The conspiracy theory that the moon landings were fabricated by the US government to drive home a clear victory in the space race over the USSR, is something which has grown in popularity over time.
Recent surveys say that almost 20% of Americans believe that the U.S. has never landed on the moon. After the Apollo missions ended in the seventies, why haven’t we ever been back?
This leaves an nice opening for the moon landing conspiracy theories to run wild. And run wild, they have.
The smoking gun? Film of Aldrin planting a waving American flag on the moon, which critics say proves that he was not in space. The flag's movement, they say, clearly shows the presence of wind, which is impossible in a vacuum. NASA says Aldrin was twisting the flagpole to get the moon soil, which caused the flag to move. (And never mind that astronauts have brought back hundreds of independently verified moon rocks.) Theorists have even suggested that filmmaker Stanley Kubrick may have helped NASA fake the first lunar landing, given that his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odessey proves that the technology existed back then to artificially create a spacelike set. And as for Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee — three astronauts who died in a fire while testing equipment for the first moon mission? They were executed by the U.S. government, which feared they were about to disclose the truth.
Let's run down the most popular moon landing conspiracy theories being kicked about:
The Space Race
The motive for the United States to take on the Soviet Union in a "Space Race" can be traced to the then ongoing Cold War. Landing people on the Moon was viewed as a national achievement that would instantly create worldwide accolade. But going to the Moon would be risky and very expensive. President John F. Kennedy famously stated in a 1962 speech that the United States chose to go for the main reason that it WAS hard. Obviously there are the other motivating factors, chiefly the goal of out-doing the communist USSR which had already struck the first blow as the first nation in space with their Sputnik satellite.
NASA funding and prestige
It is claimed by some prominent conspiracy theorists that NASA fabricated the moon landings to avert humiliation and to ensure that it continued to be lavishly funded. NASA was given "roughly US$30 billion" to go to the Moon, and theorists claim that this could have been used to "pay off" the many people, firms and the government which invested in this program. Since most conspiracists believe that sending men to the Moon was impossible at the time, they argue that landings had to be faked to satisfy President Kennedy's 1961 goal, "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." This theory seems plausible. It's worth a mention that sources inside the USSR's space monitoring program monitored the mission and after the moon landings quickly ceased their space monitoring and moon landing aspirations.
The American Patriot Friends Network said in 2009 that the landings helped the United States government distract public attention from the unpopular Vietnam War. Theorists claimed that continued manned landings were ceased abruptly due to the Vietnam War, but the cessation of further manned moon landings was actually planned well in advance. It was not a hasty decision from left field. Also, NASA's annual budget was decreasing at a significant rate and this would have added to the foreseen planning to stop the program.
While there are myriad of other theories, all with their own merits or lack thereof, this conspiracy will likely stay the course and remain open for theorists to speculate what the think happen. Actual hard generally proves them wrong as NASA notes that the rocks and samples brought back could not have been found on Earth nor delivered via meteor.
Val Germann, president of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association concluded, "In one sense I guess it's good that people are interested enough to doubt the moon landing. It's an iconic event, it stands for a whole era. And for that reason it's important to people,"
But Germann has little patience for the theorists. "To say it's a fake is an insult to the many people who worked on this and risked their lives to make it happen. That's what gives it an edge for me."
I've yet to hear about secret documents being withheld so the likelihood of getting any further, tangible evidence is unlikely. But just like a run of the mill opinion, theories are free to conjure to let them rip!