American Spaceflight History’s Master Narrative and the Meaning of Memory, in Remembering the Space Age, Steven J. Dick (ed.), 2008, p. 373-384.

Many sources report that the very first pamphlet dedicated to the subject was Did Man Land on the Moon? by mathematician James J. Cranny, who self-published it in Johnson City, Texas, in 1970. Little is known, however, about its content or its author.

Moon hoax claims were soon referenced in popular culture. For example, in the movie Diamonds are Forever (1971), secret agent James Bond escapes by driving a stolen “Moon car” through a wall of an elaborate set where a moonwalk is being simulated rather ambiguously (Figure 4.6-1).

Figure 4.6-1. The “Moon set” in Diamonds are Forever (1971). Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

A rather bizarre Moon landing conspiracy theory reportedly circulated in Moscow in 1970: it claimed that the Soviet Lunokhod 1 rover, a remotely controlled vehicle which landed on the Moon in November of 1970, was actually “driven by a midget KGB agent on a one-way suicide mission to the lunar surface”, because Muscovites thought that Soviet technology was not up to the task of driving a robot on the Moon. Supporters of this theory, however, apparently had no trouble in believing that Soviet technology was capable of landing a human being on the Moon and somehow keeping him alive there for the eleven months during which Lunokhod 1 explored the lunar surface.*

* Encyclopedia Astronautica, KGB Dwarf.