You can believe Buzz and the rocks. It did happen
Scientist says you just can’t make Moon rocks in a lab. Nick Carne reports.
A video of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin punching a heckler who demanded he swear on the Bible that he truly walked on the Moon is going viral at the moment. You can find any number of versions of the admittedly shaky vision on YouTube.
It’s news, but it’s not actually new. It happened back in 2002.
Whether the now 89-year-old Aldrin would be up to repeating the action today, the conspiracy theorists are still alive and well. In fact, things may be getting worse.
The Guardian newspaper has reported, for example, that one in six Britons believes the Apollo landings were faked, a number that rises to a staggering 21% among sceptical millennials.
That’s despite NASA’s regular attempts to provide evidence, including, back in 2011, releasing photos from its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the Apollo landing sites.
Now an Australian scientist has bought into the debate, stating that if you don’t want to believe the images (still or moving), you can’t argue with the hard evidence provided by the space rocks.
“Any attempt to make Moon rocks in a laboratory would be a monumental failure and likely cost more money than it took NASA to get to the Moon and back,” says Trevor Ireland, a space rock specialist from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.
“The lunar soil is like nothing we have seen before on Earth. It is the result of eons of bombardment on the surface of the Moon. The rocks have compositions that are unique to the Moon.”
Ireland says the scenario of an unmanned mission retrieving the Moon rocks also was practically impossible.
“There are 380 kilograms of Moon rocks. Getting this amount of material back to Earth is just as difficult as getting the 21 Apollo astronauts on seven missions to the Moon and back to Earth,” he says.
The conspiracy theorists are, of course, offset many times over by those who loved the whole thing.
In a recent poll, adults in the US cited the Moon landing as NASA's most important achievement in its 60-year history.
Of the 2312 adults asked by the University of Michigan, in an open-ended format, to name the most important NASA successes, 35% mentioned Neil Armstrong’s step and leap – more than any other.
And that’s despite the fact that less than half of today's adults were alive on the day.
"This level of public recall and recognition reflect the deep-seated impact of the first moon landing in American culture," says Jon Miller, director of the university’s International Centre for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy.
Other achievements noted were the exploration of our solar system, the improvement of our understanding of the planetary system, and the transfer of space program technologies to civilian uses, especially in communication and computing.
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement "The space program has paid for itself through the creation of new technologies and scientific discoveries," 69% agreed, compared with 56% when Miller undertook a similar survey of 2041 adults back in 1988.
"This pattern reflects a long-standing public belief in the indirect benefit of the space program apart from spectacular events like the lunar landing," he suggests.
And the current administration would be delighted to learn that US adults – at least those who were surveyed – still see space activities as a part of the human instinct for exploration.
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement "The US should seek to explore space in the same spirit that led Europeans to explore this planet in earlier centuries", 72% agreed, compared with 69% in 1988.
Men were more supportive of this view than women in both surveys, but the difference has narrowed.