THEY COULD HAVE,
SO THEY MUST HAVE
Sooner or later A Funny Thing has to deal with some of the
obvious objections to a hoax. The viewer's first intuitive objection
is rightly that the Apollo project was so large and widespread that
its true nature couldn't have been hidden for very long. But that
problem, the film alleges, could be solved by compartmentalization.
Even though hundreds of thousands of people worked on the project, no
one saw the "big picture". This presumes two conditions, neither of
which the film substantiates.
First, the suggested compartmentalization has to be shown to
exist. Engineers just don't work that way. The film implies that
most of these workers were concerned only with the one part or the one
fitting or the one procedure they were assigned to develop, and that
they had little interest in, and no access to, information about any
of the rest of the program. That's just patently false. NASA and its
contractors required their engineers to attend training on the entire,
overall designs and procedures. Handbooks comprising hundreds of
pages of detailed descriptions, circuit diagrams, drawings, tables of
analysis data, were all required reading for Apollo engineers.
Fig. 1 -Detail of page from a copy of the Lunar Module
Orientation Manual, dating from 1966 depicting the LM cockpit.
Also visible are some of the notes taken by its original owner about
the functions of each of the controls.
Engineers prefer to work this way anyway. They prefer to
accumulate as much information as possible about the problems they are
trying to solve because it's often hard to determine ahead of time
what facts will apply to any one problem. This was especially true
for Apollo engineers, who were recruited from among the best young
candidates in the country (and from other countries). Young, "hungry"
engineers are notorious for going the extra mile to become acquainted
with the "big picture". Today, even in retirement, these Apollo
engineers can pull well-worn handbooks out of attic boxes and show you
the notes in the margins (Fig. 1) that testify to their eagerness to
understand everything and not to be bound by artificial limits.
The evidence shows that Apollo was nowhere near as
compartmentalized as A Funny Thing suggests. Further, the
survival of these training aids and widely-disseminated manuals let us
21st century engineers verify the "big picture" in retrospect. If the
hardware didn't really work, as Sibrel suggests, then such failures
would be evident in the designs. And if the detailed designs didn't
follow the "big picture" (i.e., if these comprehensive handbooks were
just fiction) then it would be easy to see.
Second, it has to be shown that the hoax would only be visible
from the "big picture" and that anyone mired in details would miss it.
It doesn't take much to realize that this can't be the case.
Regardless of how compartmentalized you make the process, certain
people would just have to know they were participating in a hoax. For
example, the film crew in the studio where the lunar EVA footage is
being faked will sooner or later understand what they're doing. They
wouldn't have to be privy to the "big picture" to recognize that the
footage they saw on television as the "live" moonwalk was the same
footage they shot in their studios.
We have some 14,000 70mm photographs alone from Apollo. Those
would all have to be faked, in some cases -- according to Sibrel -- by
cutting and pasting or other darkroom shenanigans. If you started in
1965 and worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day without
interruption, you would still have to crank out a faked photograph
every half hour. That can only be accomplished by a team of people
working in parallel. This army of photo fakers would definitely know
what they were doing as soon as their work appeared in National
Geographic as photos allegedly taken on the moon. They wouldn't
need to know the "big picture" to realize they had taken part in a
The Manhattan Project
and the phantom army assembled prior to the 1944 invasion of Normandy
prove that large-scale deceptions are possible.
Fig. 4 -Two soldiers move a decoy Sherman tank, part of
the materiel for the phantom U.S. Third Army formed to draw
attention away from the real Normandy invasion in 1944.
(National D-Day Museum)
A Funny Thing tries hard to characterize Apollo as a
military project. Mr. Sibrel is not entirely wrong in connecting
Apollo to the military. The military's bookkeeping system for
techniques and specifications (MILSPEC) was used to keep track of
Apollo engineering. Military administrators served in key roles.
This was not because Apollo was a military project, but because
military discipline and protocols provide the best available
experience in safely managing and operating complex, experimental
engineering. (Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents. Princeton
Univ. Press: 1999, p. 305)
But here Sibrel draws the parallel so that it can refer to these
secret wartime military operations as somehow similar to the
supposedly super-secret Apollo. The more similarities that can be
alleged, the less strenuously Sibrel has to argue the plausibility of
his hoax scenario.
Unfortunately the contrasts are still too apparent. Both the
Manhattan Project and the Normandy decoy operation occurred during an
all-out war, when secrecy was standard procedure and not generally
questioned. There are two levels of secrecy: things you know exist,
but don't know about; and things that you simply don't know exist.
People knew, for example, that the Manhattan Project existed. But
they didn't know what it was trying to do.
Even though many people were involved with these secret projects,
they were not expected to be secret for very long. The phantom army
in England had to last only up until June 6, 1944, after which secrecy
was no longer an issue. The special cloak of secrecy over the
Manhattan Project had to last only until the bombs were used. After
that, the purpose of the project would no longer be secret.
It's simply not true that these projects went undiscovered. In
1945 the U.S. government discovered that the Soviets had extensively
infiltrated the Manhattan Project. The Soviets had nothing
to gain by revealing their knowledge of the atomic bomb while Japan
was still the enemy. But with the war over, the Soviets used their
intelligence to develop their own atomic bomb. (Joseph Albright and
Marcia Kunstel. Bombshell: The Secret Story of America's Unknown
Atomic Spy. NY: Crown Publishing, 1997.)
Fig. 4 -Soviet representatives and American sailors
prepare Apollo command module boilerplate BP-1227 for loading aboard
a U.S. vessel in Murmansk. (Nandor Schuminszky)
The Soviets also had assets inside Apollo, according to former
U.S. FBI agents. Further, they had recovered an Apollo boilerplate
spacecraft, which they turned over ceremoniously to the U.S. in
Murmansk after studying it extensively. Unlike either of the two
projects mentioned, a vast amount of material was publicly available
describing what NASA was supposed to be doing. Unlike either of the
other projects, many academic and professional consultants were
employed by Apollo without being sequestered in a secure facility such
as Los Alamos. And unlike the other projects, most of Apollo was open
to the press.
The TETR-A satellite
could have been used to relay space communications in a way that made
it seem like signals were coming from space.
We deal with the technical and historical impossibility of that
Of course it is necessary to show that the hoax would be feasible
not only from a social and operational standpoint, but also from a
technical standpoint. But Sibrel is ill-equipped to describe in
specific and plausible terms the complexity of faking a space mission
to fool the whole world. While his thespian background gives him some
insight into the wilful suspension of disbelief, it does not prepare
him for the unforgiving world of engineering where the devil is in the
Nor can A Funny Thing recover from its myriad
contradictions. Here Sibrel suggests that a relay satellite in low
Earth orbit could mimic the signals from a moonbound spacecraft. But
later he argues that the Apollo spacecraft itself was in low Earth
orbit, obviating the need for TETR-A as a relay. The film doesn't
present a coherent scenario so much as throw a handful of unrelated,
ad hoc allegations of inconsistency and hope that some of the
mud will stick and create doubt.
But in stepping back to observe these overall inconsistencies, the
viewer sees the glaring flaw of the whole secrecy argument: A Funny
Thing lays out what is alleged to be possible, but presents no
evidence at all to substantiate that any of it actually happened in
Apollo. This approach seems to suggest that Sibrel's opponents have
the burden of proof not only to show that it didn't happen the way he
claims it did, but that it couldn't have happened that way. If
this were standard operating procedure in historical investigations,
chaos would ensue. Such a policy would allow long-held and
well-established historical conclusions to be overturned merely on the
suggestion of an alternative possibility, regardless of how
objectively absurd that possibility seems.
A Funny Thing wants to make its case by disputing the
notion that a hoax was impossible. It's neither feasible nor
necessary (in the logical sense) to prove that a hoax was impossible
in order to discount a hoax theory. And Sibrel's challenges fall far
short of showing a hoax was possible. To dismiss the hoax theory it
is necessary merely to show that, all things considered, it is more
likely that the missions were authentic than that they were fake.
It's not possible to be 100% certain of that, as Sibrel demands, and
the implied requirement that NASA must prove that fakery was
impossible (as opposed to merely implausible) shifts the burden of
proof much too far away from Mr. Sibrel.