When Neil Armstrong pressed the first bootprint into the Sea of Tranquility, most of humanity watched the televised low-res blob and felt pride welling up in their chests. But a few watchers felt something entirely different—an unconfirmed, squinty-eyed skepticism that something about the whole deal smelled fishy. How could the United States, which could barely put a chimp into space in 1961, get two full-grown men on the surface of the moon eight years later? How could anyone confirm that men actually made it to the moon? And, how, exactly, had that $25 billion Apollo budget been spent?
Five years, and five lunar landings later, the nebulous idea that the government faked the whole moon shot on a soundstage somewhere in the Southwest finally coalesced when, in 1974, Bill Kaysing, a former technical writer for Rocketdyne, a company that worked on the Atlas V launch vehicle, self published a book We Never Went to the Moon: America’s $30 Billon Swindle. Kaysing claimed that the Apollo program was faked to allow the U.S. to secretly militarize space, and that the astronauts, who were put through sessions of “guilt therapy” to help deal with the deception, were actually at a strip club in Nevada the night of the moon landing.
Far from being the work of an exhaustive investigative journalist, its notable lack of evidence, sources, and logical reasoning kept the tome from hitting the bestseller list (or any list). But mistrust of the government—1974 was the height of frustration with Vietnam and the Watergate scandal—gave Kaysing’s semi-formed ideas enough to nudge the Apollo Hoax out of the ether and into the near fringe of pseudo-science. The seed was slow to germinate, but Capricorn 1—a popular 1978 film starring OJ Simpson (who later theorists have implicated in the Apollo coverup) in which the government fakes a manned Mars landing—kept Kaysing’s ideas alive and helped spawn a cottage industry of Moon hoaxers who gathered and presented evidence to one another throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Despite this, the Apollo Hoax remained fringe, and was on the verge of likely evaporation when the nexus of the Internet and a February 2001 special on the Fox network called Conspiracy Theory: Did We Ever Land on the Moon? put the theory on the public display for the first time. In Fox’s shockumentary era (see When Animals Attack and Temptation Idol), the Moon Hoax documentary and a replay a month later were ratings successes, and became water cooler fodder across the country with people asking “why weren’t there stars in the photos?" And “How could the astronauts have survived the radiation of the Van Allen Belts?” Aided with a blossoming of Internet conspiracy sites, the Apollo Hoax made its first true toehold in the mainstream press.
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