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NASA hires writer to debunk Apollo theory


By Ted Streuli (Ted.Streuli@galvnews.com)
The Daily News, page A-3

Published October 31, 2002

DICKINSON — Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, was harassed in Los Angeles last month by a man who claims NASA faked the six manned lunar landings.

Videographer Bart Sibrel, 37, was four years old when Aldrin walked on the moon; his own tape of the incident showed him poking Aldrin with a Bible, demanding that the 72-year-old swear he really walked on the moon. It also showed Sibrel calling Aldrin a thief, liar and coward. Aldrin punched him in the face.

The Sept. 9 incident mimicked a broader topic: Sibrel and others had their theories boosted to a new level of public awareness when the Fox television network aired its Apollo speculations nationwide two years ago. Now NASA, with the help of a local author, journalist and Mission Control veteran, is planning to land a punch of its own.

Dickinson resident James Oberg, a 22-year Mission Control veteran, is at work on a 30,000-word monograph to be published next fall. The monograph will not merely try to debunk the theories of those who claim NASA faked the six manned lunar landings, it will also examine how such theories take hold, gain popularity and spread.

Oberg, author of 12 space-related books and a regular contributor to ABC News, said he’d lobbied to do the research for years. The Fox television program finally pushed Roger Launius, then NASA’s chief historian, to commission the work.

Launius said the conspiracy theories were around for years, but the Fox program changed things.

"Fox put them in a different category," Launius said.

Launius said his office was besieged by requests for information after the Fox show aired, most of the contact coming from teachers who wanted to know how to respond to students who saw the program.

Half the world’s population wasn’t yet born the last time an American walked on the moon. Launius said that as more time passes, the less real the lunar missions seem.

"As time progresses, this gets less and less real to everybody," said Launius. "At some level, I think that may be what’s happening here."

Oberg concurred, and added that the conspiracy theories appeal to "otherwise rational, intelligent people."

"It’s not just a few crackpots and their new books and Internet conspiracy sites," Oberg wrote in 1999. "There are entire subcultures within the U.S., and substantial cultures around the world, that strongly believe the landing was faked. I’m told that this is official dogma still taught in schools in Cuba, plus wherever else Cuban teachers have been sent (such as Sandanista Nicaragua and Angola)."

In that same 1999 column, Oberg said the conspiracy theories run both ways.

"At the other extreme there are also very widespread beliefs that Apollo accomplished far more than was claimed," wrote Oberg. "Beyond mere moon rocks, the astronauts are supposed to have brought back descriptions and photographs of alien vehicles that followed them and alien structures found on the moon itself."

Oberg will examine claims that lunar photographs and video transmission from 1969 are full of inconsistencies.

"Finding the basis for people’s beliefs is something NASA wants me to do," said Oberg. "They just can’t understand what the appeal is. The general feeling was that the people who held this view were unworthy of dialog. I think that was unseemly and improper of NASA. People who are puzzled by something deserve an attempt at an explanation."

Oberg said there’s an element of "cultural vandalism" in the theorists’ views. Oberg likened the theories to a vandal defacing a work of art in order to equalize his standing with the artist’s. He said NASA has a responsibility to make information available that can’t be found on theorist Web sites.

Launius said it was important to acknowledge and answer the questions, but said an examination of how such theories capture public interest was a significant part of the project.

"I think it’s important that we capture the dynamic of this and offer a response," Launius said.


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