Ever since man "landed on the moon" there have been men and women on Earth trying to disqualify that claim by uncovering some vast conspiracy at work. You've heard about the flag waving in a vacuum, Stanley Kubrick's allusion in The Shining. But after a photo taken in 1972 after the Apollo 17 mission was shared online, the conspiracy theorists think they have the coup de grace.
YouTube user Streetcap1 uploaded a video with a photographer purportedly from the '72 landing. Streetcap1 uses the photo to argue that the whole landing was staged — and that a "stagehand" can be seen in the reflection on the visor of this astronaut. Hence the name of the photo, "Reflection in a Visor."
Forgot His Backpack?
Streetcap1's video goes into detail about that small figure reflected in the helmet. This figure is not wearing a backpack — required for terrestrial exploration on the moon. Even taking into account the possibility of visual distortion, Streetcap1 says, the backpack should still be visible because of its size.
The picture can be found on NASA's website. Depending on your credulity, it might offer some food for thought. Streetcap1 sees a stagehand, others see another astronaut. Perhaps it comes down to the astronaut's missing backpack?
The video attracted the attention of legions of other moonwalk truthers. Many congratulate him for a good find. Others, however, claim digital distortion is at play here. Or, at the very least, the reflection is another astronaut — which wouldn't raise alarm.
You can imagine that NASA responds to the claims that it faked moon landings with swift backlash. In a release from 2001, NASA's first line was, "Yes. Astronauts did land on the Moon." As if there were any question.
Why, then, do conspiracy theorists, and their anti-government conspiracies, persist? At the time of the first landings, opinion polls showed that only 5% of people doubted the landings happened. In 2004, 27% of Americans 18 – 24 expressed doubt for the space program, and the landing itself. What a hike!
Chalk up the uptick in belief in conspiracy theories to a further divide between the government and its governed. Legal scholar Mark Fenster wrote a whole book on why people get themselves wrapped up in the tendrils of these elaborate plots. He says it's due to “a polarization so profound that people end up with an unshakable belief that those in power ‘simply can’t be trusted.'”
The landings took place during the Cold War, and America and the Soviets were locked in a high stakes arms race. Conspiracy theorists claim that one of the reasons the U.S. faked the landing was to appear more technologically puissant than they actually were. Staging the landing would save them a lot of money, and achieve the same effect, so say the theorists.
Apollo 17 was the last of the Apollo series, but was notable for many reasons. It was the last time we as a species have ventured outside Earth's low orbit. It was the first mission without a test pilot. And some other superlatives: longest moonwalks, longest duration on the moon, and longest time spent in lunar orbit.
Another theory on why conspiracy theories propagate is that they are dangerously effective at offering a balm to hot-headed anxiety caused by uncertain times. They're a way to order the world that seems so absurd — JFK's assassination, climate change, etc. And because they have little proof to justify them, they rely on ad hominem argumentsand social ratification.
Buzz Aldrin, the first man to step foot on the moon, has no tolerance for doubters. On Twitter he's made his position pretty clear. "...the Russians would have exposed by now if we didn't land." That's both probably true and also disheartening — why are the Russians so good at getting our intel?!
Popular Mechanics, among so many other outlets, have debunked the conspiracy theories, noting that NASA had neither the technology nor the resources to simulate a ruse that profound and sophisticated. Either way, that people are still interested in conspiracy theories, and staking so much on them, is indicative of something deeper, something underlying. Why can't so many people in this country trust their government? Unravel that conspiracy.