Jul 20, 2020

Was the Moonwalk a Hoax 51 Years Ago?

And what about that Mars landing, ‘eh? ‘eh? ‘eh?

By Ed Goldman

Exactly 51 years ago today, the United States landed on the moon and I landed in Bakersfield. 

I was there to visit a young woman I’d met at a journalism conference in Anaheim and had taken the Greyhound bus from Long Beach, where I lived in an apartment built in 1926 and last fumigated in 1928, to the town that sometimes called itself Nashville West. The young woman lived there with her sister, the sisters’ divorced mom  and the sister’s boyfriend, who dreamt of becoming the first Chinese sumo wrestler in Japan. (As of five years ago, there were only 10 non-Japanese Sumo wrestlers, and seven of those guys were from Mongolia, according to my fact checker, Ida Noh.)  

I had gone to Bakersfield to watch the moon landing on TV with them. It was a weekend filled with excitement and a bit of surrealism. When we all went into the backyard to look up at the moon after watching the TV coverage, the sister’s boyfriend said, “Hey, I can see our guys up there!” The more we laughed and told him to go a little easier on the boiler makers—his preference was Ron Rico Rum chased by Snow Beer (China’s best-selling brewski)—the more he insisted he could see the NASA crew scrambling around on the lunar surface. Since he was already about 300 pounds, on his way to a coveted fighting weight of 435, we—and especially I—let him have his way. I had no wish to duke it out with someone whose thighs had separate mailing addresses.

I mention all of this because since that glorious event on July 20, 1969, entire cottage industries have been built on people’s claims that they could see, with their naked eyes, our astronauts up there—but, more disturbingly, on the doubts of people who firmly believed the entire landing was produced on an elaborate sound stage in a very large Quonset hut somewhere in the Mojave Desert. Or something. 

There was even a 1978 film made based on that theory, “Capricorn One,” though its premise was that a landing on Mars had been faked. I guess the filmmakers were fearful the moon might sue for libel.

Growing up in what I refer to as The Age of Conspiracies—which included then-Beatle Paul McCartney’s supposed death, there having been a second shooter of President John F. Kennedy from that grassy knoll in Dallas, and God only knows how many UFOs being alleged to have landed here and taken the cast of “Hee-Haw”aboard to “probe” them—I couldn’t entirely fault the moon-landing-as-hoax theory. 

After all, as “Capricorn One” director Peter Hyams said in an interview prior to the release of his film, wasn’t it odd that, for what was the biggest story in the history of mankind, the only verification came in the form of TV footage and the word of the three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. 

But while it all seemed possible—special effects were getting more and more sophisticated—I never quite bought into it, owing to my occasional practical side. I figured that paying off the entire ground crew and corps of scientists at NASA would have cost nearly as much as the launch. And human nature being what it is, someone along the line would have spilled the beans, anyway. Someone always does. 

I’m glad it’s not going to take another 50 years for our country to explore space. Much to my surprise and delight, Elon Musk thinks he’ll be sending people there just five years from now, though I have my doubts. If he and his company can’t create a foolproof self-driving Tesla, I’m not sure a populated galactic airbus is in the immediate offing. Unless, of course, its destination were to be—as mine was 51 years ago—Bakersfield.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).