Space exploration has always been of particular interest to me. The idea that man can travel and reach remote planets, solar systems or even other galaxies intertwine in my mind with ideas of time travelling, instant transportation of matter, intergalactic spaceships, and reaching the outer borders of the universe. Early on I searched for information relating to mankind’s achievements in regards to space travelling. This search made me aware of a widespread notion that the entire space travel boom of the late 50’s and especially the moon landings, claimed to have been achieved by NASA’s Apollo Program, could very well be a hoax.Why would a powerful nation, as the USA, makeup and present the public with such a lie? This was always one of major question popping in my mind repetitively. If space travel was not a hoax, why would a big part of the Americans defy their nation’s achievement? This was yet another puzzling question I had.
Having these major questions in mind I tried to come with information supporting or rejecting the hoax hypothesis on the government’s part, as well as with information justifying the scepticism of the mood landings on the part of the public. A major source of information was the internet but also, relevant journal publications, books, and documentaries.
These original questions lead me down the road of wondering of what were the reasons for the USA to want to dominate space, even if that would only be a well made up story. To answer this question one needs to examine and understand the socioeconomic context and the tense relations with the USSR at the time, which lead up to what is now known as the Space Race that took place between the two superpowers.
Whether the walk on the moon really took place or not is of minor importance. Examining the USA’s need for space domination on the one hand and the USA’s public widespread conspiracy culture is of important value in understanding this nation. Hopefully, it will provide some insight on the ways the nation seeks to expand, its imperialistic inclination as well as the US public attitude towards its government and agencies.
The single most influential lead-in for the Cold War era was the signage of the Atlantic Charter by the USA and UK on August 14th, 1941. The Atlantic Charter was signed at a time at which the USA was not involved in WWII. Nevertheless, the Charter set the rules for the post-war world and sketched the common visions of Roosevelt and Churchill of the world “the day after” the war. Out of the eight key points the Charter contained, three are of paramount importance to this analysis, namely that there would be no territorial gains as a result of the outcome of World War II, any territorial adjustments would be made with the wishes of the affected people taken into consideration and finally towards post-war disarmament and the mutual disarmament of aggressor nations. The Atlantic Charter was setting up the ground rules to be followed once the war ended and less than 4 months later the USA got involved in WWII.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the formation of the Manhattan Project which would be responsible for the nuclear research leading to the development of nuclear weapons. In July 1945 the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated in New Mexico, followed by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing in August 1945. WWII was reaching its conclusion and frenzy for world domination via all possible means was commencing for the USA and USSR. The USSR had already initiated a full-scale nuclear program in response to the Manhattan Project. Its first successful testing was concluded in August 1949.
Historically the Cold War Era starts with the end of WWII, nevertheless one could claim that the Cold War began when all plans for conventional military conflict were abandoned. The year 1953 is a landmark year and could well be considered as the year Cold War began. By the end of WWII, the demarcation lines in Europe had already been drawn by the summit meetings that had taken place between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin from 1943 to 1945. The same could be said for Japan, which fell under a complete USA occupation. For the remaining world, the two superpowers competed in gaining and maintaining their spheres of influence. In 1947, the Truman Doctrine, attempted in influencing countries into the USA sphere of influence via monetary aid. In 1951, President Truman again, dismissed General Douglas MacArthur who seemed to be a confrontationalist who pushed the US Army and country towards war. But by 1953 the USA and USSR reached equilibrium in terms of weaponry power. In 1953, the USSR had created its own hydrogen bomb a few months after the USA had completed its own. According to Hobsbawm (1996), they had “both abandoned war as an instrument of policy against one another since it was the equivalent of a suicide pact.”
With a weaponry power equilibrium achieved, the USA and USSR were forced to engage into indirect confrontations, from which the term Cold War originated. During the Cold War era, both sides competed on all possible levels besides head-on military confrontations. They raced to maintain equilibrium in regards to their military forces as well as their nuclear arsenals. Proxy wars were a common practice. Trade wars, propaganda campaigns, psychological warfare and espionage and counterintelligence started and became the main competition arena by both parties.
Prestige and achievement were important aspects in gaining sympathy, allies and devoted nations, in this sense, rivalry extended into sports, technology, science, culture and every other aspect of human activity. Achievements in these fields were perceived and transformed into an ideological superiority of each power.
Both the USA and the USSR by the end of WWII and the partition of Germany got access to German missile technology and scientists. This knowledge provided the opportunity and the bases for expanding the superpower frontiers into space. Reaching and “conquering” space, not only was out of the Atlantic Charter restrictions and any agreed demarcation lines, or any other treaty signed, but it was the ultimate frontier. Space was an objective which would very well impact all Cold War “weapons”, image, prestige, achievement, science, psychological domination, fear, ultimate power and ability. Conquering space, understandably, became a synonym or better yet a metaphor of conquering the world and thus was of paramount importance. The first in space would be the one with the space deeds at hand.
“The Space Race refers to the 20th-century competition between the two Cold War rivals for dominance in spaceflight capability.” It literally was a race against time for completing successfully this “competition”. The US on July 29, 1955 announced its intent to launch satellites, four days later the USSR matched that intention, it was the day the Space Race began.The commencement of the Space Race, in summer of 1955, was followed by a prolonged period of a little over two years span, during which preliminary developments, involving intercontinental missiles and other breakthrough work took place. This initial period was also characterized by a disturbing silence. Most of the Space Race efforts were well-kept secrets. This changed on October 4, 1957 when the USSR announced the launch and placement in orbit of Sputnik I, while less than a month later they had send a dog – Laika – in orbit. As Degler (1975) called it, it was a time the State and Americans suffered from Sputnikitis. In view that they may very well lose the Space Race, the USA entered a frenzy mode of development and testing, which did not hold the much needed and wanted positive outcomes. Best case scenario was that the USSR was way ahead in reaching space than the USA. “It would take time and much humility before the Americans would catch-up with the Russians.”
In January 1961, JFK became the 35th President of the country. He was under pressure for the US to win the race, but the space program was into serious trouble and really ineffective. President Kennedy, in 1961, committed in sending man on the moon and returning him back and established the Apollo program.
According to the 2016 documentary “Houston we have a problem”, concurrently to the Space Race, Tito – president of SFR Yugoslavia- was developing his own space program which the CIA considered to be successful as well as compatible to the one the US was developing. The documentary presents information which supports the notion that the US “bought out” the entire Yugoslav Space program against 2.5 billion dollars, an amount paid-out as an overseas aid to the country. Scientists interviewed in the documentary, claimed that the space program’s success documentation was forged under Tito’s orders. Consequently it proved of no value to the US in winning the Race. The documentary supports that under pressure by the US, Tito offered 26 scientists of the Yugoslav space program to be sent incognito to the States to assist with the implementation of the program. Scientists, such as Ivan Pavic were sent to the US never to return in Yugoslavia, while their families and loved ones believed they had died. NASA officials at the time, also interviewed in the documentary, stated that although the Yugoslav space program was a flop and of no value or input to the US Space race the Yugoslav scientists sent to work with NASA were of great scientific value to the program. The claims made by the documentary, true or not, chronologically coincide with a positive turnaround of the US Space program.
The precipitation of the space program by the US did not only reflect the need of conquering space but it was also a race for more earthly matters, as the successful space efforts of the USSR inferred a missile superiority on earth as well, a superiority which could well destroy the maintained power equilibrium with unforeseeable consequences. Efforts concluded in favor to the US when in July 1969 and then again in November of the same year the US had sent man to the moon. After this achievement was accomplished the Space Race unwinds and eventually faded out.
The Cold War era, which lasted for 45 years, had major implications and consequences in national cultures and people. Propaganda and disinformation were employed in order to confuse rivals and feed spies with false information. Cover-up was also a common practice in order to prevent internal publics finding out (conceal) events which were demining or would impair national supremacy over other countries. All this governmental activities put a great burden on public’s trust.
Understandably, all technological developments had to take place in absolute secrecy. An interesting example is that of Area 51. Area 51 is a US Air Force facility located at a remote area in the state of Nevada and is highly classified. The US official explanation for Area’s 51 existence is a military area for developing and testing aircraft. When the public “spies” on Area 51 it locates unknown flying objects, which can easily attribute to alien spaceships. Furthermore, hiding technological achievements may well create continuity gaps in evolution, creating a stepping stone for conspiracy theories. What if the computer technology, achieved by the USA at the time, was well more advanced than what was communicated? Conspiracy theorists could not base their arguments that the moon landing could not be supported by the technology at hand. As Bart Sibrel – a conspiracy supporter – stated, with computer memory totaling only 10.3% of a common 1.4MB floppy disk, NASA claims to have traveled to the moon, in other words a household calculator took 27 men to the moon and back…These limitations alone, make the trip to the moon a theory, and not a fact.
Military bases, especially during Cold war, often are required to be kept secret. Nevertheless, either due to the base’s activity or due to knowledgeable disclosures, secret military bases are often reviled. Such revelations, in an attempt to reason about the secrecy, provide food for thought to the public, leading to beliefs that they may well serve other purposes than the obvious ones. The USA used to have an underground city in the North Pole, Camp Century. Camp Century was established in 1959 for scientific purposes and was located hundreds of feet beneath the surface of an iceberg. To an observer it looked like any other iceberg. The military soon took over the camp, but due to high maintenance cost it was soon abandoned. Anyone who would find out about this ice city could very well speculate about its true purpose of existence and would only be natural to lead into conspiracy theories.
Major events which could have political implications were offered a simple cover-up explanation. A good example is the Kennedy assassination which was investigated by the Warren Commission. The commission’s outcome, in an effort to settle the matter and restore public safety sense probably, was simplistic and contradictory to common sense and actual evidence. To become more precise, the single bullet theory – a theory that could not explain all facts of the case – raised suspicion to a governmental cover-up and consequently led the public to a generalized notion of a governmental conspiracy to hide the truth.
USSR achievements had to be downplayed. On October 5, 1957, following the Sputnik I launch, The New York Times referred to experts who downplayed the importance of the launch and who stated that there is no practicable military application but it only served in gathering scientific information about our solar system. Such statements contradicted common beliefs and build up expectations of the general public.
Overall, during tense times, such as the Cold War era, it is completely understandable that rival states will try to work in secrecy but secrecy in such large-scale projects is not possible to be maintained at all times. Small or larger leaks of information provide the public sneak peeks of governmental operations. Direct revelations by knowledgeable individuals rattle part of the public’s trust. Announcements of breakthrough achievements, of previously secret development projects, appear as sudden leaps in development placing doubt in the public’s mind. Finally, attempts of covering up details are in direct contradiction to the public’s common sense. When such practices take place over an extended period of time they slowly “shake” the public trust to its entity and eventually produce a suspicious nation. Built-in public suspicion was the side effect of the 45-year Cold War, whose effects can still be seen in the US.In a 2014 published article, “Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of American Politics,” political scientists Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood present some startling findings about how prevalent conspiracy theories are. Oliver defines a conspiracy theory as an explanation that makes reference to hidden, malevolent forces seeking to advance some nefarious aim. Not all conspiracy theories are untrue but they all contradict a commonly accepted explanation for the same phenomenon. According to their findings, currently fifty percent of the American public believes in at least one conspiracy theory. Among the examined conspiracy theories the ones with the wider acceptance were the following: The financial crisis was orchestrated by Wall Street Bankers (25% Agree), President Barack Obama was not born in the US and his birth certificate is fake (24% Agree), The 9/11 attacks were planned by certain US governmental officials (19% Agree). Conspiracy theories are a US cultural trait with influence on other cultures and publics over the world.
Americans love the idea of conspiracy as an explanation for major events. Conspiracy theories are built upon four key elements: 1) Dualism, an overarching theme in which people see the world as divided into forces of good and evil; 2) Scapegoating, a process by which a person or group of people are stereotyped having negative traits and are to blame for causing problems, 3) Demonization, individuals or groups considered evil, which facilitates scapegoating; and 4) Apocalyptic Aggression, the expectation that dramatic events are about to unfold during which a confrontation between good and evil will change the world forever and reveal hidden truths. Belief in conspiracy theories play to humans’ innermost fears, that there is an organized, financed, and deceitful plot being executed by some group, seeking to deprive humans of something valuable.
According to Wikipedia, top ranking conspiracy theories in the US involve the 9/11 Attacks, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, McCarthyism, Barack Obama, the Roswell UFO incident and of course the Moon landing.Questioning of the moon landings came along almost concurrently as Neil Armstrong placed foot on the Moon. Claims were made that one way or another the moon landings were faked by NASA. It was December 1969 when John Noble Wilford, a New York Times science reporter, recorded an increasing number of people believing that the Apollo 11 moonwalk in July was actually staged by Hollywood on a Nevada desert.
Bill Kaysing, a journalist who had been employed by a NASA contractor, was the first conspiracy theorist in the early 1960s. Kaysing made a case against the US Moon landing based on his belief that NASA was unable to accomplish the landing due to lack of technical expertise, this lead NASA to undertake a massive cover-up to hide its incompetence.
The extent of the NASA cover-up underwent differs by advocate. Some believe that the entire landing program was faked. Others advocate that while NASA reached the moon, the mission was unmanned and all parts involving astronauts were staged. Finally, there are those conspiracy advocates who believe that even though Apollo 11 landing had taken place, it was only possible via the technology and active assistance provided by aliens.Conspiracy theorists provide several rationalizations for NASA getting involved in a Moon landing cover-up. The pressure the U.S. government felt to win the space race against the USSR is a major one. A governmental need to concoct a distraction to issues and problems the US faced at the time, such as the Vietnam War. Another explanation provided, involves the huge money allocation streamed towards the Space program throughout the 50s and 60s and the need NASA had to justify and maintain its funding via presenting an “end product”.
Conspiracy theorist may very well sound as having crazy and unsound ideas and arguments. Nevertheless there cannot be any denial that the government, by the way it handled information feed to the general public, has provided adequate ambiguity for theorists to capitalize in exploring alternative explanations.
The exploration provided substantiated explanations to answer the set research question for the reasons the USA wanted to dominate space and the reasons why part of the US public still questions this achievement.Throughout mankind’s history, after every disorder follows a period of reinstatement of forces. “Contestants” to this reinstatement try to capitalise on uncertainty so as to maximize their gains. Following WWII, the USA and USSR were the “rightful contestants” who strived to outsmart and prevail over each other. Early on it was clear that a head-on military clash would be in no one’s interest and the idea was soon abandoned.
Mankind was now introduced to a new type of war, the Cold War. Trade wars, propaganda campaigns, espionage and counterintelligence and psychological warfare replaced the traditional battlefields. Prestige and achievement were the new conquests. Space exploration was a new possibility which combined science, technology, achievement, actual space –not covered by the Atlantic Charter restrictions- image, prestige, achievement, psychological domination, fear, ultimate power and an the extra “WOW” incentive. The Space Race became a surrogate of war on earth and thus the Holy Grail at the time for the striving superpowers. Even though after the last manned mission to the moon in 1972, man in space is restricted in orbiting around Earth, space and outer space are of such importance that we have already instated treaties and laws for them. We even have a term, Astropolitics, to describe the politics of outer space, which includes space treaties, law in space, international cooperation and conflict in space exploration and the hypothetical political impact of any contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. Even so, states which engage space exploration or have plans to do so, have avoided ratifying the Moon Treaty –a 1979 treaty that turns jurisdiction of all celestial bodies over to the international community rather than a single nation. As of January 2018, only a handful of nations have signed the treaty. All of the above depict the importance of space domination back at the time and even nowadays for the United States of America. Such was the importance of conquering space first, that one can infer that in view of losing the race the US may have well selected to fake it.
The importance of succeeding in the space endeavor coupled to the peculiar and particular information dissemination tactics at the time by the government, planted the seeds of doubt. The Americans’ love of conspiracies, as an explanation for major events, coupled to information discontinuities, made conspiracy theorist sound as being commonsensical, thus gaining acceptance and followers and achieving dissemination of their views and theories.In conclusion, it is really unimportant if the US really achieved, at the time it claimed it did, landing man on the moon and safely returning him to earth. What is important is that the US won the Space Race, by whatever means it required to do so, even if all or part of it was a hoax. As French say “à la guerre comme à la guerre” and it remained on the USSR to disprove the Moon Landing back at the time. As for the Americans, the build in tendency of creating and fostering conspiracy theories would certainly come up with any other theory if the Moon landing did not offer any sound grounds for conspiracy theories to flourish.
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