Artemis mission: men on the moon at the center of conspiracy theories for fifty years

Artemis mission: men on the moon at the center of conspiracy theories for fifty years

“Is it humanly possible to go that far? (…) We are going to go very far, as far as no human being has ever gone away from Earth. »

All it took was a brief sentence from French astronaut Thomas Pesquet on France 2 on Tuesday, August 30, about future Artemis missions, to spark a classic conspiracy argument that humans would never have set foot on the Moon.

These words were thus shared out of context on Twitter by controversial figures such as essayist Idriss Aberkane, lawyer Fabrice Di Vizio or former RT France columnist Alexis Poulin. “But why do we have to waste precious time on this again? Of course yes, the human went to the moon during the Apollo missions. And we’re going back there.” I have answered Tomas Pesquet.

Precisely his statement referred to future orbits around the Moon, planned for the Artemis II mission, which will be much further away than those of the Apollo missions. Had it not been for some shady commentators, the astronaut admitted that Americans would never have set foot on the moon. Thought to be old-fashioned, this conspiracy theory is actually almost as old as the Apollo missions themselves.

Old theses that have remained in the minority for a long time

In December 1969, five months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first steps on the Moon, the New York Times He raised the doubts of the members of an association who claimed that the NASA feat would have been carried out in the middle of the Nevada desert. It was not until 1976 that an unknown person, Bill Kaysing, accused the space agency of having organized a hoax, in a short self-published book, we never went to the moon.

This man without scientific training, employed at Rocketdyne, a NASA subcontractor, between 1956 and 1963, affirms that the engineers of this Saturn V rocket engine company would have entrusted him with their doubts about the technical possibility of going to the Moon and returning Safely. He also develops there the first great classic arguments that will become popular later on (absence of stars in the lunar sky visible in the images, absence of craters excavated by the blowing of engines, etc.). Emmanuel Kreis, a CNRS conspiracy historian, explains it this way:

“The idea, for Bill Kaysing, is to show that it is a “30 billion dollar” scam and that we are financing a project that does not exist with a lot of money. »

“At a time when these theories are becoming more widespread, Americans have proof, with Watergate, that the government is lying to them” – Romy Sauvayre, sociologist of science

His accusations did not find much response at the time, but they contributed to increasing mistrust in the US federal power, in a political context conducive to suspicion. As Romy Sauvayre, a sociologist of science and belief at the University of Clermont Auvergne and the CNRS, reminds us:

“At a time when these theories are spreading the most, Americans have proof, with Watergate, that the government is lying to them, and distrust of institutions is growing. »

It is also in this context that in the cinema, in 1978, capricorn one, a fiction that presents a space mission to Mars whose images are taken by NASA in a hangar. Six years earlier, Hollywood studios still refused to produce it, but Watergate returned his theses “more acceptable”estimated the New York Times when the movie comes out

The thesis of a NASA hoax is slowly coming out of the shadows. “When I came to the United States [en 1992]it is a topic that was discussed among the astronauts»recalls former astronaut Jean-François Clervoy. But the credibility of these theses has long remained weak in American public opinion. Two surveys conducted in 1995 and 1999 estimated that 6% of Americans believed that man had never walked on the Moon.

Renewed interest in the 2000s

At the beginning of the XXIme century, these theories, however, are gaining popularity, following two documentaries. The first, broadcast in February 2001 on Fox TV, Conspiracy theory: Did we land on the Moon?, revives Kaysing’s thesis by pointing out anomalies in the photos taken on the surface of the Moon. Much discussed in the United States, they have been refuted by many actors in space and astronomy.

The following year, a very different “documentary” was released in France, Operation Moon. Realized by William Karel and diffused on Art, the appuie d’abord l’hypothèse d’un cannular orchestrated by the CIA and filmed by Stanley Kubrick, avant de révéler à la toute fin que le documentaire lui-même est un cannular et ses intervenants Players. However, the parodic nature of the approach escapes part of its audience.

Anti-American sentiment, which grew in the 2000s after the invasion of Iraq, also helped popularize these narratives.

The rise in popularity of these theses coincides with the launch of the ambitious Constellation lunar program in early 2004. “At the time, in America, we talked a lot about Apollo. I think it helped get people talking about the conspiracy theory and the Apollo missions again at the time.”recalls Jean-François Clervoy.

Finally, anti-American sentiment, which grew in the 2000s after the invasion of Iraq, also helped popularize this narrative that denied the technological feat of Apollo-11. “The highest rates of support for this theory are observed in four countries that harbor feelings of distrust towards the United States, such as Mexico (31%), Turkey (28%), Saudi Arabia (28%) and Egypt (27%). Regarding the conspiracy theory about the attacks of September 11 “recalls Rudy Reichstadt, director of ConspiracyWatch.

many parodies

However, most of the population does not take them seriously. They are even a recurring object of ridicule. In the early 2000s,, a parody site, posted a humorous video in which members of the film crew appear in the sequence of the first steps on the Moon. “This clip is fake, it is not an excerpt from a top secret NASA reel”, ended up revealing its authors. From 2017 to 2020, on the bubbling Reddit forum, the “Moon Truthers” sub-community also specialized in poking fun at conspiracy plots. Ironically, much of this parody content ends up being taken for granted.

However, these theories have been the subject of numerous and precise refutations by scientists over the past twenty years, who have had no difficulty dismantling the so-called staged evidence. “There is a huge list of arguments [complotistes], but the main ones start from a misunderstanding of how the laws of physics work”summarizes Romy Sauvayre.

The countless demystifications published in the 2000s and 2010s were not enough to disabuse the convinced. “Guys don’t listen anyway, they tell the truth but choose the things that suit them and ignore the rest”Tomás Pesquet was upset on Twitter Wednesday August 31.

A suspicion has settled

One would have thought that these theories had fallen into disuse. Before this episode, on Twitter, the speeches denying that we had walked on the Moon were, from a quantitative point of view, “truly minority, even minuscule”, points out Romy Sauvayre, unlike the speeches about the vaccine or 5G. They were confined to the edges of the Internet, on radical platforms like CrowdBunker or BitChute. And again, his audience there was ultra-confidential, often made up of the very last “platists” (followers of the flat-Earth theory) who hadn’t migrated into the QAnon mythology. “It is a theory that has survived, at least with regard to countries like France or the United States, says Rudy Reichstadt. Perhaps because the conquest of the Moon is of minor political importance compared to the time when Washington turned it into a lever of prestige in the ideological war with the Eastern bloc. » It is also less moving than more recent events, such as 9/11 or the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is not to say that it has disappeared, as Buzz Aldrin’s elliptical comment detour demonstrated in the spring. He just settled down and suspicions about the 1969 lunar expedition now spread to other space initiatives. In 2021, several conspiracy theorists claimed that images of Mars had been taken in Greenland, Bulgaria, or even Canada.

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