Neil deGrasse Tyson has weighed in one of the most enduring conspiracy theories of the past century: were the Apollo Moon missions faked?
Speaking in a segment for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the astrophysicist was understandably confident that the Moon landings did, in fact, happen. While there’s plenty of evidence to back this up, deGrasse Tyson points out that it would also be unbelievably difficult to fake such events. In fact, it’s arguably easier to pull off the actual feat than the hoax.
"Of course we landed on the Moon,” he said. “Consider what it would actually take to hoax a landing on the Moon.”
“By the way, we went to the Moon nine times, so we’d have to hoax not going to the Moon nine times. Two of them, they went around the Moon, came back, and didn’t land, but we’d have to fake that,” he added.
“Do you realize what that would take? It would be so hard to fake a Moon landing, it’s easier to just go. The laws of physics enable it — get over it.”
A study back in 2016 looked at this question and found that grand conspiracies involving many people — in this case, the US government, scientists, and possibly Hollywood — would not last long without being uncovered, simply because collaborators would likely gossip about it. Dr David Robert Grimes, a science communicator and physicist at the University of Oxford, UK, looked at whether large-scale conspiracies were actually feasible by creating equations that worked out the probability of a secret plot being either deliberately uncovered by a whistleblower or inadvertently revealed by a blabber-mouth.
He found that it would require at least 411,000 people to plan a fake Moon landing. That’s a lot of people to keep a very juicy secret. By his calculations, this number of people would result in the secret being spilled in just three years and eight months. Since Apollo 11, the first crewed mission to land on the Moon, occurred over 50 years ago, it’s safe to say the secret would have been blown by now.
Dr Grimes also found that to keep a clandestine plot operating undetected for more than 10 years, fewer than 1,000 people must be involved. For a plot to last a century, it should involve fewer than 125 collaborators. So, if you’re looking to unleash a covert supervillain-esque ruse on the world, it’s best to keep your circle of minions as tight as possible.