This 1963 model depicts an early Apollo lunar lander concept, called a “bug.” Engineers designed several possible vehicle shapes for both manned and unmanned landers. In 1961, Bruce Lundin, former director of NASA’s Lewis Research Centre (now Glenn), chaired a NASA study group that assessed a variety of ways to accomplish a lunar landing mission. (NASA)

Loony tunes on the moon

This Saturday, July 20 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Apollo 11 took off on July 16, 1969 and landed on the moon four days later.

I can remember watching this on television, soothed by the dulcet tones of Walter Cronkite. It was amazing. It was unbelievable to me that something this wild could happen. My whole family was glued to our black and white TV. Yes, I’m that old.

But did the moon landing happen?

For if July 20, 1969 is the day man landed on the moon, July 21, 1969 is the day that conspiracy theories about the moon landing began.

As in, it never happened.

Yes, there is a largish swathe of the population that believe the moon landings were faked, and that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never actually set foot on lunar soil, but rather on a move set in Area 51.

Suspicious, critics say, that the only film available comes through NASA. I would ask where any other video would be sourced. The local news team was not on location for the lunar landing. Live! At five! From the moon!

Those who disbelieve, choose instead to believe that Aldrin and Armstrong and the guy who no one ever remembers who stayed in the command module, did blast into space, but then hung out in orbit while the world watched a pre-filmed lunar landing and walkabout.

A man named Bill Kaysing, former employee of Rocketdyne, a company that helped to design the Saturn V rocket engines, really amped up the conspiracy by claiming that is was his true conviction that the United States lacked the technical prowess at the time and could not have pulled off the landing and most especially, the return to earth.

In any event, one of the biggest points for conspiracy theorists is that when Aldrin planted the American flag on the moon, it appears to wave in the breeze. How could this happen? You can’t have wind in a vacuum.

The official NASA explanation is that Aldrin was twisting the flagpole to get it to plant in the soil, causing the flag to move.

Others question the lack of stars in any of the pictures from the moon, the lack of a blast crater under the landing module, the way the shadows fell. Official NASA explanations: camera-exposure times, the way thrust works in a vacuum and reflective qualities of moon dust.

It gets more involved. Conspiracy theorists also say that it would be entirely possible to fake the moon environment on a movie set in 1969 because Stanley Kubrick used technology in 1968 to create a space like set, so he could have helped NASA.

In other words, they had the technology to make it look like they pulled it off, not the technology to actually pull it off.

Now why would the US government go to such lengths as to fake the moon landing in the first place?

It all comes back to the Russians — funny how 50 years later, many roads still lead to Russia, but that’s neither here nor there. The theory is that the U.S. was desperate to beat Russia to the moon, and feared the Russians were getting close, therefore they faked the moon landing to get there first.

The Russians were close. They had pulled off the first spacewalk in 1965. They actually landed an unmanned, pardon me, un-personed, craft in 1959.

Interestingly, while some six per cent of Americans question the moon landing, a poll found that fully 57 per cent of Russians believe the U.S. never went to the moon. Go figure.

The conspiracy persists to this day, despite the evidence, including actual moon rocks. There are also images from NASA showing the tracks made by in the moon dust by the astronauts.

I’ve been to the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington and touched the actual moon rock. It looked like a moon rock, if one had a notion of what a moon rock should look like. It felt like a moon rock. I don’t know if it tasted like a moon rock because they frown on you licking it.

Where did this rock come from if not the moon?

I’m sure the conspiracy theorists would have an answer for that should I care to ask them. But I do not.

Happy mooniversary, everyone.

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