Author of the Month

Richard Hoagland, Author of the Month for December 2007

Dark Mission: the Secret History of NASA (cont.)
By Richard C. Hoagland and Mike Bara

This warm July afternoon only eleven years later, it seemed that everyone was in a mad scramble — simultaneously — to register at the lobby desks specifically set up for members of the press, trying to grab the limited number of press kits on the Mission, and then nail down a seat in the Auditorium beyond.

It was at this point, as I was drifting around Von Karman, trying to spot where the CBS anchor desk was positioned, that I noticed something strange.

Even to my untrained eye, it looked out of place: a man, wearing jeans and a long, light-colored raincoat (it was typical L.A. weather outside—so, why the coat?). This man, wearing one of those floppy "great coats" that cowpunchers used to wear in old Westerns, complete with a dark leather bag slung over one shoulder, was slowly, methodically, placing "something" on each chair in Von Karman.

As he got closer, I suddenly realized he was accompanied by a more conventionally dressed representative from JPL itself: coatless, in white shirt and black tie — the second figure was, in fact, none other than the head of the JPL press office, Frank Bristow.

In the midst of all the commotion, why was Bristow — again, the head of the JPL press office - personally squiring this very out-of-place individual around the Auditorium?

Then, as if that wasn't mystery enough, Bristow began moving "great coat guy" back out to the cramped "press room area" beyond the glassed-in foyer of the Auditorium. There, in an office where space correspondents, like Walter Sullivan (New York Times), Frank Pearlman (San Francisco Chronicle), Jules Bergmann (ABC), and Bill Stout (our local guy from CBS) hung out, and wrote their leads and copy after each formal press briefing held in Von Karman itself, a handful of reporters were now being introduced, again by Bristow, to "great coat guy." Why was the official head of the JPL press office doing this?

I soon had my answer.

As Bristow watched approvingly, his "guest" proceeded to hand each available reporter a copy of whatever he'd been putting on the seats back in the Auditorium.

As I opened up the handout, something yellow and silvery fell on the tile floor. It was a shiny American flag, maybe four inches lengthwise, made of aluminized mylar. I turned to the couple of mimeographed pages and began to read — and couldn't believe my eyes.

The date was July 22, 1969. The three Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins — two of whom had just successfully walked on "the frigging Moon" and wouldn't splash down in the South Pacific Ocean for two more days — were still halfway between Earth and the "Sea of Tranquility." Yet here, someone with an obvious "in" to JPL was handing out a mimeographed broadsheet to all the real reporters … claiming that "NASA has just faked the entire Apollo 11 Lunar Landing… on a soundstage in Nevada!"

And, if that wasn't weird enough, this individual was being personally escorted around Von Karman by none other than the head of the JPL press office himself!

I did what I saw the other veterans do: I casually threw the two pages in the trash and tucked the shiny flag into my notebook. But the seed had been planted.

Looking back, based on all our hard-won knowledge of what is really "out there" in the solar system, and experiencing the outrageous lengths NASA will go to keep "the secret," I can now put the pieces together.

This was an official — Op — Bristow's job was to make sure that all the national reporters covering NASA at least saw what was handed out that afternoon, complete with shiny flag to act as a mnemonic device to trigger the memory of what was in the pamphlet long after it was history. Sooner or later, a percentage of those who read it that afternoon at JPL would write it up — as a quirky angle on the far-too-dry official tale of Apollo 11.

In this way, it would become a naturally-reproducing meme — "a unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another" — which is exactly what NASA apparently intended to plant at JPL that afternoon. Deliberately to "infect" American culture with the story that "the Moon landing was all a fake!"

Was this all some far-seeing "back-up plan" if, in some point in the future, it started to emerge why the astronauts had really gone to the Moon?

Fox, the "fair and balanced" network, activated the meme in 2001 — with the Did We Land on the Moon? special. There, waiting in the wings was a neatly-packaged 30-year-old "conspiracy theory" perfectly gift-wrapped for those finally beginning to "disbelieve" in NASA. An officially concocted "inoculation" against troublemakers who would one day place before many of those same national reporters a set of embarrassing official Apollo photographs, asking the crucial question: "What did NASA really find during its Apollo missions to the Moon?"

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