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The Astronaut Assault Hoax

Bart Sibrel, a man who claims that man never set foot on the Moon, also claims that famous Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin punched him in the jaw on Tuesday in Beverly Hills.

There's a small cottage industry of people who, like people who still believe that the earth is flat, or alternatively, that it's round but hollow, live in an alternate reality--one in which NASA was not capable of sending men to our sister orb in the 1960s. Unfortunately, it's not small enough. While just a few percent believe this, according to most polling, that still constitutes millions of people deluding themselves about what many consider the greatest achievement of the twentieth century, and perhaps in history to date.

Anyway, for most of them, it doesn't matter to their everyday lives, but for a few, like Mr. Sibrel, it becomes an obsession.

The arguments made for his position are seductive, to the scientifically illiterate and innumerate, but they are equally fallacious. They usually hinge on lack of knowledge about the behavior of light, lenses and film, and a misunderstanding of orbital mechanics and the physics of particles in vacuum. But in addition they are always interlarded with conspiracy theories and suspicion about NASA's veracity, necessary to sustain the belief. I don't have time or page space to debunk them here, but they have been amply debunked.

Of course, the hardest part of the theory to buy is that NASA and its contractors, an organization of thousands of people in a position to know, all were paid off, or threatened to practice "omerta" and not talk about how the lunar landings were staged. If NASA could actually pull that off, it would be a greater achievement than landing people on the Moon. This would be one of the biggest stories of the century, but we're asked to believe that in a government that leaks to the press like a shotgunned sieve, not only is no one talking, but also that all of the astronauts are lying as well--none of them will break ranks.

Which brings us to Tuesday's reported incident.

Because Mr. Sibrel makes a living at promulgating this nonsense by filming one-sided "documentaries" about it, it's not clear whether he actually believes it, or is just saying he does to get publicity and notoriety. What is clear is that he makes of himself a nuisance to the men who he should instead be honoring. Tuesday's incident wasn't the first time that he's interacted with a former moon walker. According to Rob Pearlman at Collect Space, he was thrown out of the ceremony for induction of astronauts into the Astronaut Hall of Fame last year for similarly harassing John Young, Bill Anders, and Al Worden.

On Tuesday, in Sibrel's own words, referring to Buzz, "I approached him and asked him again to swear on a Bible that he went to the moon, and told him he was a thief for taking money to give an interview for something he didn't do..."

So, by his own admission, he walked up to a man who risked his life to help us win the Cold War, and called him a liar and a thief to his face. Is this sufficient provocation for an assault? I don't know what the legal situation is in Beverly Hills, and I'm not generally in favor of fisticuffs, but next time I see Buzz, his beer will be on me.

Anyway, while socking Bart Sibrel in the jaw would be a magnificent accomplishment, worthy of recording in the historical annals of comeuppance, and the story of ?one small punch for a man, one giant blow for intelligent mankind? is truly inspiring, I just don't believe it really happened.

Think about it. Buzz is no Ralph Kramden, capable of sending his wife to the Moon with a single blow (or so at least he perennially threatened).

By all reports, Mr. Sibrel is much larger than Buzz. Astronauts were always shorter than average in stature, because they had to fit first into fighter cockpits, and later into small cramped spacecraft. He's also much younger. Buzz is into his eighth decade, while Sibrel is thirty seven, a little over half Buzz's age. Yet we're supposed to believe that Buzz, a PhD from MIT, would risk a fight with a younger, stronger man? It defies physics and common sense.

Sibrel has a sore, bruised jaw?

How hard is that to fake? He probably went home and hit himself in the face with a monkey wrench.

There were witnesses? It was reported on all the news services?

It doesn't say what the lighting conditions were, but it's possible that it could play tricks to make it look as though Buzz's fist was propelled into Bart's face. Or maybe Bart attacked Buzz's helpless knuckles with his chin.

Or maybe nothing happened at all. We're supposed to believe that Sibrel's not capable of bribing people? All those Beverly Hills types on Rodeo Drive don't think about anything except money. It would be easy to just pay them all off to lie for him, and to relay the story to Reuters and AP. After all, if NASA could get thousands of people to keep their mouths shut, it would be a piece of cake for him to get a few dozen to keep their story straight.

You say he has videotape?

What a shocker. A man who makes his living creating documentaries has a videotape. He also probably has an expensive production studio, or knows people who do. How hard is it these days, with fancy computer-generated imagery, to fake up a video showing the impossible--a seventy-two-year-old fist reaching up to strike a thirty-seven-year-old jaw?

This is clearly just an elaborate and diabolical hoax to gain sympathy, and to make us believe that he "won the moral high ground." It's ludicrous to believe that Buzz Aldrin actually punched Bart Sibrel in the jaw on Tuesday. Why, you might as well believe that he walked on the Moon...

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 12, 2002 08:38 AM
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Oh what a tangle it is. Considering where this took place, perhaps this could be a job for Axel Foley.

Posted by Mark R.Whittington at September 12, 2002 01:15 PM

Rand, this is brilliant, and you have a real knack for these types of articles. I wonder, though...there are going to be a lot of people who read the part about Sibrel paying people off and working in expensive production studios to doctor footage, etc., and actually believe you're making a serious argument. But then the best type of parody is subtle. How British of you, and I mean that in only the good ways.

Posted by Jeff B. at September 13, 2002 05:40 AM

I prefer the "Flat Face" theory, where Buzz didn't punch Mr. Sibrel's features in, he was just born that way in violation of every known and accepted face-growing principle.

Or maybe it's the "Hollow Head" theory, where Mr. Sibrel has to have a noggin empty of brains to provoke Buzz like that.


Posted by James R. Rummel at September 13, 2002 06:20 AM

Moon hoax nuts are tiresome, surely. But get a load of the rumor that Neil Armstrong has had to deal with since the early Eighties:

Posted by The Sanity Inspector at September 13, 2002 07:09 AM

Nice piece and very funny, though your "Media Casualties Mount" is still your very best, sir. On a related topic, I have just bought Victor Koman's "Kings of the High Frontier", which I am told is a brilliant tale of space exploration. Your site has helped keep my enthusiasm for such things on the boil. Bests.

Posted by Tom Burroughes at September 13, 2002 07:24 AM

If you start a Buzz Beer Fund, I'll put in the price of a six-pack.

Posted by mark at September 13, 2002 11:48 AM

How about a Sibrel hospitalization fund? -- To put him in one, that is.

Posted by Jay Manifold at September 13, 2002 01:07 PM

Fox News showed a clip of Buzz hitting him over and over and over last night. Fairly amusing.

Personally, I think Congress needs to pass a law allowing Buzz to hit people like that.

Posted by Jeremy at September 13, 2002 02:43 PM

Oh. You got me good. I was wondering if you'd gone bats, right up to the last sentence!

Still chuckling...

Posted by Kathy at September 14, 2002 10:05 AM

Re: the "Buzz beer" fund. I probably should have worded that differently. As a couple folks have reminded me (and I knew, but momentarily forgot in my enthusiasm for his purported magnificent achievement), Buzz doesn't drink.

Posted by Rand Simberg at September 15, 2002 07:45 PM

Can anyone explain this instinct to try to disclaim great achievments. The moonwalk hoax people, the folks that claim Shakespeare didn't write his plays and then there's the ones who don't think United Flight 93's heroes fought back.

I just don't get these people.

Posted by ruprecht at September 17, 2002 04:39 PM

Of course ruprecht has undoubtedly forgotten that it has been proven conclusively that the famous plays were not in fact written by Shskespeare but by another guy with the same name.

Posted by JorgXMcKie at September 17, 2002 04:52 PM

Of course ruprecht has undoubtedly forgotten that it has been proven conclusively that the famous plays were not in fact written by Shakespeare but by another guy with the same name.

Posted by JorgXMcKie at September 17, 2002 04:52 PM

Here's a stupid question. Can we observe the various lunar landing sites from Earth? I'm not talking about footprints and golf balls but scorch marks and lunar buggies.

Posted by jdhays at September 17, 2002 07:19 PM

Need a good laugh (ANOTHER good laugh, I mean)? Applying Sibrel's logic I wrote an essay on that World War II never happened.

I am thinking that "sibrel" could become a word in a few years meaning "beyond annoying absurd idiotic behavior" or meaning "to not only be wrong but to try to promote incorrect thinking".

Posted by Bill Thompson at December 30, 2002 06:14 PM


The Clementine Lunar Orbiter took pictures of Apollo 15 and Apollo 16 landing sites because the astronauts stirred up the biggest spot on the moon during those missions.

(web master, forward this to jdhays)

Posted by Bill Thompson at December 30, 2002 06:16 PM

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