Thinking Critically About the Apollo Moon Landings

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible in the soil of the Moon. Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander, took this picture with a 70mm Hasselblad lunar surface camera.

Almost from the point of the first Apollo missions, a small group of Americans denied that they had taken place at all. They argued that the missions had been faked in Hollywood by the federal government for purposes ranging from embezzlement of the public treasury to complex conspiracy theories involving international intrigue and murderous criminality. Why, they wondered, was the flag flying in the photos from the Moon when there is no wind? They tapped into a rich vein of distrust of government. At the time of the first landings, opinion polls showed that overall less than five percent, among some communities larger percentages, “doubted the Moon voyage had taken place.” Fueled by conspiracy theorists of all stripes, this number has grown over time. In a 2004 poll, while overall numbers remained about the same, among Americans between 18 and 24 years old “27 percent expressed doubts that NASA went to the Moon,” according to pollster Mary Lynne Dittmar. Doubt is different from denial, but it was a trend that seemed to be growing over time among those who did not witness the events.

How, and most importantly, why has this questioning of the Moon landings taken place? What does it say about our culture? How might we discern the truth; what critical thinking skills help to understand and assess evidence concerning the Moon landings?  Curator Roger Launius discusses the rise of this phenomenon in modern America.  Find out why it looks like the flag is blowing in the wind.

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