the problem of scale
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NASA had to produce an ostensibly viable lunar landing program or else risk losing $30 billion in U.S. taxpayer money.

In fact almost all that money went to the contractors who built the equipment. NASA itself doesn't build spaceships. It hires companies to build spaceships for it.

But this division of labor presents a problem for conspiracy theorists. We start with the premise that NASA wanted the public to believe it actually succeeded in landing astronauts on the moon. This is common to all conspiracy theories. Also common to nearly all theories is the assertion that no such landing took place.

The most foolproof way of convincing somebody that you did something is to actually do it. Nothing is more convincing than the truth. So if NASA had to falsify the landings, that implies that (for whatever reasons) it was impossible to actually do it. So all conspiracy theories asserting that no lunar landing took place must argue that falsifying the lunar landing was easier than actually accomplishing it.

But how to deal with those pesky contractors? I see three basic scenarios: the Huge Conspiracy Scenario, the Absolute Minimum Scenario, and the Need-To-Know Scenario.


This variant presumes that relatively many people knew about the conspiracy, be they NASA employees or employees of the prime contractors. The advantage of this scenario to the conspiracy theory is that no actual spaceworthy hardware, aside from a rocket that went up and a command module that came down, need have been constructed. If the conspiracist contends that technological limitations prevented an actual lunar landing, this is the scenario of choice.

In short, you bring the contractor in on the scam, pay him a whole lot of money and say, "Just pretend to make some hardware, we don't care if it actually works." The well-paid contractor accepts payment for services not rendered and agrees to keep silent on the matter. It makes a public announcement to say it's been awarded a major government contract to build space hardware. (You have to do that in order to keep your stockholders happy.) And then it calls a private meeting for its employees and says, "Everybody is getting a huge bonus. I know you heard us say we're making space hardware, but that's not really what's happening. If you go along with it, you'll all be set for life."

This assumes everyone can be bought. For those employees who aren't coin-operated, threats would be in order. Employees get called into their managers' offices one-by-one and are confronted by stern-faced NASA employees who spell out what will happen to the employee and his family if he should ever tell what happened.

There are several obvious problems with this scenario.

  • The problem of scale. At the height of the Apollo project almost half a million people were working on it. Yet in over thirty years, not one of these half million people has come forward to say he was part of the conspiracy and provide incontestable evidence for it.
  • Disgruntled employees. Loyalties change. Nobody fired during the Apollo project tried to retaliate against his former employer by revealing the dirty little secret.
  • No evidence of reward. The hundreds of thousands of people who worked on the Apollo project are scattered across the country now, most of them enjoying retirement. Where is the evidence of the fantastic wealth resulting from their payoffs? Where are the mansions, the sports cars? In order for a payoff to be an incentive, it must be considerably more than what the payee would otherwise receive. It has to be appealing enough to squelch hundreds of thousands of consciences. And you have to be able to spend your reward, otherwise it's no incentive.
  • No evidence of threat. Recall that the notions of death threats are purely conjecture. There is no evidence whatsoever of anyone being threatened with life or limb for spilling the beans. Nevertheless this is something that has to be believed in order for the conspiracy theory to work. See the discussion of Occam's Razor to understand why we must then dismiss theories than involve death threats.
  • No posthumous revelations. Death threats don't work on people who are already dead or about to die. A substantial number of people who worked on the Apollo project have died. Yet among these, we find no safe deposit boxes with incriminating photos or documents, no accounts of deathbed confessions.
  • No Boy Scouts. Where is NASA's Frank Serpico? Serpico was given considerable financial inducement to keep secret the corruption of the New York police. When that failed, he was nearly killed. Yet none of this prevented Serpico from doing what he felt was his duty.
Clearly the idea of keeping half a million or so people quiet for thirty years and counting is a very tall order.


At the other end of the spectrum we consider the possibility that only a few top people at NASA knew of the conspiracy. And so all of the contractors and most of the folks working at NASA truly believed the lunar landing was a fact.

This has two advantages. First, it is well known that the probability of keeping a secret diminishes rapidly as the number of people who know the secret increases even slightly. So by keeping this number to an absolute minimum you'll reduce the number of people who can spill the beans. Second, the NASA employees and contractors will go to their graves staunchly asserting that NASA did what it said it did.

The big disadvantage is that the contractors now believe they must actually build the space hardware. Grumman must actually believe it is building a lunar lander, North American must actually build a command module, Boeing and others must actually believe they are building a moon-capable rocket. Integration teams from all these companies must make the products work together. Quality control officers from NASA must meticulously inspect the work.

These engineers are not dummies. The whole reason NASA hires them to build its spaceships is because they have the expertise to do it. And so when NASA tells Grumman to build a lunar lander, it knows that Grumman engineers are going to go out and discover for themselves just what problems are involved in landing on the moon, and then proceed to solve them. If NASA executives are bent on fooling everyone then they couldn't care less if Grumman succeeds. But Grumman would care. And the NASA quality control people would care. If Grumman falls short, Grumman will know it, and so will the NASA employees who inspect the work.

In short, this scenario will produce equipment capable of going to the moon. But our cardinal premise is that NASA couldn't do it. So if the equipment worked, then what was to prevent NASA from actually performing a lunar landing? Remember, the most airtight scam is the one that's not really a scam. If they wanted people to believe they had landed a man on the moon, and they had the machinery to do it, the smart thing to do would be to actually accomplish the landing.


By now the reader will have accused us of straw man tactics in considering only the two improbable extremes, so we proceed to the middle of the road. Having shown that one extreme produces an unbelievably vast conspiracy, and the other produces no conspiracy at all, we examine a scenario in which only the people who really need to know are let in.

It comes down to whether one tells the contractors or not. If you leave the contractors out of the conspiracy, you get viable space hardware and therefore no real reason for a hoax. If you tell them, you get the big conspiracy with too many loose cannons.

Once you tell the contractors you bring in a whole lot of people. Each contractor has its own hierarchy of leadership and management and senior engineers who will have to be told. So that's, say, a hundred people at Boeing, a hundred people at Grumman, a hundred people at Douglas, a hundred people at North American, a hundred people at Lockheed, and so forth. Just deciding to inform the contractors (at least at the management level) adds several hundred people to the inner circle. That's one small step for NASA, one giant leap into chaos.

It can be argued that the average production line employee wouldn't know whether or not he was building real space hardware. They have a fairly limited field of view. But you can't as easily compartmentalize the engineers. Even the junior engineers in an aerospace venture require the big picture in order to do their work. Remember that you have to buy off enough of the work force in order to produce convincing hardware without producing working hardware.

In short, there is no middle of this road. Either you produce real hardware, or you have a very large conspiracy with no leaks after thirty years.

NASA knew more about the spacecraft than the contractors, so even if the contractors believed it would work, NASA knew it wouldn't.

That's a nice fairy tale, but that's absolutely not how it worked. NASA relied on experts from the industries that built its spacecraft to provide on-site advice and procedures.

The moral: if you want to perpetrate a hoax, don't have it catered.

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