Up for discussion, in the eyes of conspiracy theorists, are images such as this, featuring actor Burt Lancaster in the role of Neil Armstrong.

Recently documents have come to light unveiling US plans to destroy the moon  as a display of nuclear strength, evoking the ever-controversial truths and untruths surrounding The Moon Landings.

Live television drama serial The Moon Landings was broadcast between 1969 and 1972, at the height of Cold War hostility. The show portrayed a dystopian 1969 in which the colonisation of Earth’s biggest satellite is the ultimate accolade. It provoked widespread controversy, as well as critical acclaim for its cutting-edge special effects which were light-years ahead of anything seen on the state television of the Soviet Union. Their own effort, Gagarin and Sputnik, pre-dated its US counterpart, though its dynamic duo of daring cosmonaut and comically inept space-probe achieved nothing of the dramatic power of The Moon Landings.   Two of the most memorable characters in the series’ three-year run, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, respectively portrayed by Burt Lancaster and John Whitehead, are responsible for much of the success of the show. It is estimated that 500 million people heard Lancaster’s iconic declaration: ‘It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,’ a line cooked up by one of the strongest team of writers ever assembled. Images of the men playing golf and bouncing around like giant white rabbits provided a satirical downplay on the events of the Vietnam War which was tearing American consciousness apart.

The show’s success inevitably bred conspiracy theories surrounding the events portrayed in the narrative. One of the most persistent ideas hinges on the belief that the fictional organisation NASA actually exists, and sent men on missions to the moon over the 1969-1972 period. The United States government has for decades laughed off these allegations, but the allegations prompted CBS to release a documentary in 1983, Making The Moon Landings, which included behind-the-scenes footage taken during the filming of the show in the network’s state-of-the-art Hollywood studio.

‘Eyeball Earth’ – One of the most conclusive pieces of evidence released by CBS is this set-piece from the original reel of the first episode. An otherwise realistic interpretation of what the earth might look like from our lunar neighbour, a smudge accidentally obscuring the bottom half of the earth in darkness was admitted as the mistake of a clumsy cameraman. CBS spokesman Steven Millbrook stated in 1983, ‘Everyone knows the earth is a sphere, whereas this is more of a squinty eyeball.’ Though many sceptics were convinced by the admission, there are some who believe that the image was doctored after the original photograph was made from the surface of the moon.

However, precious few hardline conspiracy theorists were swayed by the assertations of the documentary, arguing that the move was an effort to deflect public attention from John Whitehead, who in 1981 appeared to suffer a mental breakdown. Over the next two years he was to become one of the main proponents of the theory, arguing categorically that he and Armstrong really had stepped foot on the moon, leaving a reflector-array that ‘anyone with an appropriate laser and a telescope could observe.’ CBS publicly distanced itself from its former star, and he is noticeably absent from the documentary. Recently Whitehead attracted the attention of the media again after a violent encounter with an ardent supporter of the CBS narrative.

Surely, if NASA really had gone to the moon in 1969, we would have returned since. David Haddonfield, one of the conspiracy’s prime members, offered his answer, ‘do you have any idea how expensive it was to send men to the moon? If we did it again we’d need another Vietnam to sweep the costs under.’ Commenting on the silence of the United States regarding what he believes is the truth, Haddonfield asks, ‘If you were Nixon, would you have admitted to a multi-billion dollar campaign to send men on some wild goose-chase to a dusty rock when thousands more were getting fighting communism in Vietnam?

Supposedly the missions were completed at a time when the most complex computerised technology known to man closely resembled today’s more inferior mobile telephones , and to this assertation Haddonfield has no answer. Certainly he and other conspiracy theorists will continue to hunt for clues in their pursuit of what they see as the truth. Could they be right? If so, the implications for American culture could be astounding. Could Cold War thriller The Bay of Pigs prove a documentary? How about one-off special Watergate? And let’s not forget 2003’s  3-part presidential parody, George Bush, Jr.

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